Frank Oz Puts the Horror Back Into Little Shop of Horrors

Calling all fans of Little Shop of Horrors. You’re finally gonna get to see the ending you didn’t get to see!

Picture it in eye-popping color: the “strange and unusual” alien plant kills and feasts upon the lovable protagonists, subsequently destroying the world, marching through the streets of New York like Godzilla, overturning cars, blowing up buildings, and, in one particularly inspired sequence, consuming a moving subway train as it drives straight into its mouth.

Nope, it’s not new footage — this Faustian nightmare initially received 13 percent audience approval when test viewers first saw Frank Oz‘s 1986 screen adaptation of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman‘s cult classic Off-Broadway musical. Now, over 25 years later, it’s seeing the light of day as part of the film’s Blu-ray “Director’s Cut” release. (Note: the ending has been available before – as a black-and-white work print on the 1998 “special edition” DVD – but it was quickly pulled at the request of producer David Geffen.)

As Oz admits, he wasn’t totally surprised the footage ended up on the cutting room floor. “It was a disaster because we killed our stars. Howard and I knew that we had to have a happy ending because in San Jose and Los Angeles, the audience loved the movie and we’re getting applause until Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene are killed, and then there’s an ice box.”

Instead, a happy ending, in which Moranis’ Seymour kills Audrey II, the plant bent on world domination, and wins the love of the sweet but dim Audrey (Greene) was subsequently shot and released.

To get things back to the way it was, a team led by Kurt Galvao, the Vice President of Feature Post-Production at Warner Bros., restored the intended ending using Oz’s notes, the original color negative, and a variety of audio tracks, all of which were mixed together and impeccably cleaned. It was an arduous, year-and-a-half long process which made use of footage stored as close as Burbank and as far as London, where the film was shot.

“What they needed was for Seymour to be a hero,” adds Oz, who admits to never having been a fan of the happy ending that he and screenwriter Ashman cooked up. “I thought it was bogus, but I had no other choice, and Howard didn’t either,” he says. “You’re making it for millions of people, not for me and Howard.”

Oz also attributes part of the original ending’s failure to the fundamental difference between the silver screen and the stage. “On stage, the actors die and then come out for a bow. On film, they [Seymour and Audrey] died.”

Ultimately, how contemporary audiences will respond to the new version is anyone’s guess. “I think there will be two reactions,” Oz concludes. “One will appreciate the work, which was stunning. But on another level, is it enjoyable after the two leads die?”

It’s up to you to decide. Just think about that the next time you feed your plants.