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May 25th, 2006


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03:51 pm - "...but whatever they offer you, don't feed the plants!"
During my lunchbreak today, I managed to see the original deleted ending of Little Shop of Horrors. I've never seen it before -- it's one of those things that you have to go out of your way to find, but it's fantastically worth it. In order to explain the deleted ending, I should probably explain a little about the film's history. I'll take it as read that you're already familiar with the 1986 musical.

The musical most of us know is actually a remake of The Little Shop of Horrors, a low-budget Roger Corman film from 1960. The original film is funny and an interesting piece of movie history (if it often referred to as "the fastest movie ever made" because the script was written in a single night, and most of the photography was completed within a week), but it's so dated that I can't recommend it to anyone not interested in black and white B-movies. Nevertheless, The Little Shop spawned a cult following, a pornographic pseudo-remake (1973's Please Don't Eat My Mother), and, eventually, the 1982 stage musical and 1986 movie adapted by Howard Ashman and Allan Menken who would go on to write songs for several Disney's The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin.

When Ashman and Menken adapted the story to stage, they made a lot of changes. They moved the setting from Los Angeles to New York. Superfluous minor characters were removed, along with subplots involving an inept police investigation and Seymour's hypochondriac mother who has raised him on a diet of medicine. The dentist, a minor character in the original, became Audrey's sadistic boyfriend, and a new subplot was added in which Mr. Mushnik tries to adopt Seymour as a son (this was removed for the 1986 movie). One of the elements that remained intact is the rather silly fate of Audrey II's victims, their faces blooming into flowers on her vines. In Corman's film, the flowers cast the suspicions of the police on Seymour. He is eaten, and his flower blooms in the final scene just as they arrive to apprehend him.

Having cut the police investigation, the stage musical handles the end somewhat differently: Audrey is eaten, as is Seymour when he tries to rescue her. The Greek Chorus sings a short, Amazing Criswell-esque epilogue detailing the future of the story in which the plants take over the world. This segues into another song called Don't Feed the Plants, which is sung by the flower-heads of Audrey II's victims presented as puppets being manipulated from backstage.

Don't Feed the Plants is a great song. It was recorded for the movie and is included on the soundtrack, but the unhappy ending tested poorly with audiences and was scrapped. A new ending was shot, and that's the one you've seen: Seymour electrocutes the plant and goes off with Audrey to live Somewhere That's Green. An incomplete work-print of the original ending was included on the laserdisc and 1998 special-edition DVD, but the DVD was recalled two days after its release because producer David Geffen wanted to re-release the film theatrically in its original format. A new DVD became available later, which includes all of the same special features, minus the alternate ending.

And it's a shame. The original ending is incredible. It's also an incredible downer. In this version, Seymour arrives too late to save Audrey from the plant. She's dying when he pulls her out. He reveals to her the gruesome fate of Mushnik and her boyfriend, and she spends her last gasps begging him to feed her to the plant so that his fame will go on, and they can (more or less) still be together. It's a touching moment. Tearfully, Seymour carries Audrey's corpse back into the shop and drops her into the gaping jaws of Audrey II. He leaves and is about to commit suicide by jumping off a building, when a salesman interrupts him with a plan to take cuttings and sell an Audrey II to every household in America.

Seymour decides that the plant must be stopped, and returns to the store. At this point, Audrey II sings the song Mean Green Mother from Outer Space. It's the same footage as you've seen, except that at the ending, she scoops Seymour up in her vines and devours him.

The Greek Chorus appears, silhouetted against the American flag, and sings the epilogue. Interestingly, the lyrics to the song are the same as those in the stage musical, but the DVD subtitles contain numerous misprints, which I have transcribed because that's just the sort of person I am. It's a little weird because (being already familiar with the song through the original cast recording) I know exactly what the correct lyrics are, I can hear that they're exactly what's being sung, but the subtitles are clearly wrong:

CORRECT LYRICS

Subsequent to the events
you have just witnessed,
similar events in cities
across America --
events which bore
a striking resemblance --
to the ones you
have just seen
began occurring.

