When Frank Oz’s Little Shop of Horrors was released in 1986, fans of the cult 1960 Roger Corman B-flick (starring a very young Jack Nicholson) and those who’d seen the off-Broadway musical were shocked to see a major change in plot at the end of the movie: the hero and heroine live! It’s that version – the Oz version – that’s endured, with Ellen Greene as flower shop girl-slash-blonde bombshell Audrey and Rick Moranis as nerdy orphan-slash-amateur botanist Seymour. The two fall in love and Seymour saves Audrey (and the world) from being eaten by the sadistic flesh-eating Audrey II…. Or does he?
The Blu-ray edition of Little Shop of Horrors, out Tuesday from Warner Bros., includes a 20-minute long director’s cut ending alongside the theatrical release. The new footage features a dark, tragic ending to the classic man buys plant, plant eats people, man gets famous tale. In this new/old version (26-year-old spoiler alert!) Audrey and Seymour are both devoured by a hungry Audrey II, who lives out his dream of taking over the world, destroying New York City with Avengers-like strength. Check out a clip of the carnage – as well as EW’s interview with Greene and Little Shop composer Alan Menken about the original ending – below:
When the film screened for test audiences before it was released, screen cards came back with extremely negative feedback about the dark ending. Menken recalled his feeling after seeing the show with producer David Geffen in San Jose, Calif. “I remember running over to David, saying, ‘It’s fantastic!’ and David just kind of looking at me,” says Menken. “And then apparently the cards showed up and it was like, ‘Oh my god.’”
But 25 years is a long time. Would audiences have reacted differently today? “I think yes,” Menken says. “How much better, I don’t know, but it would have definitely had a better reception, for sure. I don’t think people were prepared for what it was, but over the years, people evolve and people’s perception of musicals and movie musicals have evolved.”
Greene, who played Audrey both on stage and in the film, is loyal to both endings. She describes originating the role with Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman, who died of complications from AIDS in 1991, as a true collaboration. “Frank Oz saw me more as a heroine and wanted to even it out,” she says. “As Audrey on stage I was kind of sillier, a little funnier, there were more Audrey-isms, so when I died, I’d gotten some giggles, I’d gotten laughs and then seconds later I switched and you were crying, so it played between the two. By the time I went to die, it was definitely way more classic, and so it was truly sad.”
Greene added that it’s the story at the show’s core that has made it last. “I think all three versions – the play, the [theatrical release], and the director’s cut – they’re all valid, they’re just different interpretations because I think the [lyrics and book] that Howard created and Alan put music to is so spectacular.”
Oz has said he believes it was harder for audiences to watch Seymour and Audrey die on screen than on the stage because on stage they came out (alive) for the curtain call. But Menken thinks film audiences just needed to be prepared. “The sense of humor [between the endings] is different,” he says. “It still works but it works in a different way and I think audiences need to be prepared for the over-the-topness of the movie as it was originally done.”
Menken took EW through the clip above, noting that the director’s cut finale is a tribute to classic 1950’s horror films in a way the musical wasn’t. “The finale of our musical, which we didn’t have in the original [ending of the film], is ‘Don’t Feed the Plants’ and then of course in the movie there’s a whole sequence where it turns into a horror film,” Menken explains. “That’s where the movie really stakes its own claim and its own stylistic place, because clearly what we did on stage referred to it, but it’s the simply theatrical telling of the story and it’s over. It’s actually shown in the film, Audrey II eating the world, and that’s where Frank Oz really got to do his homage to horror movies. I think it’s pretty fantastic. I think it’s shocking to some people because it’s a very unusual ending to a musical.”
Greene added that Oz’s attention to detail made the film come together, even teaching her to walk accurately alongside the plant (puppeted by Brian Henson), at 12 frames per second.
Little Shop was one of Menken and Ashman’s first musicals together, and they went on to create some of the most lasting Disney classics, including Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid. The cast and crew reunited recently for the first time at the New York Film Festival for the Blu-ray release. “Certainly for Ellen and for me, this is Howard’s baby,” Menken said. “It’s the essence. It was one of the masterpieces of his career and he’s very, very missed.”