When it hit cineplexes in 1986, the Hollywood adaptation of the off-Broadway musical Little Shop of Horrors had a much more cheerful ending than its theatrical source material (and the 1960 Roger Corman movie that inspired that).
But this wasn't initially the case. In fact, director Frank Oz was forced to completely rejigger the film's original 23-minute ending sequence after test audiences despised it. What soured them to the film? Well, this first ending saw carnivore houseplant Audrey II gleefully murder the entire cast — and probably the entire human race.
In an interview last May with Entertainment Weekly, Oz recalled the icy reception the apocalyptic ending — which saw a bunch of Audrey II puppets devour Manhattan — received and the subsequent studio push to revise it:
[Little Shop of Horrors playwright Howard Menken] and I were in David Geffen's office and we both wanted to retain the original ending, with the plant winning and the key people dying, and David was against that. He said you can't do that, but again he knew Howard and I wanted to, so David supported us. The film was completed two years later and we went to San Jose for the first preview and everyone was very excited about it. This was, I think, the most expensive film Warner Bros. had done at that time. For every musical number there was applause, they loved it, it was just fantastic…until we killed our two leads. And then the theater became a refrigerator, an ice box. It was awful and the cards were just awful. They were saying that they hated us killing them. You have to have a 55 percent "recommend" to really be released and we got a 13 [...]
It was a complete disaster. After that San Jose screening, I said, "Can we just try one more time in L.A. to see if the reaction is different?" David supported me and we did it, and we got exactly the same reaction, like 16 percent or something. Howard and I knew what we had to do: We had to cut that ending and make it a happy ending, or a satisfying ending. We didn't want to, but we understood they couldn't release it with that kind of a reaction. [Audiences] loved the two leads so much that when we killed them, they felt bereft.
So, Howard rewrote it and I shot it with a satisfying ending. The original one was in color, but when we ripped apart the ending, we had to take out the tape and then we had to reshoot the new ending and then retape that for another preview.
A black-and-white work print (above) of this first ending was released with the 1998 DVD, until Geffen recalled these DVDs because he wanted audiences to watch it in full color. (Noted Oz, "I think he thought he had the color [version], but he probably didn't understand the work print aspect of it. He probably assumed that there was a color ending somewhere.")
Fast forward to today, and the Blu-ray edition of Little Shop is finally in stores, complete with a color version of this kaiju puppet ending. You can see a clip of it below — resurrecting this footage was an arduous task, according to Warner Bros. restoration expert Kurt Galvao (via IFC):
It was difficult finding all the pieces [...] They weren't where the boxes said they were, but we went through every piece, and I had guys on boxes for weeks looking at every frame. It took about a year and a half to pull it all together. And then on the sound side, we had to locate the original track of singing, get the original tracks in there, and find the dialogue tracks from the dailies. Some of them had damage, so we had to filter out the damage in some cases.