Subsequent to the events
you have just witnessed,
unsuspecting jerks
from Maine to California
made the acquaintance
of a new breed of flytrap
and got sweet-talked
into feeding it blood.

Thus the plants
worked their terrible will,

finding jerks who would
feed them their fill,
and the plants
proceeded to grow
and grow
and began what they came here to do
which was essentially to

EAT CLEVELAND!
AND DES MOINES!
AND PEORIA!
AND NEW YORK!
AND WHERE YOU LIVE!
MISPRINT LYRICS

Subsequent to the events
you have just witnessed,
similar events in cities
across America --
events which bore
a striking resemblance --
to the ones you
have just seen
begin a career.

Subsequent to the events
you have just witnessed,
unsuspecting jerks
from Maine to California
made the acquaintance
of a new breed of flytrap
and got sweet-talked
into feeding it blood.

Flytrap plants
with their terrible will,

finding jerks who would
feed them their fill,
and the plants
proceeded to grow
and grow
and beware what they tell you to do
which was exceptionally cruel

IN CLEVELAND!
AND DES MOINES!
AND OREGON!
AND NEW YORK!
AND WHERE YOU LIVE!


What follows the epilogue is the most expensive sequence in the entire film, and even presented in black and white without sound effects, it's glorious. Don't Feed the Plants is played over an orgy of descruction as Audrey II and her children rampage through New York. They destroy the Brooklyn Bridge and cuddle the Statue of Liberty amid the Army's futile hail of bullets and explosions. It plays like a montage of the climactic effects scenes from all the major monster/disaster B-movies of the '50s, with direct visual references to Godzilla, When Worlds Collide, and (especially) George Pal's version of The War of the Worlds. As the song concludes, the picture fades out and the words "THE END?!?" appear onscreen for a moment before Audrey II bursts through the screen, laughing diabolically.

The alternate ending (which clocks in at 23 minutes, by the way) wasn't the only unfortunate cut to the movie. There's another song called The Meek Shall Inherit in which Seymour is assailed by various executives and marketing personnel who want to "help" him capitalize on the novelty of Audrey II. In the original stage production this is drawn out over a couple of speeches by different characters, but the movie soundtrack condenses it considerably, adding an appropriately claustrophobic feel to the number. All of this appears in the film, but the second half of the song -- which can be heard in its entirety on the soundtrack -- was filmed and cut before the film's release. What's missing is Seymour's internal struggle with himself: "I take these offers, that means more killing. Who knew success would come with messy, nasty strings?" He concludes that he must destroy the plant, but then realizes that the loss of Audrey II might mean the loss of Audrey I. He resigns himself to a horrific, secretive life of murder in exchange for fame, comfort, and love.

It's an important song which, like the original ending, harkens back to the B-movie roots of the source material. In the final cut of Little Shop of Horrors, Seymour gets away with everything, little the worse for wear. Yes, he spent a sleepless night huddled in a corner after he hacked up Orin Scrivella D.D.S., but The Meek Shall Inherit adds an important emotional and moral dimension to his character. It's probably better, in light of the happy ending, that we didn't see him lose the battle between his brain and his pants, but beneath the veneer of plastic, "gee whiz!" suburban bliss lurks the fact that Seymour is not a good guy. He's a murderer (well, almost). He turns against the plant only after Audrey is endangered; up until that point he's happy (well, almost) to kill for her.

It's been eight years since the original DVD of Little Shop of Horrors was pulled off the shelves in anticipation of a theatrical re-release, and in those eight years the re-release has entirely failed to happen. Right now anyone wishing to see the original ending has to find either a bootleg (which is what I did), or a copy on eBay (where it sells for around $175). Regardless, those of you still reading should definitely check it out if you ever get a chance. It's quite a treat.
Current Mood: chipperpretty darn thrilled
Current Music: Syd Straw -- Madrid

(11 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:matt_william
Date:May 25th, 2006 09:38 pm (UTC)
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$185 on Ebay!!! Damn...I gotta admit that's half tempting.

I managed to snag a copy of the original pressing on the same day I heard it was being recalled. Was it worth it for the extra ending? It has it's charms and I do like the song, but at 23 minutes, it does drag (esp since the effects are still incomplete).

