Little Shop of Horrors (film)
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Little Shop of Horrors
is a 1986 musical comedy film directed by Frank Oz. It is a film adaptation of the off-Broadway musical comedy of the same name by composer Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman about a nerdy florist shop worker who raises a vicious, raunchy plant that feeds on human blood. Menken and Ashman's Off-Broadway musical was based on the low-budget 1960 film The Little Shop of Horrors, directed by Roger Corman. The film stars Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Vincent Gardenia, Steve Martin, and the voice of Levi Stubbs as Audrey II
Little Shop of Horrors was filmed on the Albert R. Broccoli 007 Stage at the Pinewood Studios in England, where a "downtown" set, complete with overhead train track, was constructed. The film was produced on a budget of $25 million, in contrast to the original 1960 film, which, according to Corman, only cost $30,000. The film's original 23-minute finale, based on the musical's ending, was rewritten and reshot after receiving a strong negative reception from test audiences. Before it was fully restored in 2012 by Warner Home Video, the ending was never available publicly other than in the form of black-and-white workprint footage.
In September 1960, nerdy Seymour Krelborn and the beautiful, but ditzy Audrey, work at Mushnik's Flower Shop in the slums of New York City. After a day without a single customer, Mushnik prompts to close the store, but Audrey persuades him to let Seymour display a "strange and interesting" plant to attract customers, which Seymour has named "Audrey II". Immediately, a customer enters and asks Seymour about the plant. Seymour explains that he got the plant from an old Chinese man during an unexpected Solar eclipse. The plant successfully attracts several customers and puts the flower shop back in business. Seymour's attempts to find proper nourishment for the finicky plant are unsuccessful until he accidentally pricks his finger on a rose thorn, and discovers that Audrey II has an appetite for human blood.
Audrey II continues to grow rapidly and Seymour becomes a local celebrity. However, he becomes very weak because Audrey II needs increasingly more of his blood every day. While at work, Seymour attempts to ask Audrey out, but she turns him down because she has a date with her abusive and sadistic dentist boyfriend Orin Scrivello D.D.S.. Later, Audrey II begins to talk to Seymour, demanding more blood than Seymour can give through Seymour murdering someone. In return, Audrey II offers Seymour fame and fortune, but Seymour refuses until he witnesses Orin slapping Audrey, and, enraged, agrees to feed him to the plant.
Seymour books an appointment with Orin and arms himself with a revolver, however he cannot bring himself to use it. Orin decides to amuse himself by huffing nitrous oxide, which he is addicted to. He puts on a special gas mask (which provides a constant flow of gas), which malfunctions, preventing him from removing it. He begs Seymour for help while laughing hysterically, but Seymour takes no action causing Orin to die from asphyxiation. That night, Seymour drags Orin's body back to the flower shop where he uses an axe to chop it up for Audrey II (per its demands). Mr. Mushnik witnesses Seymour's actions and flees in fear without being noticed.
After a sleepless night, Seymour discovers the police questioning Audrey about Orin's disappearance. She says that she feels guilty about Orin's death, even though she did not cause it, because she always secretly wished that he would disappear. Seymour tells Audrey that she is beautiful and should not have such low self-esteem. They admit their feelings for each other and kiss passionately. That night, Mushnik confronts Seymour and accuses him of killing Orin and threatens to hand him over to the police. Mushnik suddenly decides to bargain with Seymour, offering Seymour "a one way bus ticket out of town" if he allows Mushnik to take care of (and profit from) the plant. However, Mushnik stumbles into Audrey II's open mouth and gets eaten whole by the plant.
