Little Shop of Reshoots
Questions about the alternate ending to LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS!
Includes CORRECTIONS from a Warner's source and 'Chris', 11/20/99
DVD's first title recalled for content turned out to be the 1986 Little Shop of Horrors. Shortly after its 1998 debut, word circulated that Warner Home Video was pulling the title from store shelves, and sure enough, in a matter of hours the disc was an instant collector's item.
The disc was pulled, the official word went, because producer David Geffen discovered that its extras included the unused original ending for the film that was discarded after negative preview screenings.
The real reason for the recall is that Geffen has always wanted to reissue the film theatrically, but Warners had always said 'no.' When Geffen saw the disc he flipped out, believing that his chances of ever convincing the studio to do another big theatrical release would disappear if the 'original version' was in wide circulation. Director Frank Oz had not personally provided the extra footage. An editor was hired by the Home Video people to scour the vaults until the material was located. Warner's legal department said the extras on the disc did not have to be approved by Geffen, so
he had not been contacted.
There are some questions to be asked about this ... but first ...
Savant saw the disc briefly in early 1998, a borrowed item which at the time interested a mutual friend because his writing partner's father, Paul Dooley, had a major part in the cut scene. Then, as the disc became more scarce, other acquaintences wanted to see it too. Finally, the DVD maestro of DVD Resource himself, Steve Tannehill (eager applause) came through with an extra copy he got who-knows where (it's connections, it has to be). If he goes to all that trouble to get a copy for Savant, well I guess it behooves me to write it up.
A brief background: The Little Shop of Horrors started as a quickie (very quickie) Roger Corman film released through his Filmgroup company in 1960. We all know about the film through umpteen fan articles, but for the benefit of those under 40, I'll repeat some of the legend. The B&W Little Shop was rumored to have been shot in 2 days. Things were so rushed that when a dentist's chair broke during filming, instead of a retake Corman declared the scene a wrap. Masochist patient Jack Nicholson was, like many of Corman's regulars, a penniless actor/writer wannabe with only a role or two to his name. Shop had a wicked
kind of sick humor not seen outside Mad magazine or its low-rent imitator, Sick! The satirical, deadpan hipster dialogue was full of priceless sarcasm and off-the-wall wit unheard of in 1960 films .
Being a Corman actor at the time was sort of a backwards profession because Corman offered little or nothing in the way of pay. His films were made as fast and cheaply as was humanly possible. A later Corman editor told me that they were often edited in a weekend, and they showed it. Attack of the Crab Monsters was cut so fast, nobody paid attention to the script long enough to realize that the dialogue line, ' All the animal and bird life has mysteriously disappeared from this island,' was followed immediately by a shot of a sky full of seagulls. Corman's late 50s 'classics' suffer terribly from this cheapness - most have remarkably sophisticated story ideas basically squandered on nothing sets and rushed filming. Teenage Caveman was shot in Bronson Canyon without as much as adding a prop palm tree. Always coming up short, some of the films were shamelessly padded to make the 60 minute mark: Crab Monsters has three (count'em, three) scrolling prologue text rolls at the front. Not of This Earth brazenly repeats about 90 seconds of its ending car chase, audio and all, on a ragged loop!
But the true reason that Little Shop was shot in 'two days' is an even bigger revelation. Appearing on a local Los Angeles TV screening, delightful actress Jackie Joseph told host Tom Hatten that the film was rushed into filming on a breakneck schedule because Corman found out that after January 1, 1960 new industry rules (namely, residuals) dictated that he wouldn't be able to buy out his players with low (or no) salaries. Not only that, he would have to keep up with paying residuals to all the actors as revenues from the movie came in. Anyone who has studied Corman knows that this must have struck him like the bubonic plague: His productions worked because he made them for practically nothing
and raked in serious dollars whether he participated in their distribution or sold them outright. Ms. Joseph said this was why he decided Little Shop had to be filmed between Christmas and New Year's of 1959 - to beat the deadline. It's also why it was shot 'I Love Lucy' style with two cameras, which gives the perfectly performed film the flow of a really slick play. The extended setpieces in the flower shop, with seven or eight speaking actors carrying the truly wonderful Charles Griffith script for two and three minutes at a time, are refreshingly nimble compared to the usually clunky master-closeup flat style of much of Corman's work at the time. The show must have been thoroughly rehearsed by its enthusiastic cast.