I do agree with you though that anyone who considers themselves a fan of the movie, check it out. I'll be more than happy to make a copy of the alternate ending for those who would like it.

Matthew
[User Picture]
From:sacredspud
Date:May 26th, 2006 02:53 am (UTC)
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Yeah, I won't tell you where I got mine, but its initials are S.H.F., and they also sold me a copy of Forklift Driver Klaus for a buck. Wait, have I said too much?

I really like the alternate ending, but I can see where you think it runs too long. I'd argue that a big part of the problem is the lack of sound effects. There are big spaces where the same couple of measures of music loop over and over and over while exciting stuff is happening oscreen... It's really easy to overlook that stuff when you've got appropriate sound to go with it. Otherwise, it's no more engaging than watching TV with the sound muted.
[User Picture]
From:r3507
Date:May 25th, 2006 09:58 pm (UTC)
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First off, I just want to point out that Corman's "Little Shop" was just plain bad. Bad, bad, bad. Jack Nicholson is in it for about 3 minutes and does nothing to distinguish himself from the go-nowhere hacks who round out the cast. It was written in a day, shot in about a week, and hastily edit and spat out on December 31st, 1959 so the studio would never have to pay residuals to the actors...and it feels like it. I can get behind low budget 50s sci-fi/horror, but it has to have something actually entertaining about it beyond sheer shaking-my-head-in-disbelief-level badness.

Anyway, I gotta say that the there's a world of difference between hearing the world was destroyed (stage version) and seeing the world destroyed (especially for 23 minutes). Much as I hate the Corman movie, I think it's "Hamlet" ending (i.e. all protagonists die) is the most appropriate to the film. Having Seymour get off scot-free is a little too neat for the horror elements, having the world destroyed is a little too grim for a comedy (however black).

I could swear that the quote you list from "Meek Shall Inherit" appears in the film. I loved it as a kid (especially the line "the vegetable must be destroyed") and saw a stage production just a few years ago; the only thing that struck me about the stage version of the song was that it was longer, and the movie kept almost all of Seymour's monologue while excising the other characters' lines.

And if you want something lurking beneath the suburban veneer of the happy ending, hell, the movie gives it to you. Analysing this way more than it should be, the smiling Audrey III at the end of the film shows Seymour and Audrey still haven't escaped the consequences of his actions. But thank god they never made a sequel.

I love the film, I love the stage play, and the alternate ending sounds interesting. But as much as I like all those, I can only wonder how they proceeded from the steaming pile of celluloid crap that is Corman's original.
[User Picture]
From:sacredspud
Date:May 25th, 2006 10:58 pm (UTC)
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I realized you might be right, so I checked out the movie when I got home from work. Either the quote is missing, or it's been moved to a different part of the movie and I don't remember (entirely possible). What I can tell you is that the version of the song on the soundtrack album is much longer than the one in the movie. Supposedly the missing parts of The Meek Shall Inherit were filmed as a dream sequence, but I can't verify that because I haven't seen it.

As for Corman's original version: It is crap. I don't think it's entirely without merit, but again, I can't recommend it to anyone. You're right about how quickly the movie was made and why, which well-explains its poor quality. A good rewrite (or two) would have fixed that, but I know Corman's work and I can say with confidence that the original, no matter how much better it could have been, would still be noteworthy only as the germ of a better idea. Incidentally, when Ashman and Menken adapted it for stage, they were having a hard time finding a producer because their sales pitch included an exhibition of the original film.

Usually when somebody asks to borrow my copy of the original (which I've purchased three times because I'm a masochist), I recommend A Bucket of Blood instead. It's about dim-witted busboy in a beatnik coffee shop who is declared a brilliant sculptor when he starts smoothing clay over corpses. Bucket is another Corman film. The story is essentially the same and develops the same way, but it's a much better production.
[User Picture]
From:r3507
Date:May 26th, 2006 03:51 am (UTC)
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Hmm. I suppose I spent more time listening to the movie soundtrack than watching the movie, so that's why I have a different impression of it.

