Name a classic film musical-comedy-tragedy...no that's ok...I'll wait...what? You can't think of any? You're right I suppose...it does seem like something of an oxymoron to even suggest that there are such animals. Even ones that you think might straddle the line really fall to one side or the other. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is most certainly more comedy in the end than tragedy (though some might argue that it's ambiguous ending is somewhat tragic) and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is clearly more tragic than comic in it's execution, no matter how much we may giggle at moments like A Little Priest and By the Sea. However, I do not doubt the intelligence of my readers and I know you already are assuming I'm building to something. "What is this new comic-tragedy set to song," you ask? Well, there-in lies my surprise...it has indeed been made, but it was made 26 years ago. WHAT???? Certainly you have heard of Frank Oz's fantastic adaptation of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken's stage version of the Roger Corman cheepie (deep breath) The Little Shop of Horrors? Now you're thinking, "You can't trick me mister...that movie had a happy ending. Therefore it is not tragic!" However, more knowledgeable readers and folks who enjoy live theater may already be aware that the tale of Seymour and Audrey had a very different ending in Corman's original, the stage version, and the musical film's original finale. Ashman and Menken constructed a brilliantly comic and campy modernization of the Faust tale when they opened "Little Shop of Horrors" on stage and had hoped that that would be the parable to see film. Sadly, it was not to be...until now. Today marks the release of the film on Blu-ray and for the event, Warner Bros has wisely decided to release it in both it's theatrical and a newly restored director's cut that reinserts the original (and audience-hated) dark ending to the film. So tuck in as we watch Little Shop of Horrors finally bloom as it was intended.
"On the 23rd day in the month of September, in an early year of a decade not too long before our own, the human race suddenly encountered a deadly threat to it's very existence...and this terrifying enemy surfaced, as such enemies often do, in the seemingly most innocent and unlikely of places..."
This is how our film opens and it perfectly sets the tone of this bizare throwback to early 60s drive-in movies, bubblegum music, and old-fashioned musicals. The setting is Skid Row, New York City...the place is Mushnik's Florist Shop, and our lead is Seymour Krelbourne, a mild-mannered assistant in old-man Mushnik's shop. He is a wiz with flowers but a flop with his boss and his co-worker Audrey (whom he secretly loves). However, Seymour's life is about to change as he discovers and begins to display a strange and interesting new plant that he happened to find after a total-eclipse of the sun. The doesn't begin to really flourish until Seymour makes a chilling discovery...the plant will only eat human blood. So as Seymour secretly feeds the plant from ever-sore fingers and allows it to grow, his success grows as well. Soon, Seymour's meager blood-supply is not enough and the plant (which can talk and SING) begins demanding human bodies. Seymour is suddenly journeying down a road that leads to murder, lies, and deceit. Can he continue to feed the plant and if he doesn't, will the plant allow itself to go hungry?
Little Shop of Horrors is, today, regarded as something of a classic 80s comedy. It's peppy tunes, fantastic performances, and extraordinary puppetry are immediately recognizable by almost everyone (particularly sassy plant Audrey II and Ellen Greene's squeaky voiced Audrey). However, most are aware that Seymour and Audrey weren't meant to live happily ever after. Like an issue of Tales from the Crypt, Seymour achieves success through questionable (some might even say reprehensable) acts that he commits in order to keep his plant alive and (like Frankenstein's monster) must lose something near and dear to him before he truely understands how far beyond redemption he is. In essence, he sells his soul to the devil and has to pay at the end. In the theatrical cut of the film, Seymour and Audrey manage to kill Audrey II and escape from Skid Row to Audrey's fantasy home in the suburbs and we, because we like them so much, conveniently forget that Seymour has murdered and mutilated without punishment. This presents something of a moral dilemma...that it is ok to kill to support our wishes so long as a) the victims are reprehensable (Audrey's dentist boyfriend and Mushnik are rather nasty folk) and b) we can argue that, despite our actions, we are inherently good and had no choice. I can understand this moral denial...Audrey and Seymour are nice people and deserve a much better life than the one they have and we want to see them get it. However, it ignores the Faustian themes that control the story and point it toward it's only logical conclusion...which is how the director's cut plays out. Seymour loses Audrey to the plant because he keeps her unaware of how dangerous and evil it is and because he is selfishly keeping it alive for his own gain and it is only then, when Patrick Martin shows him how they can easily reproduce Audrey II to sell in stores all over the world, that he realizes the horror he has allowed happen. However, by now it is too late. The plant is too large and strong and overpowers Seymour easily, devouring him and then allowing clones of itself to grow and take over the world. The film ends to the tune of deleted song "Don't Feed the Plants" as hundreds of giant Audrey IIs destroy New York City. Cheery no? Yeah, the test audiences didn't think so either...what had worked for years on the Off-Broadway stage (the tragic ending that is) as a campy joke was now seen as deadly serious on film due to the lovability of Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene as Seymour and Audrey and the directoral effectiveness of Frank Oz. It works so well as a tragedy that it suddenly erases all the fun we've been having since the first song...and then becomes comedy again as Godzilla-Audrey IIs destroy the world. Audiences couldn't wrap their heads around it and hated the film, so Oz and Ashman crafted the happy ending we know today. The original version, which is a wonderful film in a different way, can now be seen and enjoyed by everyone and I highly recommend that you check it out. It is one of the few times where you can watch the same film you know and feel as though you are seeing something brand new...the film musical-comedy-tragedy.