“Feed me, Seymour.”
What kind of sick, depraved mind comes up with an idea for a movie about a plant that eats people? Then, what even sicker, more depraved mind looks at that idea and decides to turn it into a musical comedy? Whoever’s sick, depraved idea it was, I thank you.
Seymour Krelborn (Rick Moranis, Ghostbusters) is down on his luck, working at a flower shop in Skid Row. One day, during a total eclipse of the sun, Seymour finds a strange plant and experiments on it, trying to find out what kind it is. He names the plant Audrey II, after his beautiful, squeaky-voiced co-worker Audrey, (Ellen Greene, Pushing Daisies). Seymour soon discovers that Audrey II doesn’t survive from sunlight or nutrients in soil, but by devouring human flesh. What’s more, Audrey II can talk, and promises to fulfill Seymour’s greatest wishes in exchange for edible victims. Temptation is too great for Seymour, who finds himself with a deadly secret to keep just as romance blossoms between him and Audrey.
Brief history lesson: The original Little Shop of Horrors was an ultra-cheapie thriller, but one with a darkly comic edge, from good ol’ Roger Corman. A forgotten film for many years, it was rediscovered and turned into an even more darkly comic off-Broadway play, which went on to huge success. This movie, 1986’s Little Shop of Horrors, is an adaptation of that live show.
This movie is an absolute blast. It’s dark comedy, but not too dark. There’s slapstick, but not obnoxious, distracting slapstick. The love story is sweet, without being sickeningly sappy. The laughs are total goofball, but you find yourself caring abut these characters, Audrey II becomes a genuine menace, but the movie never becomes full-on hororr. Basically, every element of the story is maintained at just the right pitch, coming together for a confident, genuine, and overall pure entertainment experience. In other words, I’m a big fan.
There’s so much to praise about this movie. Steve Martin (Three Amigos!) nearly steals the whole movie with a bravura performance as Audrey’s biker boyfriend, one with a memorable profession. Bill Murray (Rushmore) cameos, and has a stellar scene with Martin, and seeing the two play off of each other is a highlight. There are three “Do-wop Girls” who act as the story’s de facto Greek chorus, and the creators come up with amusing ways to include them in almost every song. John Candy (Spaceballs) has a hilarious cameo as a boisterous radio host, as does Christopher Guest (The Princess Bride) as one of the shop’s customers. At the center of this ensemble is Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene. In what might be his best performance, Moranis creates a loveable sad sack hero in Seymour, while also belting out the sings with a surprisingly powerful singing voice. Ellen Greene, who was primarily known for her stage work prior to this, is a riot as Audrey. With her comically high-toned voice and birdlike mannerisms, she is an instantly memorable character. We believe she might eventually fall for Seymour, and this makes her much more than just “the girl” in a sci-fi/horror flick.
The music is a combination of classic Motown and classic Broadway, with do-wop and gospel influences everywhere. Everyone, from the stars to the chorus extras, bring the tunes to life with full, energetic voices. The songs were composed by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, who went on to write the songs for Disney’s The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. The lyrics feature clever turns of phrase throughout, tied into a number of catchy, “gets stuck in your head for days” melodies. What’s more, the songs are all staged in clever ways. A lot of thought clearly went into each number, and how to make each one visual. One highlight is Audrey’s fantasy depicted on screen during her ballad “Somewhere That’s Green.” The easy way to do this would have been to just point the camera act the actress and hope that her performance alone will carry the song. There are times when that might work, but in this case, the filmmakers go the extra mile, with an elaborate comedy dream sequence matching the already-hilarious lyrics. Creative energy like this fuels the entire film.
