Little Shop of Horrors already had a rather unique and long path to the screen when it premiered in 1986: the source material was a low-budget 1960 creature feature allegedly shot in two days (!) by Roger Corman, which was then adapted into an Off-Broadway stage musical by lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken, which in turn became a big-budget studio movie directed by Frank Oz and starring Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene (the only returning cast member from the stage), Steve Martin and Bill Murray. And like the man-eating plant at its center, Little Shop of Horrors continues to metamorphose and evolve, with a new Blu-ray release that provides a radically different vision of the film to coexist alongside its theatrical cut.
All of the versions of Little Shop tell essentially the same story: nerdy florist Seymour comes into possession of an exotic plant that brings him success and happiness, until he discovers that it needs human blood to survive. Corman’s version is essentially a black comedy with elements of horror, whereas Oz’s musical remake emphasizes a romance between Seymour and his girlfriend Audrey and is lighter in tone – at least in its 1986 release prints. On stage and in Oz’s original conception, Little Shop turned dark at the end, with an elaborate climax modeled on 1950s sci-fi movies in which Seymour and Audrey were killed. Oz shot this climax, which required months of painstaking effects work. Yet at test screenings, it quickly became clear that the dark approach was alienating to the very audiences the filmmakers were trying to entertain. Thus, the ending was scrapped, a new one was shot, and the original 20-minute climax remained unseen except in an inferior, unmixed dupe version as an extra feature on DVD.
Luckily, Oz has now been able to fully restore his director’s cut for Blu-ray, and viewers can decide for themselves which version they prefer. Both are included in sumptuous transfers that serve as a celebration of the work of the late, great Robert Paynter, BSC. Paynter was a master of both comedy (Trading Places) and horror (Omen III: The Final Conflict, An American Werewolf in London), and he showed a flair for bringing puppets and animatronic creatures to life in his prior collaboration with Oz, The Muppets Take Manhattan. Little Shop of Horrors is perhaps the broadest exhibition of his range, as Paynter juxtaposes the grime of skid row (where the movie takes place) with fantasy and musical numbers photographed in bold primary colors and pastels, and juggles comic, romantic, horror and noir elements (particularly in the director’s cut). It all looks spectacular on Warners’ restoration, and it sounds great too, with a surround track that’s even more dynamic than the six-track Dolby mix that accompanied the film’s 70mm release prints. Warners has really gone the extra mile on the director’s cut too, treating the image and sound with such care that there’s no discernible difference between the restored footage and the original material.
The Blu-ray has a fine supplementary section, starting with audio commentaries by Frank Oz on both the theatrical cut and his preferred finale. The commentaries are carried over from an earlier DVD release, which is mildly problematic on the restored ending since the director is commenting on a different, unfinished version of the material. The commentaries are excellent regardless of that glitch, however, since they provide a wealth of detailed information about the film’s extremely complex visual effects work. Oz also contributes a commentary track to eight-and-a-half minutes of outtakes and deleted scenes, and there’s a ten-minute conversation with him and special effects artist Richard Conway about the original ending. The disc also includes a vintage behind-the-scenes featurette, the 23-minute “A Story of Little Shop of Horrors,” and a pair of theatrical trailers.