Adapting Roger Corman's 1960 B-movie thriller The Little Shop of Horrors into a musical was the worst idea producer David Geffen had ever heard. That said, he opted to stage Howard Ashman and Alan Menken's Little Shop of Horrors Off-Broadway musical, and it was a wise decision. Geffen agreed to produce the film version after the stage production was a huge hit. Geffen, on the other hand, realized from the start that the musical couldn't be altered completely. Although he informed Ashman and director Frank Oz that the musical's gloomy finale would have to be adjusted for the movie, he allowed them to shoot Ashman's ending regardless of his warning. The film's finale was reshot for a more lighter finish after two disastrous test screenings confirmed Geffen correct. A remake of Ashman is in the works, but may viewers today be prepared for Ashman's conclusion?
As a whole, Little Shop of Horrors has been a long and winding road, particularly when it comes to its eventual destination. When he realized that the studio set where he shot Buckets of Blood had no other projects scheduled after the film's completion, he decided to make his first Little Shop of Horrors. This film, which was produced in only two days and became Hollywood's most famous joke, was conceived by him and screenwriter Charles B. Griffith as a joke about a plant that eats humans. In spite of reports to the contrary, Corman maintains that he was only testing the waters. Black comedy B-movie earned great reviews and went on to have a long run on television, when a young Howard Ashman first saw it.
little-shop-of-horrors-1960Image courtesy of American International Pictures.
Mr. Rosewater, Ashman, and Menken were itching to get their creative juices flowing again after working together on God Bless You. Little Shop of Horrors was shown to Ashman and Menken by Corman and it was clear to them that the narrative had the potential for a musical. The ending of the stage musical differs significantly from the ending of the 1960 film, but the majority of the story beats are the same. Corman's picture concluded with Seymour Krelboined (Jonathan Haze), the protagonist, being apprehended by the police and devoured by his plant "Audrey Jr." Ashman takes that bleak finale and amplifies it for his musical. audience members feared for Seymour Krelborn (Lee Wilkof), Audrey (Ellen Greene), and Mr. Mushnik when Ashman and Menken premiered their piece at WPA Theater (Hy Anzell). In contrast, only Seymour dies in their '60s picture. The plant Audrey II (Ron Taylor) devours all three in the stage musical as it becomes larger and stronger. After that, the plant's cuttings are sold all throughout the country, and it spreads like wildfire. The musical song "Don't Feed the Plants" serves as a reminder to the audience of the story's moral lesson towards the conclusion of the production.
Class conflict and the human condition are key topics in Ashman's work. Commodity fetishism is savagely critiqued at the musical's conclusion. So desperate is Seymour that he puts his values aside and conducts deeds he knows to be immoral, as shown by his frequent and melodious internal battles. Seymour's greed increases and swells until it engulfs him and Audrey, the woman he loves. Audrey II becomes a symbol for this. The tragedy serves as a sobering example of how pursuing material wealth and affluence at the expense of one's core values may lead to disastrous consequences. It's a passionate appeal to the audience, embodied by the plants, not to feed the plants no matter what they promise, that concludes the show. For Ashman, the audience is almost begged not to pursue wealth at the cost of one's community and those closest to one's heart – lest they pay the price.
little-shop-of-horrors-audrey-seymourImage courtesy of Warner Bros.
Little Shop of Horrors' 1986 film adaptation, named Little Shop of Horrors, was written by Ashman, and Oz agreed with Ashman on the significance of keeping this finale. After Seymour (Rick Moranis) fails to rescue Audrey from Audrey II (Levi Stubbs), who kills her in his arms, as in the show, Audrey (Ellen Greene) is fed to the plant. Plants are omnivorous, and Seymour is devoured by one of them when he attempts to destroy it. Little Shop of Horrors is a darker place than ever before, thanks to Ashman and Oz's efforts to amplify the darkness and horror. Seymour muses over taking his own life in the wake of Audrey's passing. A lengthy montage showing enormous Audrey II plants destroying New York City in a raucous rampage was created by effects designers Richard Conway and Bran Ferren to highlight Oz's triumph at the climax of the novel. Both Ashman and Oz believed their epic tragedy was set to sweep the country, despite Geffen's cautions. However, this was before the film's test screenings went abysmal.