The original "Little Shop" is, frankly, Corman at his worst. I do believe the film was made on a bet that they couldn't make another movie before his current film's set was struck (hence the rush). I enjoy some of his work (Death Race 2000 - now there's a musical adaptation waiting to happen), but I wholeheartedly agree with MST3K's description of him as "Roger 'gets way more credit than he deserves' Corman."

And the producers of the musical included a screening of it in their pitch? What the hell were they thinking? "Here's our interesting, singable, darkly humorous musical. But before you give us your money, suffer through the horrible z-list rush job movie that inspired it. It's got Jack Nicholson!"
[User Picture]
From:sacredspud
Date:May 26th, 2006 02:40 pm (UTC)
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"Roger 'gets way more credit than he deserves' Corman."

Wow, that's incredibly appropriate. While he was still actively making movies, Corman had two things going for him: First, he was good at assembling cheap productions that could turn a profit, and this he did over and over. Second, he had an incredible eye for talent -- Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Dennis Hopper, and lots of others received their first big break from Corman.

You're right, though. For every Death Race 2000, there are ten "Wasp Woman"s or "Little Shop"s. IF you're looking for other Corman movies to enjoy (and I know you're not, I'm just sayin'), I recommend The Dunwich Horror and the 1994 version of The Fantastic Four. "Dunwich" is a typical example of H.P. Lovecraft poorly-adapted by Hollywood (i.e., Dean Stockwell as a sex object, crappy special effects to visualize inconceivable concepts, dirty hippies cast as the Great Old Ones...). The Fantastic Four has never been released, but everybody seems to have a copy. It was made for $1,500,000 specifically so that the studio could retain their soon-to-expire rights to the characters. It's total crap, but there's a passable mid-'80s-vintage superhero movie hiding under it. Certainly no worse than Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.

Oh, regarding the exhibition of Little Shop to prospective producers: apparently they were doing this when the musical was still in its most seminal stages. They had ideas for songs, but hadn't even fleshed out the story yet.
[User Picture]
From:r3507
Date:May 26th, 2006 08:05 pm (UTC)
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I will certainly give Corman a world of credit on spotting talent. From my viewing of his "Little Shop," never in a million years would I have picked Nicholson out as a future Oscar winner.

Your line about his Fantastic Four movie reminded me of a rant of Corman's I heard on the radio maybe a year or two ago (on Alice Cooper's radio show, I seem to recall): Corman was tearing into Hollywood blockbusters that just arent entertaining, and cost way too much. He specifically mentioned Daredevil: "That movie cost 50 million dollars, and it stunk. 50 million dollars. I could have made 25 films with that money, and every single one of them would have been better than Daredevil." And, assuming his FF movie was better than Daredevil (not hard), I think he wasn't just blowing smoke,

I think the reason he gets crowned "king of b-movies" was the same reason some people (on pandagon) recently called Johhny Cash the "king of covers": both take the shotgun approach. Cash recorded four full albums of covers before he died, and everyone remembers the winners ("Hurt") while forgetting the losers ("Bridge Over Troubled Water", "Rusty Cage"). Likewise, Corman directed 50 movies from 1955 to 1970; gifted hack that he is, many of those films are suprisingly entertaining. And the ones that aren't ("The Undead", anybody?) only get brought up, well, when people like me want to run him down.

For the musical's creators: I guess I didn't realize that you even started begging around for financing before you had at least a tentative script. And if you don't, the last thing you want to do is admit to people that you're being inspired by utter crap. I mean, c'mon: would you put your money behind Alone in the Dark: The Musical if all the pitchmen had to show was a few song ideas and a screening of the movie?

Oh, and I misquoted MST3K; it's Roger "Gets Far More Respect than He Deserves" Corman.
[User Picture]
From:sacredspud
Date:May 26th, 2006 08:41 pm (UTC)
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That assessment of Corman's career is pretty spot-on. You'll find that a lot of prolific artists (especially ultra-prolific artists) develop every idea they can in the hopes of an occasional success. Comedians like Woody Allen and the Zucker Brothers take the same approach to humor.

Anyway, AITD: The Musical sounds like a bad idea, and even I would not greenlight such a project on the strengths you mentioned. Now, a Commander Keen musical... that's an idea with merit.

