Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

(On Cable TV, December 2017) I’m usually a forgiving audience for older movies—I’m getting into the mindset of forgiving the limitations of the time, and it certainly helps that what has survived until now is usually what deserves to be seen again. But even this patience has its limits, and I could feel it being tested during Little Shop of Horrors, an ultra-low-budget Roger Corman effort that seems memorable more for outrageousness than quality. Reportedly shot over two days for a paltry five-figure budget, Little Shop of Horrors makes up for its limited means through high invention: What if it was a comedy about a carnivorous plant? Of course, comedy is subjective and black comedy even more so—to me, Little Shop of Horror is more grating and mean-spirited than anything else. It is, I’ll concede, memorable: In addition to the ludicrous premise, Jack Nicholson shows up in a manic Jim Carreyesque performance as a masochistic dental client. Still, even at a running time of merely 72 minutes, the film is more of an ordeal than I had expected. Much of its contemporary popularity can be explained by how it’s in the public domain, and was later adapted as a musical and then another bigger-budget movie. As itself, though, Little Shop of Horrors is not as much fun as it could be.

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