“Winner of May Flower Show Eats Judges, Guests” is not a real headline. But it could have been, if the original ending of Little Shop of Horrors had been allowed to stand!
Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. / Time Warner Inc.
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Little Shop of Horrors began its life in 1959 as a rather undistinguished, black-and-white B-picture known as The Passionate People Eater, a black comedy about an inadequate florist’s assistant who cultivates a plant (named Audrey Junior) that feeds on human flesh and blood. Prolific director Roger Corman directed a cast known mostly for featuring a young Jack Nicholson in the low-budget flick. Poster Credit: Film Group / American International Pictures / Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. / Time Warner Inc.
The film’s shoestring budget was only about $28,000.00, and Corman saved money by shooting the interiors in only two days on sets left standing from his previous film, A Bucket of Blood. American International Pictures (AIP) held onto the film for two years before giving it a full release in 1961 (it had been shown in a very limited release in 1960, hence the accepted release date) under the title The Little Shop of Horrors. Because Corman did not believe that the film would make any money after its initial theatrical run, he did not copyright the film, which then fell into the public domain.
You can watch the trailer for the 1960 version of The Little Shop of Horrors by clicking the picture below.
Photo Credit: Film Group / American International Pictures / Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. / Time Warner Inc. CLICK HERE to watch the film in its entirety.
Had Corman been able to peer into the future, he might have felt very differently about his horror-comedy. The film’s lack of copyright made it a favorite of television broadcasters, and the film slowly gained a cult following through the 60s and 70s. Its popularity grew again in 1982 when a musical version by composer Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman dropped the “The” and added music. Little Shop of Horrors premiered off-off-Broadway, moved off-Broadway to the Orpheum Theatre, finally ending the award-winning production’s run on Broadway. Poster Credit: WPA Theatre / Music Theatre International (MTI).
You can watch the commercial for the 1983 award-winning stage production by clicking the picture below.
Photo Credit: WPA Theatre / Music Theatre International (MTI). CLICK HERE to listen to Act I of the stage production. CLICK HERE to listen to Act II of the stage production.
But, as the plant sings, “Ya don’t know what you’re messin’ with / You got no idea.” In 1986, Little Shop of Horrors exploded onto the silver screen. Muppeteer Frank Oz was finishing The Muppets Take Manhattan and looking for a new project. Surprisingly (to me, anyway) he did not immediately see the cinematic possibilities inherent in the stage show and turned down the project. Luckily for all of us he reconsidered, and his impressive knowledge of physical effects led to the creation of Audrey II as we know and love (?) her. Poster Credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. / Time Warner Inc.
Built before the days of CGI, the show’s horrific, but oddly compelling, plant was created in six different stages of growth, with one version weighing a full ton and requiring 60 puppeteers to operate. This kind of technology does not come cheap. Director Frank Oz has been quoted as saying that, at a budget of $25 million, Little Shop of Horrors was “the most expensive film Warner Bros. had done at the time.”
You can watch the trailer for the 1986 film version of Little Shop of Horrors by clicking the picture below.
Three different endings have been attached to the various versions of [The] Little Shop of Horrors. The original black-and-white Roger Corman film ended with a simple B-movie shock. Audrey Junior is no more than a carnivorous plant, a crossbreed of a butterwort and a Venus Flytrap, bound to its container. Seymour, tired of its demands, attacks it. Mr. Mushnik, Seymour’s mother, and his girlfriend Audrey (all still alive) discover the outcome of that battle when Seymour’s face appears along with those of the plant’s other victims in the plant’s blooms. Photo Credit: Film Group / American International Pictures / Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. / Time Warner Inc.
When the story moved to the stage, however, the ending changed. No longer was this is a simple B-movie horror story; now the story was a fable of never-satisfied greed, shown in the metaphor of the plant. In the ending of the stage version, Audrey and Seymour are both eaten by the plant, a creature from outer space, who takes over New York. The deceased characters take the form of Audrey II’s blossoms to join in the closing song “Don’t Feed The Plants,” which warns the audience not to be tempted by greed, lest the same thing happen to them. Photo Credit: WPA Theatre / Music Theatre International (MTI)
The film took yet a third route. In its original ending, after Audrey II disposes of both Audrey and Seymour, the film’s focus shifts from the narrow world of Mushnik’s Flower Shop on Skid Row to the broader world outside. Audrey II, we learn, was just the first stage of a massive alien invasion which, aided by the greed of a corporate botanical entity, now has footholds (stemholds? tendrilholds?) all over the country. In a brilliant – and expensive (it cost $5 million, about 20% of the film’s total budget) – salute to big-budget, mainstream horror such as Godzilla and King Kong, giant plants burst through buildings, erupt from coastal waters, and rampage through the streets. The closing shot finds a giant plant looking down at us from atop the Statue of Liberty. And it’s laughing. Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. / Time Warner Inc.
And it flopped. Horribly. Disastrously, even.
Director Oz described the outcome in an Entertainment Weekly interview saying, “The audience was clapping after every number. Then, when Seymour and Audrey died, they turned like an icebox. The reaction was so bad, Warner Bros. wasn’t going to release it.” He blamed the reception on the fact that in the theater, a character who dies comes back for a curtain call. In the movies, however, a character’s dead and doesn’t come back.
The film got a new, happy ending. In the released ending, Seymour still fights Audrey II, but in this version he is victorious, and the plant is destroyed. Seymour, Audrey, and humanity survive. The ending is rendered somewhat ambiguous, however, as we see a smiling Audrey II bud in Seymour and Audrey’s otherwise perfect front yard. There has to be room for a sequel, right? Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. / Time Warner Inc.
You can watch the alternate, original ending of Little Shop of Horrors by clicking the picture below.
After all of that, I get to tell you that the Director’s Cut version of Little Shop of Horrors is available now on Amazon.com. It comes with the theatrical version so you can compare the two, plus there are several special features – including director Frank Oz’s commentary on the 20-minute extended ending. This is a must-have! Despite the indication on the product page, the Director’s Cut of this film is not available for streaming on Amazon video. – McC
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