Seymour's fortune continues to grow and he becomes a media star, but he is very worried about Audrey II's growth and insatiable appetite. He is also afraid that Audrey will only love him if he continues to be famous. He decides to get out of town and marry Audrey, leaving the plant to starve. Audrey II catches him leaving and demands another meal; Seymour agrees, but insists on ground chuck from the local butcher. In the meantime, Audrey II telephones Audrey and coaxes her into the shop, then tries to eat her. Seymour returns and saves her just in time. Audrey reveals to Seymour that she doesn't just like him for the plant's success, but that she liked him the day they met. Suddenly, Patrick Martin, a salesman, appears and offers Seymour a contract to breed Audrey II and make a fortune by selling the plant to families around the world. Seymour, shocked, realizes that Audrey II planned for this all along, and that it is planning for world domination.
Seymour confronts the gigantic, cursing plant, which by now has little offspring buds. Audrey II bursts out of its pot and reveals to Seymour that it is an alien from outer space. During a brawl, Audrey II manages to destroy the entire shop. However, Seymour grabs a broken exposed electrical wire and electrocutes Audrey II, causing the plant to blow up. Seymour, having miraculously survived the collapse and the explosion, safely reunites with Audrey. They wed and move to the suburbs which reveals a smiling Audrey II bud among the flowers in their front yard.
During production, director Oz shot a 23-minute ending based on the off-Broadway musical's ending. However, after receiving negative reviews from test audiences, the ending had to be rewritten and re-shot for the theatrical release with a "happier ending".
In the original ending, after Audrey is attacked by Audrey II, Seymour tells Audrey that he fed Mushnik and Orin to Audrey II and explains the whole story, then Audrey dies in Seymour's arms, but only before begging him to feed her to the plant so that Seymour will get all the fame he deserves. Seymour does so, but afterwards attempts to commit suicide by jumping off Audrey's apartment complex. Before he can, Patrick Martin appears and attempts to persuade Seymour to let him cut samples of the plant so that they can grow into little Audrey IIs and be sold across America. In horror, Seymour quickly slides down the ladder and returns to the flower shop. After confronting the plant as it sings "Mean Green Mother from Outer Space", the plant tears down the shop, plucks Seymour out of the rubble, and eats him.
The three chorus girls appear in front of a sparkling American flag and tell how the Audrey II buds become a nationwide consumer craze. But soon, Audrey II and its army of duplicates takes over the country. In the dramatic finale, giant Audrey II buds begin destroying New York as the U.S. Army attempts to fight them and the plant finally descends upon the Statue of Liberty. A title card "THE END?!?" appears and Audrey II bursts through the screen, cackling.
Rick Moranis as Seymour Krelborn, a nerdy florist who loves "strange and interesting" plants.
Ellen Greene as Audrey, a sweet, quiet, ditsy and insecure coworker; the object of Seymour's affections, but dating the sadistic Orin Scrivello.
Vincent Gardenia as Mr. Mushnik, the grouchy, penny-pinching owner of Mushnik's Flower Shop.
Steve Martin as Orin Scrivello, DDS, an abusive, sadistic and nitrous oxide-huffing dentist, and Audrey's boyfriend.
Levi Stubbs as the voice of Audrey II, an evil and profane flytrap-like extraterrestrial plant with plans to take over the world.
Tichina Arnold, Michelle Weeks, and Tisha Campbell as Crystal, Ronette, and Chiffon, the three dropout schoolgirls who act as a Greek chorus throughout the film.
James Belushi as Patrick Martin, a Licensing and Marketing executive from World Botanical Enterprises who offers Seymour a proposal to sell Audrey IIs worldwide. Belushi appears in the theatrical release after re-shoots after actor Paul Dooley, who played Martin in the original ending, was unavailable to reprise his scenes.
John Candy as Wink Wilkinson, the WSKID DJ (the only one) who enjoys putting on a radio show about "weird stuff" called, "Wink Wilkinson's Weird World".
Christopher Guest as The First Customer, the first customer to enter the flower shop and notice Audrey II.
Bill Murray as Arthur Denton, an enthusiastic masochist man who goes to Orin for "a long, slow root canal."
Miriam Margolyes as a Dental Nurse, Orin's sarcastic nurse/secretary who Orin appears to enjoy harming frequently.