Little Shop of Horrors was directed by Frank Oz, who brought his years of experience working with Jim Henson and the Muppets to this project, and his shows with the creation of Audrey II. The man-eating plant is a magnificent practical effect, filled with personality and character. The mouth—and it’s mostly all mouth—is amazingly flexible and expressive. There are several shots that have the camera zooming in to an extreme close-up on the inside of Audrey II’s mouth, just so we can be awed at the astonishing amount of detail in there. Let’s not forget that Audrey II was voiced by Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops, another near perfect casting choice. He’s just incongruous and “modern” enough to seem alien to Seymour, but not to the audience, so we get to be in on some of Audrey II’s fun. Yes, Audrey II is a fun villain, delighting in pulling Seymour’s strings, and thoroughly enjoying all the chaos being caused.
Now for the confusing part: There’s some seriously thorny history surrounding this movie, and footage shot but never fully revealed to the public. Two endings were shot, the one seen in theaters, and one allegedly based on the much darker ending of the live show. The movie’s official soundtrack features a deleted song, “Don’t Feed the Plants,” which many fans believed was the basis of the alternate ending. Then, the movie was released on DVD with the alternate ending, only to have those DVDs recalled from store shelves almost immediately after, allegedly for legal reasons surrounding the alternate ending or other bonus features. An official DVD was later released, which has perfectly good audio and video and a great Frank Oz commentary, but lacking the deleted footage. Some of those recalled DVDs can be found on eBay for about the same cost of a medium-sized airport. Those of us who aren’t unendingly wealthy have been left to speculate about that lost footage, and what it might be.
Along comes this Blu-ray release, and now that I’ve actually got the disc in my hot, greasy little hands, I can say with confidence that YES the alternate ending is on the Blu-ray. The disc is set up so you have the option of watching either the original ending in the theatrical version or the alternate ending at the end of the new director’s cut. The alternate ending is also available to view separately with commentary from the director. The other good news is that the deleted footage has been fully restored for Blu-ray. The fortunate few who got the rare recalled DVD with the ending only saw a rough black and white version. Now, in high def, that rough footage now looks stunning—bright and colorful, and a perfect match for the rest of the film.
After all these years, now that I’ve finally seen the other ending, what do I think? In many ways, it’s a marvel to behold. At about 20 minutes long, the ending features an extended special effects sequence, created almost entirely through miniatures, which will absolutely take your breath away. On the other hand, this ending is much darker, so much that it might feel like a betrayal to audiences who have become invested in Seymour and Audrey’s adventures. It’s true that this is how the original off-Broadway show ended, but what works on stage does not always work on screen, and that’s the case here. Of the two, the theatrical ending remains the more satisfying one from a story and plot perspective. There are a lot forced happy endings in movies, but this happy ending is one that feels genuinely earned. That said, I’m aware that many people are going to disagree with me and swear that the alternate ending is better. You know what? That’s totally OK, because both versions of the movie are on this one disc, which means fans can enjoy whichever version they want, whenever they want, which is just how it should be.
The Blu-ray’s video is stunning, showcasing a lot of detail and vibrant colors in the elaborate sets. The music is key, of course, and the audio fills the room with the tunes, creating an immersive aural experience. For the rest of the bonus features, there is a new featurette discussing the two endings, and why the changes were made. From there, we get Frank Oz’s technical-minded commentary and a vintage 1986 featurette ported over from the DVD. Outtakes with optional commentary and two theatrical trailers round out the package.
We have the notorious alternate ending to enjoy, but there’s still more “lost” footage from the film that fans are aware of but have never been released—a longer version of “The Meek Shall Inherit.” A book from the time of the movie’s release contained a photo of Rick Moranis made up as a half-plant, half-Seymour creature, allegedly from a dream sequence. A series of trading cards released at around the same time had additional photos from this cut scene. Wherever that footage, it isn’t on this Blu-ray. The myth of the movie lives on until its next release, I suppose…
For years—years!—I resisted buying Little Shop of Horrors on DVD, knowing that out there, somewhere, there would be a better edition of the movie to own. That day is finally here. The movie is pure fun with great performances, and the Blu-ray’s presentation does right for the fans. It’s a must-buy. We’re having some fun now.