The jury is still out on the Leisure Suit Larry musical (tentatively titled "Polyester!").

** Fun Fact #220 ** As long as I'm needlessly lengthening this comment, I may as well mention that I saw Corman's Fantastic Four and Alone in the Dark on the same day. It nearly killed me.
[User Picture]
From:rob_matsushita
Date:May 26th, 2006 02:49 pm (UTC)
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When I was about 13, I saw the stage show in NYC with my dad, having no idea what it was about, and fell in love with it.

Differences in the main ending there:

Obviously, no "Mean Green Mother" song, but Seymore instead tries to shoot at Audrey II, only to find that Audrey II's skin is impervious to bullets and knives (this bit is a little condensed on the stage show soundtrack).

Seymore decides that if the outside of Audrey II is too tough, perhaps the inside will be easier to get to, grabs a cleaver, and makes a suicide run into Audrey II's mouth.

Basically, you're expecting a grand fight to the finish, but instead, Audrey II just spits out the knife a few seconds later.

The trio of singer comes in, dressed in lab coats, leading the song "Don't Feed The Plants," and then, at the end of the song, the coolest thing happens:

Vines drop down from the celing, symbolically EATING THE AUDIENCE.

So, if we're looking for another "things that have influenced Rob's work," that's right up there on the list.

Oh, an interesting trivia note, too--a few years ago, I found the playbill for the show at my mom's place in Jersey, and discovered that the puppeteer who controlled Audrey II in large size was none other than Gates McFadden, Dr. Beverly Crusher on ST: TNG!

I still remember at the end of the show, during the curtain call, Ron Taylor (the original voice of Audrey II) stepping out from behind the curtain, wearing a red t-shit that said "Feed Me!" on it (so we'd know who he was), and pointing to the huge Audrey II puppet, which opened so we could see how it worked with McFadden inside: Basically, she controlled the upper jaw with her arms, and the lower jaw with her legs--she basically had to do stomach crunches for every word Audrey II says. ("Mean Green Mother" would have killed her.)
[User Picture]
From:sacredspud
Date:May 26th, 2006 09:05 pm (UTC)
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Woah. Those are some freakin' sweet anecdotes. I've still never seen Little Shop live, but I'd love to. After ignoring it for more than a decade, I rediscovered the movie during the spring of 1999. My friends and I (the same ones who kept going to see ILV2K) obsessed over it for months. I'm a sucker for a good live musical, and I'm pretty sure that even a high school production of Little Shop would be worth my ten bucks in exactly the way that a professional production of Miss Saigon or South Pacific wouldn't. Does that make sense?

Anyway, Gates McFadden: She turns up in the weirdest of places from time to time... She also had her foot in the door at Jim Henson Productions back in the '80s. She has a small role in The Muppets Take Manhattan and did choreography for The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth.
[User Picture]
From:rob_matsushita
Date:May 27th, 2006 01:58 pm (UTC)
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The thing about the stage show when I saw it, was that--although it was a well known show, with TV ads and everything, I'd never seen (or heard of) the Corman film, and NONE of the ads gave any indication as to what the show was about.

So, when it developed into a show about a man-eating plant--THAT TALKED--it was actually a great suprise! Sadly, these days, it's just not that possible to keep a secret for that long.

That said, the live show of Little Shop has, obviously, a different feel than the movie. The format is so different--things that are hysterically funny take on a darker meaning when they're put on film (such as Mushnik's death--which in the play, had me laugh myself sick, but in the movie, it's a disturbing moment), and other things, in a play, you just accept them, whereas in a movie, it takes on a different meaning--I remember when the movie came out, people kept talking about the "running gag" of the three singers showing up all the time for no reason, and I thought, "Running gag? I never thought anything of it, during the show."

Another note about differences between the show and movie--oher songs are cut that kinda bug me, too. Orin the dentist's death scene has a fun, dark number called "It's just the gas," that's cut from the movie for some reason.

And my favorite song, "Mushnik and Son" is totally cut, too! In fact, all of MUshnik's songs are cut! Could Vincent Gardenia not sing? Why cast him if he couldn't?
"...but whatever they offer you, don't feed the plants!" - Garmonbozia for the soul.

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