a b&w sketch of Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors viewed from the shoulders up

Movie Review: Little Shop of Horrors (Director’s Cut) – 1986 ****

In Little Shop of Horrors, a very poor man discovers he can have all the success in the world if only he murders people to feed a talking plant their blood. Did someone say “capitalism will eat you alive”? Alan Menken did!

I grew up watching the Theatrical Cut of Little Shop of Horrors. It was one of my favorite movies on tape as a kid! I watched it so much, I think I wore out the VHS. Like, it would get all fuzzy and weird when I watched the parts I kept rewinding and revisiting. I’m still not sure why I loved it so much as a child, but there is something deeply endearing about the giant murderous plant, and putting the plant-puppet to music was my catnip.

This means I had only seen the version with the happy ending. It’s not the version the director wanted, but test audiences *loathed* his original ending, and the movie wasn’t going to get released unless they scrubbed it. So in the Theatrical Cut, Seymour electrocutes Audrey II. He escapes to the suburbs with Audrey I. You get a glimpse of little Audrey II flowers at the end, but it feels like more of a cute wink-nudge than a threat of more plant murder.

Even in this version, Little Shop of Horrors is an outstanding movie. The songs, performances, and set are wonderful. As an adult, I’m just as obsessed with the many puppets that portray Audrey II. Apparently it took sixty people to operate the big version, and you get the most amazing sense of majesty from it. Steve Martin vs Bill Murray is like “When Sado met Masochist” — a real romcom.

With the Theatrical Cut, it remains a tale of deep poverty and the lie of the American Dream. Seymour begins with small, painful sacrifices to earn his commercial success — bleeding himself into the mouth of the plant — and then moves onto acceptable horror by feeding Audrey’s abusive boyfriend to the plant. But the plant is never satiated. It never stops growing. It always remains hungry. Letting the heroes escape alive isn’t necessarily unrealistic, but it’s such a softball.

The Director’s Cut is truer to the theme. Audrey II lures Audrey I to the shop, fatally wounds her, and devours her body. Then it humiliates and devours Seymour despite his best attempts to kill it. I had heard that these things happened in the Director’s Cut. It was still shocking enough to watch for the first time — like I said, I’ve seen this at least twenty times, and the ending was happy! What a divine sensation, watching a new version of a movie I know so well.

The plant goes on to eat the whole country. Probably the whole planet. You get a lot of amazing shots of giant Audrey II plants terrorizing New York City — think people running away from Godzilla screaming. The Greek chorus emphasizes that we got here because everyone was greedy for power and willing to feed their plants blood. And in the end, we see one of the plants clutching the Statue of Liberty, cackling because bazookas do nothing to kill it.

I completely understand why everyone hated that ending. It was *dark*. But oh my God, I’m obsessed. It was hilarious for one. They played it up like a 50s monster movie, so it’s not exactly scary by modern standards. Watching the many ways the plant destroys things and eats people is a joy, especially because they laugh through the whole thing. The evil puppets are so great! I’m just so happy for them!

And at this point, it’s pretty obvious that capitalism really does work like that. It really will just eat everybody. It’s so blunt, without a whit of subtlety. But does anyone go see a horror comedy satire musical hoping for subtlety? Or do you go because you wanna see giant alien plants murdering the planet?

Personally, I think this version is so much better, and I’m delighted they remastered/completed the Director’s Cut for release. It takes the movie from “haha I loved that” to “OMG AMAZING.” I was downright giddy watching it. Let’s say that the Theatrical Cut is 5/5, but Director’s Cut is 11/10.

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