Yet another digression: People say the 50's independent exploitation films died out because of lack of interest ... Ms. Joseph's interview makes Savant think that the drive-in films were stopped cold by the advent of residuals. United Artists' series of Robert Kent quickies stumbled to a halt; AIP began importing films and took the leap into bigger budgets. Corman himself started making films in Puerto Rico or Europe or wherever, and his Filmgroup pix (Last Woman on Earth,
Creature from the Haunted Sea, Atlas) after Little Shop are so impoverished they begin to look homemade. He too immediately took the plunge and with AIP started making color, 'scope Poe films with big star Vincent Price.
Little Shop of Horrors became a respected, favorite late night tv fave through the sixties, always mentioned as a must-see. In 1971 Savant saw it for the first time at a Harriet Diamond Westwood midnight show, with X (the man with the x-ray eyes), among an audience that roared with laughter. It was still right-on funny, Schlock Monster meets Jack Kerouac.
The 1986 film was based on the 1980 off-broadway musical adaptation, whose fame has overshadowed the original to a large degree. The musical is to the Corman film what Happy Days is to American Graffiti ... using the 50s setting for a nostalgic crutch. It's still funny and has a zippy kitsch quality. A Greek chorus of female backup vocalists keeps the momentum up and constantly reminds the viewer he's watching a play ... which is not a bad thing.
The other extras on the DVD provide a nice glimpse into the shooting of the musical remake, which apparently took place in England. Director Frank Oz is a big participant, providing a lot of incisive audio commentary. It is this commentary that raises unanswered questions.
An Editor looks at the alternate ending.
The first thing one thinks is, 'They cut this?' A gloss on the play's finale, 'Don't Eat the Plants,' the ending goes far afield of the little neighborhood where most of Little Shop plays out. Hordes of colossal Audrey IIs pulverize New York City, like Muppets gone mad. An affectionate takeoff on giant monster movies, the sequence is so good it betters the models it satirizes. The screaming crowds and destruction are the equal of Gorgo, and the design and photography are far more elaborate than similar scenes in Ghostbusters and Matinee. The workprint on
view has many rough edges, including temp travelling mattes shown only as crude superimpositions. The final shot of a monster plant strangling the Statue of Liberty has gaffer's flags and c-stands poking in, that are clearly meant to be matted away in favor of a final background.
There are two basic mysteries with this.
Why was the sequence dropped? It looks more expensive than anything else in the movie! As explained by director Oz, preview audiences rejected the grim deaths of Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene and left the film hating its ending. This is understandable, considering how few negative endings were tolerated in the middle 80's. But the death scene in the rough cut does seem out of touch with the film's previously light tone, and the uncomplicated likeableness of the
leads. By making Seymour & his ditzy Audrey I so adorable, the film hooks the average viewer's emotions. Like the too-tough monster lyrics ( "I'm gonna bust your balls!"), the liebestod of the klutzy lovers is just too heavy.
The editors did some fast shuffling with the footage, re-ordering the 'Mean Green Mother from Outer Space' song, adding cutaways to the now - alive Audrey watching Seymour battle the monster, and reducing what new effects would be reshot to a couple of quick cutaways and an electrocution master ("Chris" reminded Savant here that Oz himself states that the set had to be rebuilt to shoot these additional scenes). The final 'happy ending' scene is a nice touch, and the fact that Seymour doesn't pay for his crimes is irrelevant - he was too idiotic to be responsible for them in the first place. The real solution may have been to trim the death scene way down
and not dwell on it so long ... on the disc at least, it does unspool like a funeral, a grim downer (it's a comedy musical - huh?). After it, the big ending number may have seemed like a new movie beginning to the preview audience.
It's a shame the producers didn't find a way to use the lost ending anyway. Savant wonders if they considered introducing it earlier, by concocting a dream sequence for Seymour where he envisions what might happen. On the other hand, if the grandiose Godzilla sequence was moved earlier, maybe the rest of the film would play like an anti-climax.
The second question comes from the comments made by Frank Oz and producer David Geffen. Geffen reportedly said the B&W dupe on the DVD preempted his plan to reveal the final polished sequence in a future reissue of the film. This implies that Geffen has the ending on a shelf somewhere, ready to go. Yet Oz's commentary states several times that the alternate ending was never finished -- never fine-cut (it is a bit lumpy), voiceovers and sound effects never recorded, never mixed, special effects never finalized.
But the crude B&W dupe Oz was narrating, according to Savant's Warners source, was the most viewable copy of the sequence that could be found, not the final version. The original ending could therefore have been much closer to a finished item when the audience-angering previews took place. Perhaps the ending Geffen wants to reinstate is in his possession, ready to go.
Savant hopes it is, and hopes Warners lets David Geffen have his way .... it's an incredible scene that people would love to see.
Text (c) Copyright 1999 Glenn Erickson
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson