Yesterday, Warner Bros. released the director’s cut of Frank Oz’s 1986 film, Little Shop of Horrors, on Blu-ray. The Broadway musical sensation received a film adaptation in the late ’80s, but the film’s dark and unhappy ending put off general audiences when it was shown in preview screenings. The studio behind the production, The Geffen Company, demanded that the director and playwright Howard Ashman re-write the ending to satisfy general audiences.
When the film was released on DVD, one of the bonus features was the bleak original ending, but sadly, it was recalled due to presentation concerns (it was in B&W instead of color). Now that the film has been restored on Blu-ray, the alternative ending also received a cleaner (now in color) look.
In an interview with EW, Frank Oz talked about the original, 23-minute ending, which was more faithful to the Broadway Musical version. As much as it broke his heart to see the original ending go, Oz knew it was the right thing to do to make the film profitable for a general audience. Oz explains:
“[Little Shop of Horrors playwright Howard Ashman] and I were in David Geffen’s office and we both wanted to retain the original ending, with the plant winning and the key people dying, and David was against that. He said you can’t do that, but again he knew Howard and I wanted to, so David supported us… For every musical number there was applause, they loved it, it was just fantastic… until we killed our two leads. And then the theater became a refrigerator, an ice box. It was awful and the cards were just awful.” Oz continues, “It was a complete disaster. After that San Jose screening, I said, ‘Can we just try one more time in L.A. to see if the reaction is different?’ David supported me and we did it, and we got exactly the same reaction… Howard and I knew what we had to do: We had to cut that ending and make it a happy ending, or a satisfying ending. We didn’t want to, but we understood they couldn’t release it with that kind of a reaction. [Audiences] loved the two leads so much that when we killed them, they felt bereft. So, Howard rewrote it and I shot it with a satisfying ending.”
When the DVD was recalled in 1998, David Geffen, the founder of The Geffen Company, figured there had to be a color version of the alternative ending somewhere and a re-release would be in order. Unfortunately at the time, Geffen was wrong. The DVD release of Little Shop of Horrors became a collector’s item and was much sought after for being a rarity. Luckily, Warner Bros. restoration expert Kurt Galvao was tireless in his pursuit to find the original color version of the alternative ending. Galvao explains:
“It was difficult finding all the pieces […] They weren’t where the boxes said they were, but we went through every piece, and I had guys on boxes for weeks looking at every frame. It took about a year and a half to pull it all together. And then on the sound side, we had to locate the original track of singing, get the original tracks in there, and find the dialogue tracks from the dailies. Some of them had damage, so we had to filter out the damage in some cases.”
Little Shop of Horrors is a film oddity, not only for its subject matter but for its bizarre puppet work, mainstream appeal, and musical theater origins. A movie like Little Shop of Horrors probably wouldn’t do well in today’s CGI-heavy movie landscape. But for those who are open to its imagination and scope, Little Shop of Horrors is a treat!
Check out the alternative ending in three parts, and in B&W from the DVD release:
And here’s a clip of the color version from the new Blu-ray release: