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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Video Beaverhausen: Little Shop of Triffids

Janette Scott encounters a triffid
Botanophobia is the clinical term for fear of plant life and I think that's one of my issues though admittedly, perhaps, not one of the most pressing. How else can I explain my fascination with Little Shop of Horrors and Day of the Triffids? As Phyllis Diller once said, "Of course I hate nature. Look what it did to me!" And Fran Lebowitz once wrote, "Now, nature, as I am only too aware, has her enthusiasts, but on the whole, I am not to be counted among them. To put it bluntly, I am not the type who wants to go back to the land; I am the type who wants to go back to the hotel." 

Botanophobes unite! Here are two videos I highly recommend for you.

The 1962 Day of the Triffids (the first and best version in my humble opinion. There were two tv mini-series (1981 and 2009 (with Joely Richardson, Vanessa Redgrave and Eddie Izzard)).  But they didn't match the craft of the 1962 screenplay that focuses on the human drama of the tale by author John Wyndham before it develops into the struggle between humans and venomous alien vegetation.

In 1951, one of the earliest creatures-from-outer-space films, The Thing from Another World, the alien looked human but with a huge forehead like Rihanna. But it turned out to be a vegetable, people, and was convincingly portrayed by James Arness.

The latest dvd release of Day of the Triffids is digitally remastered and, thankfully, in letterbox but on the unfortunately titled "Cheezy Flicks" label.

The film's storyline officially starts, during a meteor shower that blinds most of Earth's population, at London's Royal Botanical Gardens. A lone security guard sits to have his meal in a greenhouse where the somewhat phallic-looking triffids have taken root. It isn't long before he becomes a meal himself, irony of ironies.

Howard Keel stars in this movie. The actor/singer, best known for MGM musicals like Kiss Me Kate, 7 Brides for 7 Brothers and Calamity Jane, was reinvented as a stalwart action star in this film.  It served him well. He ended up as Clayton Farlow on the tv series, Dallas.

Keel's character is recovering from eye surgery and, removing his bandages, finds himself in a city of the blind. The epic scenes of his going through London amid the desperate, groping blinded are credible and dramatic. He eventually hooks up with a little girl and French beauty, Nicole Maurey before the triffid battles begin.

The film, though, has a second, parallel storyline. Janette Scott and Kieron Moore are a couple living in an island lighthouse. They have marital problems, mainly Moore's drinking problem. (Kieron Moore is so hot in this movie, I wouldn't mind spending time in a lighthouse with him -- and bring out the booze, big daddy!)

Solid script, expert acting, convincing human drama and action-packed! What's not to love?

In The Rocky Horror Picture Show theme song, "Science Fiction Double Feature," there's a famous line about Janette Scott and her triffids. I posted below:

Ellen Greene pulls a Janette Scott
The opening narrator's voice from Triffids and even the astral background is knowingly parodied in the prelude to Little Shop of Horrors, the 1986 Frank Oz musical. This is the go-to musical for botanophobes. You'll never look at a Brussels sprout the same way.

So many now-classic musical numbers in this film: the '60s girl-group Greek chorus (Ronette, Crystal and Chiffon) in the giddy, opening title song; the tragicomic and powerful, "Skid Row" (a wonder of choreography and editing; if there was such a thing as musical socialist surrealism, this would be it); "Somewhere That's Green" (both hilarious and heartbreaking) and "Mean Green Muthah from Outer Space" (sung by Levi Stubbs, voice of Audrey II). Performances by the entire cast (including Steve Martin) are uniformly outstanding, even iconic.

I originally saw the musical, based on the 1960 film of the same name, onstage at the Orpheum Theater in the East Village. I was immediately struck by the cutting-edge songs by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman (before they wrote scores for Disney). It ended with the vegetation triumphant, devouring the protagonists and attacking the front row to the closing tune of "Finale Ultimo (Don't Feed the Plants)."

Watching the recently released DVD/Blu-Ray director's cut of Little Shop, I was quite amazed and, as a botanophobe, gleefully horrified by the elaborate vegetables-on-a-rampage finale in the film. The monsters even destroy a movie theater featuring Jason and the Argonauts. A full-out '60s sci-fi parody with low-tech but extravagant special effects, it is far superior to the tame, "happy" ending imposed by the studio (requiring re-shooting). The closing number is also restored in this sequence.

Botanophobe nightmare
There is a moral, my friends, to both movies that Buddy Beaverhausen wishes to impart upon you before I sign off. And the moral to my meanderings is, simply: eat your vegetables! Before they eat you.

Ah, the secret life of plants!

1 comment:

  1. Now I know why broccoli makes me nauseous!