Stanley Jones as the Narrator, whose voice is heard reading the opening words.
Mak Wilson and Danny John-Jules as Doo-wop backup singers.
Jim Henson's daughter Heather cameos as one of Orin's patients, and his son Brian is one of the principal puppeteers of the Audrey II puppets.
"Prologue: Little Shop of Horrors" – Chiffon, Ronette, Crystal
"Skid Row (Downtown)" – Seymour, Audrey, Mushnik, Chiffon, Ronette, Crystal, Company
"Da-Doo" – Seymour, Chiffon, Ronette, Crystal
"Grow for Me" – Seymour, Chiffon, Ronette, Crystal (off-screen)
"Somewhere That's Green" – Audrey
"Some Fun Now" – Chiffon, Ronette, Crystal
"Dentist!" – Orin, Chiffon, Ronette, Crystal
"Feed Me (Git It)" – Audrey II, Seymour
"Suddenly, Seymour" – Seymour, Audrey, Chiffon, Ronette, Crystal
"Suppertime" – Audrey II, Chiffon, Ronette, Crystal
"The Meek Shall Inherit" – Chiffon, Ronette, Crystal, Company
"Suppertime (Reprise)" – Audrey II, Audrey
"Suddenly, Seymour (Reprise)" – Audrey, Seymour
"Mean Green Mother from Outer Space" – Audrey II, the Pods
"Little Shop of Horrors medley" (end credits) – Company
"Somewhere That's Green (Reprise)" – Audrey, Seymour
"Mean Green Mother from Outer Space" – Audrey II, the Pods
"Finale (Don't Feed the Plants)" – Chiffon, Ronette, Crystal, Company
The film differs only slightly from the stage play. The title song is expanded to include an additional verse to allow for more opening credits. The song "Ya Never Know" was re-written into a calypso-style song called "Some Fun Now", although some of the lyrics were retained. Four other songs ("Closed for Renovation", "Mushnik and Son", "Now (It's Just the Gas)", and "Call Back in the Morning") were cut from the original production score. "Mean Green Mother from Outer Space" was written for the film. The full version of "The Meek Shall Inherit" and "Finale Ultimo (Don't Feed the Plants)" were cut from the film due to the alternate ending, but are included on the soundtrack album. The dramatic reprise of "Somewhere That's Green" was also in the film, but it was cut as well, and only can be found as part of the original ending.
David Geffen was one of the original producers of the off-Broadway show and he began planning to produce a feature film adaptation. He originally wanted Steven Spielberg to executive produce the film and Martin Scorsese to direct. Scorsese wanted to shoot the film in 3-D, but plans fell through and Scorsese's first 3-D film would be Hugo 25 years later. John Landis was also approached to direct.
Geffen then offered the film to Frank Oz, who was finishing The Muppets Take Manhattan around the same time. Oz initially rejected it, but he later had an idea that got him into the cinematic aspect of the project, which he didn't figure out before. Oz spent a month and a half to restructure the script which he felt was stage-bound. Geffen and Ashman liked what he had written and decided to go with what he did. Oz was also studying the Off-Broadway show and how it was thematically constructed, all in order to reconstruct it for a feature film.
Greene was not the first choice for the role of Audrey. Geffen wanted a star role for the film. The studio wanted Cyndi Lauper, who turned it down. Barbra Streisand was also rumored to have been offered the part. Since Greene was the original off-Broadway Audrey, the role was given to her. "She's amazing", Oz said. "I couldn't imagine any other Audrey, really. She nailed that part for years off-Broadway." The character of the masochistic dental patient, Arthur Denton, played in the original film by Jack Nicholson and cut from the stage version, was added back to the story and played by Bill Murray, who improvised all of his dialogue. It supposedly took Steve Martin six weeks to film all his scenes as Orin. He contributed ideas such as socking the nurse in the face (originally he was to knock her out using his gas mask) and ripping off the dolls head. While he re-wrote brief sequences in The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, Little Shop of Horrors was the only film ever completely written by Howard Ashman, who succumbed to AIDS in 1991 near the end of production of Beast.
