Little Shop of Horrors; or Breaking Botany

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Hello and Hallo-welcome to this year’s last edition of Monster Monday, where the films feature creatures! You join your reviewers, Andy and Lilly, as they brush up on their botany and manslaughter definitions.

Today’s film offering: Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

Lilly: Have you ever wondered what happens when you bet a director he can’t make a film in two days? Wonder no longer, because the answer is Little Shop of Horrors. Written in almost the same amount of time, the film is the story of a flower shop on ‘skid row’ that is looking like it might go bankrupt until one of the workers, the inept Seymour, manages to grow a mysterious plant with a dubious appetite. Throw in some gags to do with a man who eats flowers, a masochistic dental patient, and yiddish peppered throughout the script, and you get this fun romp that runs merrily into the disturbing ending at a happy clip, the run time just short of an hour and fifteen minutes.

Andy: It also has, like, three sets. The whole thing sometimes feels like someone filmed a stage play. Also, this is the second week in a row we’ve dealt with demonic foliage. Although the Venus Fly Trap crossbreed … thing in this is a million times less creepy than a triffid.

Lilly: To be clear, a deep exploration of poverty driving men to acts of madness this is not. This is straight up a tale of a schmuck who tried to make things right and just went far wrong instead. It has characters like ‘Siddie Shiva’ (a woman who is a return customer due to the fact that she has a million funerals to go to, which is funny since it is a play on the phrase ‘sitting shiva’, a mourning period in Jewish tradition), a hypochondriac mother who only cooks things that are meant to cure you (such as a soup that is just cod liver oil), and a psychotic dentist who will take whatever teeth he damn well pleases, hurting or not. It’s almost as if the writer was given a basic idea (deadly plant) and a bunch of characters to work into it, and boom. Done. Story. And it works! It really works!

Andy: Sure! It’s not great art (then again very, very little Roger Corman puts out can be described that way)–

Lilly: Excuse you, he did The Terror.

Andy: …but it does manage to combine two genres to great effect – creepy sci-fi-ish horror and screwball comedy. And while the mishmash of genres is often jarring (I mean, it’s hard to feel sorry for a guy who’s feeding bodies to a plant) it gels together and rattles along nicely.

Lilly: Even the things that could be problematic–stereotypes, anyone?–are turned on their head. You’ve got the lady lead, a ditzy woman named Audrey, who cannot seem to get her words right (she calls a caesar salad a ‘cesarean salad’, for example) yet she knows loads about flowers and is the go-to employee of the shop. Then you have Mushnick, the shop owner, a Russian Jewish immigrant who just loves a deal–yet he was apparently based partially off the director’s own grandfather, so can we call it stereotyping?

For the length it is and the age it is, Little Shop of Horrors fits in some good creepy moments and some good groaners.

Andy: A short review for a short film!

Lilly: So go, watch,and enjoy! It’s not like it will take long!

Thank you so much for reading our reviews this month, it’s been our pleasure writing them! Hallowfest Octobfilm will return next year, but stay tuned, as some new things will be coming out of Hallowfest sooner than you think! Happy Halloween!

The Day of the Triffids (2009); or The Only Apocalypse You Can Fight With a Can of Weedol

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Hello and Hallo-welcome to another Monster Hunt Monday, where monsters menace heroes and heroines! You join your reviewers, Andy and Lilly, as they get ready for some aggressive weeding.

Today’s film (or rather, mini series) offering: The Day of the Triffids (2009)

Andy: The Day of the Triffids was originally a book by awesome British author John Wyndham, who also wrote The Midwich Cuckoos which became another Hallowfest favourite, Village of the Damned.

Lilly: But you didn’t come here for a literature lesson, dammit, you came here for monster plants!

Andy: Damn right! The plot concerns a universe much like ours, with the notable exception that global warming has been solved by a genetically-modified plant called a triffid, that produces an oil that has essentially solved all energy problems. Unfortunately the modifications have also made them highly mobile, carnivorous and very poisonous. And I don’t mean carnivorous like a venus fly trap. These things will eat you.

Which is fine, because they are confined to very strictly controlled farms and handled by professionals, and anyway, we’re highly evolved and awesome humans. There would have to be some kind of freak meteor storm rendering the population blind combined with a really, really stupid Greenpeace activist or something to make them truly dangerous.

Shame that happens, then.

