Charles B. Griffith

Screenwriter of the cult classic 'The Little Shop of Horrors'


Charles B. Griffith, screenwriter, director and actor: born Chicago, Illinois 23 September 1930; married Marmory James (one daughter); died San Diego, California 28 September 2007.

Depending on who you believe, The Little Shop of Horrors, the black comedy about a man-eating, talking plant, directed by the exploitation master Roger Corman, was only made because Corman had access for a couple of days to some sets left standing on the Hollywood film lot where his production company, American International Pictures, was based. Some say its filming was rushed between Christmas and New Year's Eve 1959 because new Screen Actors' Guild rules were coming into effect which would push costs up from 1 January 1960. Whatever the truth, The Little Shop of Horrors became the fastest film ever shot.

It benefited from second unit scenes directed by Charles B. Griffith, who also wrote the movie's bizarre screenplay and provided the voice of Audrey junior – the plant-like carnivorous creature screaming "Feeeeeed Meee!" – as well as playing several minor parts himself. "I was the guy that ran out with his ear bleeding, I was a shadow on a wall with a sack in the alley and I was the gangster that stuck up the flower shop and then got eaten by the plant," Griffith recalled.

Made in black and white for $27,000, The Little Shop of Horrors originally played drive-ins and fleapits as a second feature but it quickly earned a cult following among exploitation connoisseurs. The composer Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman subsequently turned the film into a stage musical which triumphed in New York and London in the early Eighties. This in turn was the basis for a film remake directed by Frank Oz with a stellar cast including Rick Moranis, Bill Murray, Steve Martin, John Candy, Christopher Guest, and Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops as the voice of Audrey II.

Griffith had received $800 from Corman for the Little Shop of Horrors screenplay in 1960 and was originally left out of any subsequent rights agreement. He sued everyone involved. "It took forever, but the Warner Brothers remake was held up by the case so they settled," he said in 1999. "I get one-fourth of one per cent, and it has kept me going since 1983." That agreement only covered earnings from the stage musical, since Oz's film version has yet to recoup its costs, estimated at more than $30m. "The original broke even in the first hour of release," Griffith remarked.

Griffith and Corman had a rather fraught relationship but still managed to make over 25 films together between the late Fifties and the late Eighties. Griffith was only credited as director on five Corman productions, most notably Eat My Dust, the 1976 car-chase comedy starring Ron Howard, one of the many alumni of the Corman school of independent film-making, along with Francis Ford Coppola (who directed The Young Racers based on a Griffith script in 1963) and Jack Nicholson (who had a small but noticeable role as Wilbur Force, the masochistic dental patient, in the original Little Shop of Horrors). Still, Griffith's influence on subsequent generations of film-makers was undeniable. Indeed, Quentin Tarantino dedicated Death Proof, his recent exploitation homage, to Griffith.

Born in 1930, Griffith was the grandson of Myrtle Vail, a vaudeville performer who devised and starred in the soap opera Myrt and Marge on American radio with her only daughter Donna Damerel. After his mother died in childbirth in 1941, the young Charles spent the rest of his childhood in California with his grandmother. He developed a keen ear for fast-paced, witty dialogue and an ability to think up quirky situations while helping her write scripts for a projected TV version of the radio programme she had created.

In 1954, he was introduced to Corman by the actor Jonathan Haze, who would later play Seymour Krelboin, the hapless florist hero of The Little Shop of Horrors. Within a few months, Griffith was fixing the screenplay of It Conquered The World (1956) and writing schlock such as Gunslinger (also 1956), Naked Paradise, Attack of the Crab Monsters, The Undead and Teenage Doll (all 1957). All were directed by Corman, with occasional input from Griffith, who for instance shot the underwater sequences in Attack of the Crab Monsters.

While Corman made sure the films quickly went into profit, Griffith had his finger on the changing pulse of popular culture and wrote motorcycle gang pictures like The Wild Angels (1966) and Devil's Angels (1967). "I was lazy," he admitted. "Instead of trying to write an A-picture and sell it on the market, I'd just go back and get another assignment from Roger."

Griffith made his full directorial début with Forbidden Island, shot in Hawaii for Columbia Pictures in 1959, but worked with Corman again on Ski Troop Attack and A Bucket of Blood before coming up with the idea for The Little Shop of Horrors. "We went out on the town and started throwing ideas around," Griffith recalled.

Roger and I talked over a bunch of ideas, including gluttony. The hero would be a salad chef in a restaurant who would wind up cooking customers and stuff like that, you know? We couldn't do that though because of the code at the time. So I said: "How about a man-eating plant?" And Roger said: "Okay". By that time, we were both drunk.

Griffith spent some time in Europe and worked on the English-Italian horror The She-Beast, starring Barbara Steele, in 1966. He was also one of several uncredited contributors to Roger Vadim's Barbarella (1968), though the risqué lesbian scene involving Jane Fonda and Anita Pallenberg he suggested was edited down to a few shots.

In 1975, he wrote the screenplay for Death Race 2000, directed by Paul Bartel and starring David Carradine and a pre-Rocky Sylvester Stallone. Griffith also directed the Jaws cash-in Up From the Depths (1979) and the horror comedy Dr Heckyl and Mr Hype (1980), with Oliver Reed in the dual title role, and jumped on the Smokey and the Bandit action comedy bandwagon with Smokey Bites the Dust (1981). He retired after making the fantasy adventure Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II (1989).

Pierre Perrone

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
people
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
people
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
Arts and Entertainment
Warner Bros released a mock-up of what the new Central Perk will look like
tv'Friends' cafe will be complete with Gunther and orange couch
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Junior Analyst - Graduate - 6 Month fixed term contract

£17000 - £20000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

SAS Business Analyst - Credit Risk - Retail Banking

£450 - £500 per day: Orgtel: SAS Business Analyst, London, Banking, Credit Ris...

Project Manager - Pensions

£32000 - £38000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone