John Water’s Hairspray was not the first movie to get the “boomerang remake” treatment, being turned into a stage musical and then back into into a movie. The Katharine Hepburn vehicle The Philadelphia Story began life as a stage play, then became a movie, then a movie musical called High Society, and finally came full circle as High Society the stage musical. Mel Brooks’ The Producers was probably the most successful, as it did well in all of its permutations. Little Shop of Horrors lies somewhere in the middle. The original movie has become something of a cult classic, thanks to a very early appearance by Jack Nicholson and the public domain status of the original, an extremely successful off-Broadway rock musical that still goes into production now and then around the world, and then a somewhat weak entry in the movie musical department. The songs are great and Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene are perfectly cast, but director Frank Oz hasn’t seem to have done an awful lot to adapt the musical for the screen. Certainly, this is supposed to be a fantasy and you can not fault it for its lack of reality, but the “here comes a song” moments are a bit too obvious.
I remember seeing this in the theaters when I was a kid, and also saw the stage musical in a touring production around the same time. I might have noticed at the time that there was something different in the plot of the two. Watching the movie again today, I realize that a very happy ending has been tacked on in a pretty awkward way. Sure enough, in an ending that reportedly cost $7 million to film, all of the main human characters have been eaten by the carnivorous plant, which goes on a King Kong/Godzilla type rampage through New York, winding up atop the Statue of Liberty, while countless little Audrey IIs grown from grafts are being bought by nearly every home in America. Test audiences responded very poorly to this original ending, and it was replaced with a very happy one in which Seymour and Audrey living happily ever after “somewhere that’s green.” The original ending survives only in a black and white workprint with only a music soundtrack, which was a bonus feature when the movie was first released on DVD. This infuriated producer David Geffen, who didn’t approve the release, and recalled DVDs after only a few days on the shelf, and so only a few have seen this, although it occasionally turns up on YouTube. Geffen claims to own a color print of the original ending, but so far there has been no word on a DVD release. Certainly it is is a grim ending. If you only want to enjoy Little Shop of Horrors as a fun fantasy, then the happy ending is probably fine. But if you read a little more into it and see Audrey II as a metaphor for temptation (or sin, or greed, or whatever you want to call it), which we feed until it takes country and devours us, then the original ending is better. Actually, on second thought the original ending is more fun as well. Hopefully, someday we will have a proper release with a choice of endings.