Frank Oz’s 1986 film, which is based on Howard Ashman & Alan Menken’s 1982 off-Broadway musical, which is based on Roger Corman’s 1960 film, tells the story of flower-shop worker Seymour (Rick Moranis) and his discovery of an usual plant. The Blu-ray release of Little Shop of Horrors is notable because in addition to the theatrical version it includes a nine-minutes-longer Director’s Cut thanks to Warner Brothers restoring the rarely seen original ending. As explained in the extras, the ending was changed because it tested poorly with audiences, but I find it the more satisfying version.
Set in 1960, the film centers on Seymour, who works in the flower shop of his adopted father, Mr. Mushnik (Vincent Gardenia). Business is very poor until Seymour finds a variation of the Venus flytrap he names Audrey II, after the co-worker (Ellen Greene, reprising her role from the musical) he’s in love with. Unfortunately for him, she is involved with an abusive boyfriend, Orin Scrivello (Steve Martin), who is a sadistic dentist.
Seymour soon discovers Audrey II has an appetite for blood and grows rapidly in size after being fed. It then hungers for bodies, which Seymour reluctantly goes along with when he realizes he can get rid of Orin, but once he heads down that path there’s no turning back. Once Audrey II feels unstoppable, it reveals its plan to take over the world. This leads to a showdown between Seymour and Audrey II. The theatrical version offers a happy ending. The ending of the Director’s Cut is consistent with the film’s commentary on consumerism and fame, and it features some amazing puppetry and effects work by visual effects supervisor Richard Conway and his team.
Oz does a great job as director with his creative choices, and although not the first choice, he was probably the best with his Muppet background. The film has a wonderful energy, fueled by the cast’s performances, many of which are played over the top. Even those who appearance in one scene, like John Candy, who plays WSKID deejay Wink Wilkinson, and Bill Murray, as the masochistic dental patient, the same role Jack Nicholson played in Corman’s film, make memorable impressions.
Many of the songs recall the music of the era. Tichina Arnold, Michelle Weeks, and Tisha Campbell-Martin play the Greek chorus of Crystal, Ronette, and Chiffon. As their name indicates, they sound reminiscent of Motown girl groups. “Suddenly Seymour” is a romantic ballad one would expect in a musical. My favorites feature the lead vocal of baritone Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops. He is the voice of Audrey II and delivers outstanding, raucous performances on “Feed Me (Git It)” on “Mean Green Mother from Outer Space” that bring to mind Little Richard.
The Blu-ray’s video has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Oz wanted to achieve a Technicolor look, and while that is somewhat achieved, it hampers the brightness and sharpness of the images. Some colors do appear bright, like the green grass of Audrey’s dream home, but the darker hues look drab as the skid row buildings reveal. Actors’ faces look soft and pasty as if DNR was used.
The audio option is English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The songs fill the surrounds and the bass has a great bottom end, particularly noticeable from the thumping of Audrey II’s pot during “Feed Me (Git It)” and from Stubb’s powerful voice. Dialogue is clear but the dubbed vocals sound flat. Effects can be heard moving across channels, like when Orin’s motorcycle comes to a stop after he has jumped off it.
The Blu-ray comes in a digibook with an insert containing a personal message from Oz. It offers a new extra, “Frank Oz and Little Shop of Horrors: The Director’s Cut” (HD 11 min) with the director and Conway talking about the original ending and what led to led to reshoot. It’s interesting to hear that while he wanted the original ending he completely understood and finally agreed with the need to change in response to the audience reaction.
The remaining extras were previously released on the 1998 10th anniversary DVD, including a black and white workprint version of the original ending, which wasn’t approved by producer David Geffen, who demanded it be recalled and removed. Oz delivers an entertaining and detailed commentary about the making of the film on the theatrical cut. His passion for the project was still at a high level. Only available when chosen through the menu, he also discusses the ending of the Director’s Cut. “A Story of Little Shop of Horrors” (SD; 23 min) is a promotional piece featuring Corman, Geffen, Oz and Moranis, and Oz. The best part of it is seeing the puppeteers working Audrey II. Oz also comments during “Outtakes and Deleted Scenes” (SD; 9 min), intended as a joke reel for a cast-and-crew party. Lastly, there are two trailers (SD).
The Little Shop of Horrors Blu-ray is highly recommend for fans of the film or musical. For those who don’t know it, the musical is treat, and its creators, Ashman and Menken, would go on to be major contributors to Disney’s return to animated glory with their work on Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. For those who like something unconventional, stop by Mushnik’s…while you can.