Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Ultimate Gore-a-Thon: Da-Doo-Director's-Cut!

One of my very favorite remakes, nay, MOVIES, of all time is Frank Oz's 1986 version of Little Shop of Horrors.

This is because I'm gay.  Call it a stereotype and tease if you want but showtunes are just FUN.  Keep in mind, though, that I can also lift two-thirds of my 250 pound body weight over my head repeatedly and occasionally do so for fun, self-control is not one of my skillsets and I don't have a problem with letting someone run home and tell their mother that they were beat up by a gay guy.  I'll let you know when you can STOP teasing.  KISSES!

This is ALSO the "One That Got Away" when I was in high school theater.  They didn't do this show until AFTER I graduated.  So pissed.  I was also pissed when they did Lil Abner but that's neither here nor there.


I know you all are asking "But, why, Uncle Bob?  Why is this on your blogroll for a GORE-a-Thon?"

First off, because it's my fucking blog.  Second, I have issues with rules and authority.  Third, because I LOVE Man-Eating Plants and they are my favorite movie monster.  And lastly, because "gore" doesn't always have to happen on screen.  We'll get into that in a little bit.

So, for the uninitiated, Little Shop of Horrors started life in 1960 as a Roger Corman film.  It was filmed in two days as a challenge and featured Jack Nicholson which is pretty much its only high point.  In 1982, along came Howard Ashman and Alan Menken (the award winning duo that gave us the music for Disney's 80's renaissance) who brought the tale to the off-Broadway and, subsequently, Broadway stages and the show kind of took the world by storm.  And then Frank Oz and Geffen got a hold of it.  It remains the only film written by Ashman who passed away in 1991 from AIDS.

In the 1986 version, we still have basically the same story.  Seymour (Rick Moranis), a poor schlub living in the basement of Mr. Mushnik's (Vincent Gardenia) florist shop and quietly living out his days with his broom, his sweater-vests and his unrequited crush on Audrey (Ellen Greene and her amazing, gravity-defying tits).  Audrey is in an abusive relationship with Oren Scrivello D.D.S. (Played to GLORIOUS excess by Steve Martin).  In the background there are three drop-outs who represent Skid Row as a whole and serve as a Greek chorus (Tischina Arnold, Tisha Campbell-Martin and Michelle Weeks).

Dressed pretty well for drop-outs, girls.  One might question your professions.

Our story really begins when Seymour shows Mushnik and Audrey this new plant he's found that's kind of like a venus flytrap.  They display the fucking-adorable-and-I-want-one plant (after naming it Audrey II) in the window and, like fucking magic, their shop is SWAMPED by people that want to see it and they buy the shop out.  Mushnik wants to celebrate but Audrey has a date and Audrey II appears to wilt causing Mushnik to tell Seymour to nurse it back to health and make it fucking snappy.

Making kissy-faces is cute on the plant but it does not make the plant grow, Seymour.

This is where it starts to get interesting because Audrey II won't settle for Miracle-Gro.  She wants blood and as much of it as Seymour can give.  So he gives it to her and she grows, a lot and quickly.  Eventually, Audrey II reaches a point where Seymour just doesn't have enough to give, because he's not the Red fucking Cross, and A-II  decides it's time to pick something else off the menu.  This requires informing Seymour that it can talk (and is actually a "he" and is voiced by the extra cool Four Tops frontman Levi Stubbs) and leads to one of the most awesome songs in the history of musicals on film, Feed Me.  This is the song that sets down the Faustian Bargain that Seymour is a little hesitant about but gets on board with when he sees Audrey getting beat up by Oren.

He THRILLS when he drills a bicuspid.

In MY opinion, EVERYONE should see this and not just horror fans because it's just fucking adorable in that dark kind of way that gives a little kick.  It's, as mentioned before, a classic Faustian bargain story wrapped up in B-movie madness.  WITH PUPPETS!!  'Cause puppets are AWESOME!

Some nifty trivia for you:

Except in the theatrical ending where Audrey II gets electrocuted, there is NO blue screen or animated effects.   That's all puppet, baby, and it took 60 people to operate the 1-ton final puppet.  You'll also notice that there are relatively few scenes where there are people in the frame interacting with the plant after it starts talking.  That's because it was filmed at about 14 frames per second because while they could completely animate the face and make it look natural, the cabling and remote control stuff could only work so fast.  Rick Moranis had a few scenes where he had to pantomime real slow-like.

