Seymour Krelborn and his colleague, Audrey, work at Mushnik's Flower Shop in a run-down, rough neighborhood referred to as “Skid Row” in the slums of New York City. They lament that they cannot escape the neighborhood. Struggling from a lack of customers, Mr. Mushnik decides to close the store, but Audrey suggests he may have more success by displaying an unusual plant that Seymour owns. Immediately attracting a customer, Seymour explains he bought the plant, which he dubbed “Audrey II”, from a Chinese flower shop during a solar eclipse. Attracting business to Mushnik's shop, the plant soon starts dying, worrying Seymour. Accidentally pricking his finger, he then discovers Audrey II needs human blood to thrive.
Audrey II continues to grow rapidly and Seymour becomes a local celebrity. Seymour soon attempts to ask Audrey out, but she turns him down because she has a date with her sadistic, mean-spirited dentist boyfriend Orin Scrivello. Despite this, Audrey is interested in Seymour, dreaming of marrying him and escaping Skid Row. After Seymour closes up shop, Audrey II begins to talk to Seymour, demanding more blood than Seymour can give. The plant proposes that Seymour murder someone in exchange for fame and fortune: Seymour initially refuses, but agrees after witnessing Orin beating Audrey.
After Orin finishes with his masochistic patient, Arthur Denton, who requested “a long, slow, root canal”, Seymour books an appointment with Orin and arms himself with a revolver; however, he cannot bring himself to use it. Orin, who abuses nitrous oxide, puts on a type of venturi mask to receive a constant flow of the gas. Accidentally breaking an intake valve and unable to remove the mask, Orin begs Seymour for help removing it, but Seymour does nothing. When Orin asks Seymour what he ever did to him, Seymour coldly replies, “Nothing, it's what you did to her.” Orin dies from asphyxiation and Seymour drags his body back to Audrey II. While dismembering the body to feed to the plant, Seymour is unknowingly witnessed by Mushnik, who flees in fear.
After feeding Orin's parts to Audrey II, which has grown to enormous size, Seymour discovers the police investigating Orin's disappearance. Audrey, feeling guilty about wishing Orin would disappear, is comforted by Seymour and the two admit their feelings for each other. That night, Mushnik confronts Seymour about what he saw and holds Seymour at gunpoint, threatening to report him to the police. Mushnik then changes his mind, saying that since Seymour was “like a son” to him, he'll allow Seymour to leave town, leaving the plant to Mushnik. With no choice, Seymour steadily backs him towards the plant, which swallows Mushnik whole.
Despite widespread success, Seymour worries about Audrey II's growth and unbridled appetite. Offered money and a contract for a botany TV show, Seymour plans to escape Skid Row with Audrey using the money, leaving the plant to starve. After Audrey accepts Seymour's marriage proposal, Audrey II catches Seymour leaving and demands another meal: Seymour agrees, but insists on meat from a butcher. While Seymour is gone, the plant telephones Audrey, coaxes her into the shop, and then tries to eat her. Seymour, returning in time to save Audrey, escapes the store with her. Explaining that he fed the plant to become successful and win Audrey's heart, Seymour discovers she has always loved him. Approached by an executive from a botanical company named Patrick Martin, Seymour is offered a contract to breed Audrey II and sell the saplings worldwide. Horrified by the idea, Seymour drives Martin away, and realizes he must destroy Audrey II for the sake of humanity.
Returning to the shop, Seymour learns that Audrey II is actually an alien from outer space. Audrey II traps Seymour and destroys the shop, but Seymour grabs an exposed electrical cable and electrocutes Audrey II. Leaving the destroyed shop, Seymour safely reunites with Audrey. The two wed and move to the suburbs: arriving at their new home, which is the one seen in Audrey's daydreams, a smiling Audrey II bud can be seen among the flowers in their front yard.
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