Lilly: So, everyone is blind, life is awful, right? The most awful it could be, right? WRONG. I have one word for you: environmentalist assholes. Wait. Two words. Two words, because these assholes only go and pity the poisonous, carnivorous plants (due mainly to the misunderstanding that they deserve to live FREE or something) and release them into the world of blind human beings, aka tasty, tasty plant treats.

Andy: And it’s up to the sighted triffid expert (ironically temporarily blinded by a triffid so he missed the meteor shower) to try and save the tattered remnants of civilization from becoming the food chain equivalent of a bag of compost.

Lilly: Not to mention his plucky side kick, Jo, the radio/local news host who is apparently famous–can I just say that is such a British thing, I feel? North American readers, name me three radio hosts. Local ones. Do it. Go on. I’ll wait.

I died waiting for you to do that because it doesn’t happen.

So this two part mini series tackles what happens directly after a world-altering accident that allows for an invasion of plants. You thought the worst thing that could happen was zombies? Imagine if you went blind, THEN zombies happened. Oh, and the zombies are plants. And the plants can sting you from ten meters away. AND THEY ARE PLANTS. How creepy is that? Every rustling of a bush could be a warning you were about to be eaten, every hedge row is the perfect hiding spot for evil, and ps, the plants are coming for you in the cities, so don’t even think they need pastoral settings to thrive.

Andy: Can I just say that if there was a Miss Universe, and instead of women, it was the creepiest fucking things imaginable, I can see these at least getting Miss Congeniality. They’d certainly do well in the talent contest.

Lilly: Then. Then you remember not only do you have to deal with murderous pot plants without pots, you have to survive your fellow human beings. And one of those fellow human beings is Eddie Izzard, and he’s not messing around–he wants to run this joint.

The tension in this mini series is ramped up with every difficulty the survivors of the blinding meet, including meeting other seeing folks who have a difference in opinion to what those who can see should be doing. Add in that no one seems to want to believe Dougray Scott’s doctor character that triffids are dangerous, and you end up angrily shouting at the screen that people are idiots and you could apocalypse better. Or was that just me?

Andy: Or you are hoping the triffids would show up and wipe the combined smug off of an awful lot of people’s faces. I mean, it makes sense, because there are some definite allusions to the idea that news of quite how dangerous triffids are to be around has been suppressed and the waters thoroughly muddied, but then in the modern world, what really is the chance of there not being at the very least rumours of how mind-bendingly lethal Treebeard’s angry cousins can be?

Lilly: Where’s your wikileaks NOW?

Andy: Hilary kept her e-mails about triffids on a remote server! More at 11.

Lilly: I heard she WAS a triffid. Crooked Shrub Hilary.

Andy: You can probably tell from our style today that we really got into this one.

Lilly: For a self-proclaimed hater of ‘movie science’, I really did get into this one! I allowed the talk of plant oils and global warming and sporing to wash over me as the story unfolded, the technicalities of it all seeming possible. And that’s all I ask for in a film with sciencey bits. To sound plausible. I mean, I’m not a botanist, so maybe I’m wrong, maybe it’s all bullshit, but whatever. By the end, unlike some films with plants attacking humans (not naming names, but it HAPPENS in a specific film, where it is hard to really explain what is HAPPENING), I was like ‘Well no wonder the triffids could take over! Humans are so silly.’

Andy: It also does very well in its depiction of apocalypse. There’s nothing more shocking than the sudden realisation halfway through that the streets which were teeming with the blind are now deserted – the world ends while we aren’t watching. You don’t need million-dollar shots of the Hollywood sign being ripped up (again). All you need is an abandoned truck, and the possibility of the new apex predator on the other side.

Lilly: The acting, meanwhile, was fantastic. Dougray Scott pulls us along with not only his knowledge of triffids but his personal connection to the plant monsters, and Joely Richardson does a fair turn as the Voice of Britain. I think a lot of props should go to her mother, Vanessa Redgrave, as well, for her turn as Durrant, a Mother Superior who took the ‘Superior’ part very seriously. Then there is the magnificent Eddie Izzard. I cannot really explain how perfect he was for the role of Torrence.

Andy: Props also to some child actors who aren’t completely irritating as well. We absolutely recommend this one, and it’s definitely worth its three-hour length. It never feels slow or rushed, despite the fact it covers so much ground.

Lilly: High quality, well paced, plant based terror for you! Go, watch, and enjoy!