Now, here's where the gore comes in.  The gore in this movie is mostly implied.  Just before the Feed Me reprise scene, there's only one direct murder by Seymour and frankly, that was an accidental death.  The gore comes in AFTERWARD when we (and Mr Mushnik) see Seymour chopping up the body in shadow.  We KNOW it's disgusting and we KNOW that it's bloody but we never actually see it.  Just pieces of it in the aftermath when he feeds them to A-II.  Our imaginations give us all the gore, anyway.

Another piece of implied gore is the Director's Cut's restored original ending.


See, the original ending had Audrey and Seymour get eaten and then, because some asshole made cuttings surreptitiously, they start popping up EVERYWHERE and basically take over the world which is the plan laid out just before my FAVORITE song on the soundtrack, Mean Green Mother From Outer Space.  Giant man-eating plants just tear the place UP!  This is how it ended in the play and this is how Frank Oz WANTED to end the movie.

YAY!  Better version!! (Available on Amazon!)

But audiences in 1986 were fucking pussies and hated the downer ending.  They felt "cheated" when they found out that the plant won and Oz had to shorten the movie by about 15 minutes, shoot a new ending and replace Paul Dooley with James fucking Belushi, the "settle-for-it-even-though-we-hate-it" Belushi brother.  Fucking Reaganomics ruins EVERYTHING!

This is another one of those "starter" horror flicks that we should leave to our children.  It's THAT awesome.  I'ma go watch it again right now!  



  1. First, Frank Oz is the man. More people should know about him, and I am glad you are giving him due credit.

    Second, your genuine love for Little Shop shows through your review. Great read!

    Finally, I wish they had kept the original ending, too.

    Great stuff!

    1. Thank you!

      Frank Oz IS the shit. I felt bad that Stepford Wives tanked because I thought it was hilarious, gigantic plot hole and all.

      The original ending to Little Shop is fucking amazeballs and the 1986 test audience needs to be hunted down and beaten with a sockful of nickels.

  2. Bob, here's a link to a short snippet of the restored color ending that appeared on the new Bluray released at the end of last year (for your readers who may be wholly unfamiliar with it): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSPsyCYaIW4 Hopefully that in conjunction with your fine post will prompt a few folks to purchase a copy. The black and white workprint in three parts is still on Youtube, as well, but why would anyone do that to themselves when they can have the whole thing remastered and in color? Fans need to support the studios when they (occasionally) do the right thing.

    The modeling and puppetry used in that original ending is incredible, an epic ending the likes of which no one is likely to attempt again in the age of CGI. I'm glad it's available to the public in a restored form. That being said, I have to admit that it's all too easy for me to see why it doesn't really work.

    Oz himself has acknowledged that he's not 100% satisfied with either ending, because an ending that works with a stage production doesn't necessarily work for a movie. He and David Geffin both have conjectured that the problem with this downbeat ending is that with a stage play, the performers whose characters die in the play all come out for a curtain call. The audience gets the grimmer ending, but they still get to go home with the warm fuzzies knowing that everyone was alive and well at the end.

    With a movie, of course, the viewer just gets the grim ending and a sour taste in the mouth from seeing characters that they've grown to love snuffed out in the final reel. Maybe the best solution would have been to go a little meta with the movie ending and allow the movie version to have some semblance of a "curtain call", too. I suppose audiences of the day probably wouldn't have been sophisticated enough to have "gotten" that route either, though.

    Funny, I was just listening to Mean Green Mother From Outer Space driving home from work a couple of days ago. I included it on a massive Halloween compilation I created a couple of years back.

    As always, great post.

    1. I can see that. Then again, I'm all about the bittersweet. Maybe if they changed it so that Seymour and Audrey got away but weren't able to destroy Audrey II? Hell, it worked for Freddy.

      And we DID get a little taste of the downer ending when they showed the little podling in their garden at the end.

      I'm going to add the link to the article. I wrote it early this morning and didn't even think about that. Thanks!

  3. I like this movie, especially Bill Murray's cameo as the masochistic dental patient. In fact, I think it's better than the 60s version of LSOH, and really never got why everyone seems to hate it so much. The world needs more horror musicals.

    1. I LIVE for Bill in this movie! I think the (probably very gay) masochist that Bill played helped me in my coming out process. He kind of owned it and wasn't a victim. I dug that.

      And I don't think I've ever met anyone that hates LSOH. I could be blinded by my devotion to it, though. :D

      I NEED to see Evil Dead The Musical on a big screen. That would be the DEAL!