All the scenes were filmed at Pinewood Studios in England, making use of every sound stage there, including the 007 Stage. Oz and his crew did not want to shoot on location as it would tamper with the fantastical mood of the film. Part of the giant 007 stage was used to film the 'Suddenly Seymour' number. But because of its size, the stage was impractical to heat properly and thus caused breath condensation to appear from the actor's lips. This was countered by having Ellen Greene and Rick Moranis put ice cubes in their mouths.
Operating the plant
The film's version of Audrey II was an extremely elaborate creation, using puppets designed by Lyle Conway.
While developing the mouth of the plant for the dialogue scenes and musical numbers, Oz, Conway and his crew were struggling to figure out how to make the plant move convincingly. "We kept trying and trying and it didn't work." The solution presented itself while reviewing test footage of the puppet. When the film was run backwards or forward at a faster than normal speed, the footage looked much more convincing and lifelike. They realized they could film the puppet at a slower speed, making it appear to move faster when played back at normal speed. "By slowing it down it looked it was talking real fast. We then went 'holy cow, look at that. We can do it.'" The frame rate for filming the plant was slowed to 12 or 16 frames per second, depending on the scene, and frequent screen cuts were used to minimize the amount of screen time the puppet spent with human actors, and when interaction was totally necessary, the actors (usually Moranis) would pantomime and lip sync in slow motion. The film was then sped up to the normal 24 frames per second and voices were reinserted in post-production.
There are no blue screens or opticals involved in any of Audrey II's scenes, with the exception of one effect in the reshot ending where the plant is electrocuted. The plant was made in six different stages of growth and there were three different versions of Mushnik's shop, making it possible for two units to work with different sized plants at the same time. Each of the talking plants had to be cleaned, re-painted and patched up at the end of each shooting day, which would take up to three hours depending on the size. The "Suppertime" number uses two different sizes of Audrey II. When the plant is singing all alone in the shop, it is actually a smaller size: the same size as when it sang "Feed Me", but now standing on a scaled down set to make it look larger. The full size one that is seen to interact with Seymour and Mushnik was not provided with lip movement, but was built to swallow Mushnik's (mechanical) legs. During Audrey II's final stage of growth, 60 technicians were necessary to operate the one-ton puppet.
Oz and Ashman wanted to retain the ending of the musical where Seymour and Audrey die and the plant succeeds and takes over the city of New York, but Geffen was actually against it. "He said you can't do that," Oz recounts. "But again he knew what Howard and I wanted to do, so he supported us." A special effects team skilled in working with miniatures went to great lengths to create the finale. The model department was supervised by Richard Conway, brother of Lyle Conway, who at the time was known for his effects work on Flash Gordon and Brazil. "It was all model stuff, that was the brilliant thing. he created the bridge, the buildings, several Audrey IIs and created all of it, all on tabletop. It's all old-fashioned, tabletop animation."
Reportedly the entire, planned climax cost about $5 million dollars to produce. Oz said in an interview, "this was, I think, the most expensive film Warner Bros. had done at the time." As the film was nearing completion, the excited studio set up a test screening in San Jose. Oz said, "For every musical number, there was applause, they loved it, it was just fantastic... until Rick and Ellen died, and then the theatre became a refrigerator, an ice box. It was awful and the cards were just awful. You have to have a 55 percent "recommend" to really be released and we got a 13. It was a complete disaster." Oz insisted on setting another test screening in L.A. to see if they would get a different reaction. Geffen agreed to this, but they received the same negative reaction as before. Oz later recounted, "I learned a lesson: in a stage play, you kill the leads and they come out for a bow — in a movie, they don't come out for a bow, they're dead. They’re gone and so the audience lost the people they loved, as opposed to the theater audience where they knew the two people who played Audrey and Seymour were still alive. They loved those people, and they hated us for it."
Oz and Ashman scrapped Audrey and Seymour's grim deaths and the finale rampage, and Ashman rewrote a happier ending, with James Belushi replacing Paul Dooley (who was unavailable) as Patrick Martin. The musical number "Mean Green Mother from Outer Space" was left mostly intact from the original cut, with new shots of Audrey observing from a window added in. A brief sequence from the "Mean Green Mother" number was also removed in which Seymour fires his revolver at Audrey II, only to discover that the bullets ricochet harmlessly off of the plant. In the happy ending, Audrey II is destroyed and Seymour, Audrey, and humanity survive. This happy ending is made somewhat ambiguous, however, with a final shot of a smiling Audrey II bud in Seymour and Audrey's front yard. Tisha Campbell was unavailable for the final appearance of the chorus girls in the yard and was replaced with a lookalike seen only from the waist down.
"We had to do it," Oz recounted. "-We had to- do it in such a manner that the audience would enjoy the movie. It was very dissatisfying for both of us that we couldn't do what we wanted. So creatively, no, it didn't satisfy us and being true to the story. But we also understood the realities that they couldn't release the movie if we had that ending." A brief scene earlier in the film, in which Seymour proposes to Audrey, was also re-shot. In the final cut, the only miniatures shot by Richard Conway are the New York City streets passing behind Steve Martin's motorcycle ride at the beginning of "Dentist!"
Other changes from the stage show
Apart from the new ending, major changes from the stage musical include:
The deletion of the songs "Closed for Renovation", "Call Back in the Morning", "Mushnik and Son", "Now (It's Just the Gas)", and "Sominex"; the reprise of "Somewhere That's Green" and "Don't Feed the Plants" were present in the original ending but deleted in the final cut. The song "Ya Never Know" was adapted into the significantly shorter "Some Fun Now".
The character of Arthur Denton, the masochistic dental patient, was not in the stage show. However, he does appear in the original 1960 film under the name Wilbur Force, played by Jack Nicholson.
The sequence in which Seymour goes to the WSKID radio station and the character of Wink Wilkinson was added. In the stage show, only the tail end of Seymour's radio interview is heard.
The subplot of Mushnik's adoption of Seymour (motivated by Mushnik's desire to ensure his own profit from Seymour's success rather than from any parental affection) is deleted.
Mushnik does not witness the dismemberment of Orin in the musical, but rather discovers blood drops on the floor and Orin's dental smock in the garbage after the dentist is fed to the plant. His attempt to blackmail Seymour at gunpoint into giving him the plant is also added for the screen. In the stage musical, he confronts Seymour with the evidence he has found and orders him to explain it to the police.
"Suddenly, Seymour" and "Suppertime" take place the day after Orin's disappearance, unlike in the stage musical, where these events take place several weeks later.
Seymour is made less culpable in the deaths of Orin and Mushnik than he is in the stage musical, thus making him more sympathetic. In the stage musical, Seymour deliberately waits as Orin slowly asphyxiates, and gets Mushnik to step into the plant's mouth by telling him he has left the day's earnings inside Audrey II. In the film, it is more ambiguous as to whether Seymour is intentionally helping to kill both characters or if he merely panics and takes no action as they die.
Productions of the stage show typically have the same actor who plays Orin also play several other roles, including Patrick Martin, the voices of the opening narrator, and the radio announcer of WSKID, a wino, the first customer, and all of the people trying to get Seymour to sign with them during "The Meek Shall Inherit." In the film, however, different actors portray all of these parts.
The opening of "The Meek Shall Inherit" was rewritten entirely and was cut to a fraction of its length in the show. The deleted section was illustrated as a "dream sequence", in which Seymour agonizes over the murders he has committed to feed the plant. Stills from this sequence reproduced in the Little Shop of Horrors photo novel by Robert and Louise Egan show Audrey running through dry-ice fog towards Seymour, only to bypass him and embrace Audrey II (the "Suppertime" sized plant). Another still shows Seymour confronting a giant framed portrait of Mr. Mushnik, and yet another shows Seymour engulfed in vines as if turning into a plant. This sequence was cut, but it appears in the soundtrack album booklet. Oz later said about the absent sequence, "That was cut early on. I cut that because I felt it just didn’t work and that was before the first preview in San Jose. It was the right choice, so I don’t even know what happened to that. It didn’t really add value to the entire cut." A sample of the deleted sequence appears on an outtake reel on the DVD, and the entire sequence has been released online.
In the film, Seymour asks Audrey to marry him, which she happily agrees to do. The two never make a plan to marry in the stage show, but Seymour promises Audrey that they'll leave Skid Row together in a scene before "Suppertime Reprise."
The Audrey II tricks Audrey into coming into the shop by calling her on the payphone, whereas in the stage musical Audrey comes into the shop worried, unable to sleep and looking for Seymour.
The characters of Crystal, Ronnette, and Chiffon interact with Seymour and Audrey significantly more often onstage than they do in the film, where they are primarily narrators.
Little Shop of Horrors, after a delay needed to complete the revised ending, was released on December 19, 1986 and was anticipated to do strong business over the Holiday Season of that year. The film grossed $38 million at the box office, from the view point of the studio, it was considered an under-performance. However, it became a smash hit on its home video release.
It earned a very positive critical reception; it currently holds a 89% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes by critics. On Metacritic, which uses an average of critics' reviews, the film has an 81/100 rating, indicating "universal acclaim" (14 positive reviews, 1 mixed, and no negative).
The film was also nominated for two Academy Awards, one for Best Visual Effects (lost to Aliens), the other for Best Original Song for Audrey II's new number, "Mean Green Mother From Outer Space". "Mean Green" was the first Oscar-nominated song to contain profanity in the lyrics and thus had to be slightly censored for the show. It lost to "Take My Breath Away" from Top Gun. It was also nominated for Best Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical and Best Original Score (Miles Goodman) during the 44th Golden Globe Awards.
Little Shop of Horrors was the first DVD to be recalled for content. In 1998, Warner Bros. released a special edition DVD that contained approximately 23 minutes of unfinished footage from Oz's original ending, although it was in black and white and was missing some sound, visual, and special effects. Producer and rights owner David Geffen was not aware of this release until it made it to the stores. Geffen said, "They put out a black-and-white, un-scored, un-dubbed video copy of the original ending that looked like sh**." As a result the studio removed it from shelves in a matter of days and replaced it with a second edition that did not contain the extra material. Geffen wanted to re-release the film to theaters with the original ending intact. Geffen also claimed to have a color copy of the original ending, while the studio had lower quality, black and white duplicates as their own color print was destroyed in a studio fire years earlier. But Geffen hadn't realized until after the DVD was pulled that there was no colored copy of the original ending in existence to their knowledge. Subsequently, the original first edition DVD was a much sought-after collector's item and sold for upwards of $150 on eBay.
In February 2007, Warner hinted that a DVD reissue, featuring the original ending in color with the missing effects, may be on its way in the following year, but this release didn't happen and no word on the restoration was issued. At this point, the original ending, and Oz's commentary, had been virally shared on the internet through bit torrenting and user-generated video sites.
In November 2011, Oz held a Q&A session at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens during a Henson themed exhibit. During the talk, he announced that the film would be released as a new Blu-ray special edition with the original ending restored. Warner Bros. reconstructed and restored the ending in an alternate edit, with re-discovered color negatives of the sequence and the help of production notes from Frank Oz and others on the film’s creative team. It was released on October 9, 2012 with features returning from the original DVD. It was initially subtitled as "The Intended Cut", but changed to "The Director's Cut" once Oz began to support the release. The new edit was screened at the 50th New York Film Festival in the "Masterwork" line-up, alongside titles such as Lawrence Oliver's Richard III and Heaven's Gate.