Ye be warned, here there be all kinds of spoilers.
Those of you who know me know I am prone to obsession. Thankfully, never to the point of stalking or other illegal behavior, but obsession nonetheless. I devour information like delicious, nutritious candy bars. And one of my obsessions is Little Shop Of Horrors.
The original 1960 Roger Corman film was written in two weeks and filmed in two days on the sets of another movie for no greater reason than to prove that he could. It was a very silly movie, best known for being Jack Nicholson's first (it's hard to find a copy that doesn't mention that; he's even all over the cover art of a lot of copies. He's in one scene) and for being the basis of the stage musical of the same name.
In 1986 a filmed version of the musical was released, directed by Frank Oz and starring Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene, the latter of whom originated her role off-Broadway.
I could go on for days and days about the history of the movie, the play and the other movie. Like I said, Little Shop is one of my obsessions and I devour information about it like Audrey II devours blood.
Here's a quick synopsis of how each version of Little Shop Of Horrors ends:
Original Film: Audrey Jr. has eaten a homeless man, a dentist, a robber and a streetwalker. Seymour decides the plant has ruined his life and jumps into it, armed with a knife, and is promptly eaten. The last shot of the movie is a blossom opening up, revealing Seymour's face, which cries "I didn't mean it!"
Stage Musical: Audrey II has eaten a dentist, Mushnik and Audrey. Seymour decides the plant has ruined his life and jumps into it, armed with a knife, and is promptly eaten. A businessman and the Greek chorus take cuttings of the plant and explain that Audrey IIs have taken over the world (as vines drop over the audience! Kick ass!) and warn us not to feed the plants.
Movie Musical: Audrey II has eaten a dentist and Mushnik and has attempted to eat Audrey. Seymour decides the plant has ruined his life and electrocutes her ass to death. He and Audrey get married and go to live Somewhere That's Green while a little Audrey II bud smirks at us from the vines growing on their fence (which seems like an "Or is it?" ending until you realize there's no way they're going to fall for that again).
As far as I'm concerned, each ending is completely appropriate for whatever medium it happens to be. The original is a low budget dark comedy and the ending reflects that. The stage musical is a stage musical, many of which have downer endings and need a big closing number. The movie musical is a spoof on 1950s movie musicals, and those tended to have happy endings.
But it wasn't how the movie originally ended. The movie musical's original ending was much closer to the ending of the stage musical: Audrey II wins and takes over the world.
Shelby found a copy online for me, ripped right from the original recalled version of the DVD. The original ending was about 23 minutes long and ... wow. Holy crap. It was in black and white and it didn't have all the sound effects and music it would have had if it'd been in the movie but ... damn.
I liked it, certainly, but I think I wouldn't have if:
1) I weren't obsessed
2) I hadn't seen the released version with the happy ending first
3) they had actually kept this ending
Which isn't necessarily fair. According to what I've read, it's Frank Oz's preferred ending, as well as members of the cast, but (I hate to admit it, because I hate the whole concept of test audiences and changing one's work to suit what "the public" wants) I can completely see why test audiences hated it and, in spite of being over budget, they had to film a whole new ending.
Because what Frank Oz has said about it is right: you really love and care about these characters, and to have them just die and the plant wins, and it's a movie so there's no curtain calls, it's pretty hard to take.
But let's back up, shall we?
The alternate ending starts with Audrey II tricking Audrey into watering her, at which point she (the plant) attempts to devour her (the person). Seymour bursts in and rescues his lady love from the jaws of the monster. This is all in the final version of the movie.
Outside, Audrey collapses and tells Seymour that she's going to die and that she wants him to give her to the plant, so the plant will get bigger and Seymour will become more rich and famous; also because if she's in the plant then she's part of the plant and, not only will they be together, but she'll finally be Somewhere That's Green. She sings a heartbreaking reprise of the song and dies.
Seymour takes her inside and feeds her to Audrey II, then runs outside and to the roof of Audrey's apartment building to leap off and kill himself (which would defeat the purpose of her request to be fed to the plant, but whatever). Before Seymour can jump, though, a salesman comes to him and attempts to make a deal to take cuttings of the plant and marketing them, putting Audrey IIs in every home in America. Seymour suddenly figures out what the plant's been up to all along and goes to confront her. This part's in the final movie, too, as is the plant's big number, Mean Green Mother From Outer Space (it was written specifically for the movie; there was no way they could leave it out).
As the song ends, however, rather than Seymour grabbing exposed wires and electrocuting the bitch, Audrey II pulls the building down, fishes Seymour from the rubble and, in an epic and painfully slow manner, raises him into the air with her vines and eats him, spitting out his shattered glasses. Fade to black.
Then the Greek chorus shows up to sing their song explaining how similar events had been going on all over the country. Shots are shown of shoppers in Cabbage Patch Kids style frenzies buying Audrey II plantlets. A couple lie in bed and watch as Audrey IIs eat "Cleveland and Des Moines and Peoria and New York," and the movie ends with three or four giant Audrey IIs running rampant in New York City. One of them climbs the Statue Of Liberty and the ending card reads "The End?!" A giant Audrey II head rips through and the camera (and, effectively, the audience) goes straight into her mouth.
As is the case with most things that disturb me on some level that I can't define, I'm completely obsessed with this new revelation that is the original ending. I love it but I hate it. It's fascinating and deeply upsetting. It's almost exactly the same as the ending of the play but infinitely more dramatic and upsetting.
Maybe it's the fact that they can linger on things. When Audrey dies and Seymour feeds her to Audrey II, it's almost in slow motion. The camera lingers on Audrey disappearing into the plant, on Seymour watching her go. It's painful.
And the last sequence was ... I'm starting to wonder if J.J. Abrams ever saw this ending. Maybe it wasn't Godzilla he was inspired by, because I felt like I was watching Cloverfield again, but with background music and several monsters. It was that level of sort of inescapable horror. "Holy shit, this really is the end of the world."
I've wanted to see the original ending ever since I knew there was an original ending (which was, I'd say, probably my freshman year of high school) and now I'm very glad I have. It was one of the few instances of wanting to see something for years and have it actually surpass my expectations of it. I had no idea it would upset me as much as it did.
I loved it but I hated it. There's no other way to describe it. It was perfect. It was exactly what it should have been. It's the best work of Frank Oz's directing career. And I'm one hundred perecent glad it's not the ending in the final cut of the movie.
What I would like, though, is a DVD with the option to watch the movie with either the happy ending or the original ending. Apparently David Geffen is the only person on the planet with a color copy of the original ending (the masters were destroyed in a fire a couple decades ago) and I get the feeling that he won't cough up his copy for DVD release, since he's the one who recalled the original DVDs with the alternate ending in the first place.
End of line.