The Little Shop of Horrors is a 1960 American black comedy horror film directed by Roger Corman. Written by Charles B. Griffith, the film is a farce about an inadequate florist's assistant who cultivates a plant that feeds on human flesh and blood. The film's concept is thought to be based on a 1932 story called "Green Thoughts", by John Collier, about a man-eating plant.However, Dennis McDougal in Jack Nicholson's biography suggests that Griffith may have been influenced by Arthur C. Clarke's sci-fi short story 'The Reluctant Orchid'.
The film stars Jonathan Haze, Jackie Joseph, Mel Welles, and Dick Miller, all of whom had worked for Corman on previous films. Produced under the title The Passionate People Eater, the film employs an original style of humor, combining black comedy with farce and incorporating Jewish humor and elements of spoof. The Little Shop of Horrors was shot on a budget of $28,000 in two days utilizing sets that had been left standing from A Bucket of Blood.
The film slowly gained a cult following through word of mouth when it was distributed as the B movie in a double feature with Mario Bava's Black Sunday and eventually with The Last Woman on Earth.The film's popularity increased with local television broadcasts, in addition to the presence of a young Jack Nicholson, whose small role in the film has been prominently promoted on home video releases of the film. The film was the basis for an Off Broadway musical, Little Shop of Horrors, which was notably made into a 1986 feature film and enjoyed a 2003 Broadway revival, all of which have attracted attention to the 1960 film.
On Los Angeles's skid row, penny-pinching Gravis Mushnick (Mel Welles) owns a florist shop which is staffed by him and his two employees, the sweet but simple Audrey Fulquard (Jackie Joseph) and clumsy Seymour Krelboyne (Jonathan Haze). Although the rundown shop gets little business, there are some repeat customers; for instance, Mrs. Siddie Shiva (Leola Wendorff) shops almost daily for flower arrangements for her many relatives' funerals. Another regular customer is Burson Fouch (Dick Miller), who eats the plants he buys for lunch. When Seymour fouls up the arrangement of Dr. Farb (John Shaner), a sadistic dentist, Mushnick fires him. Hoping Mushnick will change his mind, Seymour tells him about a special plant that he crossbred from a butterwort and a Venus flytrap. Bashfully, Seymour admits that he named the plant "Audrey Jr.", a revelation that delights the real Audrey.
From the apartment he shares with his hypochondriac mother, Winifred (Myrtle Vail), Seymour fetches his odd-looking, potted plant, but Mushnick is unimpressed by its sickly, drooping look. However, when Fouch suggests that Audrey Jr.'s uniqueness might attract people from all over the world to see it, Mushnick gives Seymour one week to revive it. Seymour has already discovered that the usual kinds of plant food do not nourish his strange hybrid and that every night at sunset the plant's leaves open up. When Seymour accidentally pricks his finger on another thorny plant, Audrey Jr. opens wider, eventually causing Seymour to discover that the plant craves blood. After that, each night Seymour nurses his creation with blood from his fingers. Although he feels increasingly listless, Audrey Jr. begins to grow and the shop's revenues increase due to the curious customers who are lured in to see the plant.
The plant (voiced by writer Charles B. Griffith) develops the ability to speak and demands that Seymour feed it. Now anemic and not knowing what to feed the plant, Seymour takes a walk along a railroad track. When he carelessly throws a rock to vent his frustration, he inadvertently knocks out a man who falls on the track and is run over by a train. Miserably guilt-ridden but resourceful, Seymour collects the body parts and feeds them to Audrey Jr. Meanwhile, at a restaurant, Mushnick discovers he has no money with him, and when he returns to the shop to get some cash, he secretly observes Seymour feeding the plant. Although Mushnick considers telling the police, he procrastinates by the next day when he sees the line of people waiting to spend money at his shop.
When Seymour later arrives that morning suffering a toothache, Mushnick sends Seymour to Dr. Farb, who tries to remove several of his teeth without anesthetic to get even with Seymour for ruining Farb's flowers. Grabbing a sharp tool, Seymour fights back and accidentally stabs and kills Farb. Seymour is horrified that he has now murdered twice (even though it was in self-defense this time) and after posing as a dentist to avoid the suspicion of Farb's masochistic patient Wilbur Force (Jack Nicholson), Seymour feeds Farb's body to Audrey Jr. The unexplained disappearance of the two men attract the attention of the police and Mushnick finds himself questioned by Sergeant Joe Fink (Wally Campo) and his assistant Officer Frank Stoolie (Jack Warford) (take-offs of Dragnet characters Joe Friday and Frank Smith,). Although Mushnick acts suspiciously nervous, Fink and Stoolie conclude that he knows nothing. Audrey Jr., which has grown several feet tall, is beginning to bud, as is the relationship between Seymour and Audrey (whom Seymour invites on a date).
When a representative of the Society of Silent Flower Observers of Southern California comes to the shop to evaluate the plant, she announces that Seymour will receive a trophy from them, and that she will return when the plant's buds open. While Seymour is on a date with Audrey, Mushnick stays at the shop to see that Audrey Jr. does not hurt anyone else. After trading barbs with the plant when Audrey awakens and requests to be fed, Mushnick finds himself at the mercy of a robber (Charles B. Griffith) that pretended to be a customer of the previous day, who believes that the huge crowd he had observed attending the shop indicated the presence of a large amount of money. To save his own life, Mushnick tricks the robber into thinking that the money is with the plant, which then crushes and eats him. Not only does the monstrous plant's growth increase with this latest meal, but its intelligence and abilities do as well. It intimidates Mr. Mushnick, who is now more terrified than ever, but not so much that he will forgo the money the plant is bringing in as an attraction. After he is forced to damage his relationship with Audrey to keep her from discovering the plant's nature, an angry Seymour confronts the plant asserting he will no longer do its bidding just because it orders him. The plant then employs hypnosis on the feckless lad and commands him to bring it more food. He wanders the night streets aimlessly until pursued by a rather aggressively persistent street walker, Leonora Clyde (Meri Welles), intent on making a score. Believing him harmless, she flirts with him to no avail until he inadvertently knocks her out with a rock and carries her back to feed Audrey Jr.
Lacking clues about the mysterious disappearance of the two men, Fink and Stoolie attend a special sunset celebration at the shop, during which Seymour is to be presented with the trophy and Audrey Jr.'s buds are expected to open. As the attendees look on, four buds open and inside each flower is the face of one of the plant's victims. As the crowd breaks out in shock and fright, Fink and Stoolie realize Seymour is their culprit who flees from the shop with the police in hot pursuit. Managing to lose them in a junk yard filled with tires, sinks and toilets with the help of Mushnick who followed along, Seymour eventually makes his way back to Mushnick's shop which is now empty. Audrey Jr. demands, "Feed me!" Seymour curses the plant for ruining his life. He grabs a kitchen knife and climbs into Audrey Jr.'s maw, saying, "I'll feed you like you never been fed before!"
Later that evening, Audrey, Winifred, Mushnick, Fink, and Stoolie return to the shop where they discover that Audrey Jr. has begun to wither and die. As Winifred laments over how her son used to be such a good boy, one final bud opens to reveal the face of Seymour, which pitifully moans, "I didn't mean it!" before drooping over—apparently ending the life of Audrey, Jr.