The Little Shop of Horrors crew was forced to rework the finale after the test screenings yielded just a 13% recommendation rating. Audrey II is killed by an electrocution thanks to a last-minute intervention by Seymour. This is a new ending that Ashman came up with. Seymour and Audrey embrace the 1950s American ideal that the stage musical lambasts with brilliant tongue-in-cheek humour without a smidge of irony. An uncertain finish with a view of an Audrey II pod in Seymour and Audrey's garden bed is traded for the explicit nature of the original cut's warning. With this gloomy undertone, viewers at that time found it appropriate to combine the story's macabre elements with an otherwise happy ending. Upon its first release, the picture brought in $39 million. This was deemed an underperformance by the studio, but in 1987, the picture was a smashing success on home video. The film was nominated for multiple prizes and received high acclaim from film critic Robert Ebert, who predicted that it would become a cult hit.
Frank Oz recalls the initial test screenings that inspired the reshoots in an interview with Collider in 2017: Each and every number was met with a round of applause." Everything about it was great. Because to the plant killing Ellen and Rick (and so winning), this conclusion did not go well. It's hard to believe it's been that long. The conclusion was not gratifying, which I understand and so did Howard. I believe it might work better now if we had a less cynical time.
little-shop-of-horrorsImage courtesy of Warner Bros.
As the character of Oz refers to, since the year 1986, the American moviegoing public's cultural awareness has grown dramatically. Moviegoers started to see depictions of the terrible realities Americans had to face in the following years. When The Dark Knight was released in 2008 it was praised for its depiction of the dark and gritty side of superheroes, with a villain who acted as an unequivocal terrorist and a fight that rested on the delicate line between chaos and order. Moral ambiguity became common knowledge among Americans in the decade after 9/11, while public support for the United States' role in the Middle East dwindled throughout that time period.
This cynical shift in attitude was extensively reflected in the techniques of Hollywood's greatest films, which were influenced by the American audience's skepticism and sadness. Disastrous movies, hyperreal war scenarios, dismal dystopias and postapocalyptic landscapes abounded in the years after the chaotic news reports from 2000-2010. It has become increasingly usual in American films for a morally ambiguous hero to face repercussions for his deeds. We, as viewers, no longer expect our favorite characters to end up in a perfect situation. When asked by the Guardian, film scholar Jamsheed Akrami said, "These movies are more appealing than ever because we're living in such an anxious moment. For a few hours at a time, most of us appear to seek mental respite by immersing ourselves in gloom and despair. Catharsis may occur as a result of the encounter.
Disasters and violence aren't the only things that have us gripped with fear in this anxious day. The last 40 years have seen enormous developments in society, technology, and politics. Hollywood’s recent trend with films that depict wholesale destruction is likely popular at the box office because they resonate with America’s deep-seated angst in the face of widespread transformation. With a total of five films in the series, it's safe to say that moviegoers are no longer afraid to indulge in fantasies of widespread mayhem and bloodshed.
Cinematic escapism has evolved significantly throughout the years. Our desire for an idealistic picture of a better future has evolved to include a desire to witness the darker aspects of our own life on the big screen. Threats like this are generally overcome by a heroic character who the audience can identify and empathize with. In the past, Hollywood's threats were unique symbols of whatever dread dominated a film's zeitgeist, but now they are all-encompassing. Take the second-highest earning movie of all time, Avengers: Endgame, as an excellent illustration of this. There is no doubt about it, yet the subject matter of the picture illustrates a striking argument about how current consumers enjoy movies. In this film, half of the universe's population is wiped off by an inconceivable calamity, which is only repaired by the death of the franchise's most adored protagonist.
No moviegoers in 2022 are likely to shy away from Ashman's initial conclusion. Honestly, we've seen worse at this point. Warner Bros. has announced a remake of the 1986 classic Little Shop of Horrors, presenting a once-in-a-lifetime chance for filmmakers. Ashman’s original finale may be achieved on the big screen in a huge, operatic epic. Even Frank Oz, with his 23-minute plant rampage, couldn't have imagined how far a Little Shop remake might go with its star power (Taron Egerton, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Billy Porter). It might finally do what Oz and Ashman failed to achieve in their time: convince moviegoers to embrace and implement the emotional message of the stage musical's conclusion. For now, it's unclear whether Warner Bros. will take advantage of this chance, and moviegoers may never see a new version of the picture at all. When it comes to Seymour and Audrey's horrific destiny in the Little Shop remake, we'll be ready for anything it throws at us.