The Little Shop Of Horrors budget sparked a battle with Warner Bros.

The 1986 musical “Little Shop of Horrors” began life as a zero-budget monster comedy that Roger Corman legendaryly shot in two days and a single night. Rehearsals only took place for the previous three days, and they were filmed on sets that had been left standing for the production of “A Bucket of Blood,” which had just wrapped filming. A young Jack Nicholson appears in the film as a masochistic dental patient. The 1960 film is a prime example of low-budget toughness at work – all it takes is common sense, part of an idea, and a few actors willing to read the lines.

The film is about a nebbish named Seymour (Jonathan Haze) who discovers a talking alien plant (Charles B. Griffith) that craves human flesh. In order to appease his boss and impress his future girlfriend Audrey (Jackie Joseph), he feeds the plant his own blood and, when that becomes impossible, random vagrants. The film ends with the plant, nicknamed Audrey. Jr., eating most of the main cast.

After Nicholson achieved a higher level of fame about a decade later, Corman’s 72-minute opus began making the midnight movie circuit and later achieved infamy in the then nascent market. from VHS. By 1982, the film had become notorious enough to warrant a quirky, tongue-in-cheek musical adaptation of Off-Broadway with music by the legendary Alan Menken and a book by Howard Ashman. Audrey’s Factory, renamed Audrey II, was, in most productions, done with stellar advances in puppetry.

In 1986, the musical was later adapted for film by director Frank Oz who, in line with the direction, used some of the best puppeteers ever seen in a feature film. The announced budget to make the screen version of Audrey II was $25 million.

Warner Bros., naturally, hesitated.

The $25 million prize

According to a 2021 retrospective of The Hollywood Reporter’s “Little Shop of Horrors” written to celebrate the film’s 35th anniversary, Frank Oz has revealed some of the studio deals — made with producer David Geffen — that took place during production. Notably, Oz was asked to make a relatively low-budget film, perhaps to align with his moneyless Cormanian background. Geffen’s proposed budget was only $9 million. Oz had only co-directed two films before “Little Shop” (“The Dark Crystal” and “The Muppets Take Manhattan”), each of them starring Jim Henson. It was to be his first feature film as a solo director and he had no worries about budgets. He said as much:

“I said, ‘David, I don’t work like that, I don’t know how to write like that. I’m not a budget person, and no one has ever budgeted a movie like this with a plant like this one.’ As a result, it was well over budget.”

Well, well over budget. Like almost triple the $9 million Geffen wanted. “Little Shop” was losing money so quickly that Oz started betting calls over Geffen’s head. Obviously, Terry Semel, the co-SEO of Warner Bros. called the director to find out what was going on. It was not a pleasant conversation, as Oz recalls:

“He was like, ‘Frank, what the hell are you doing with that much money? And I kept saying, “We’re doing our best” because I’ve never done that before. Finally, Terry said, “I’m coming to London.” And I said, ‘Terry, don’t do this because we’re going to gag you. You don’t know enough about this. Send in your best guy from the production budget instead.’

As a negotiation, Oz could show what he had done.

“They are doing the best they can.”

The WB’s “production budget guy”, whose name does not appear in the retrospective, did indeed come to London where Frank Oz was filming to oversee production. It seems that the studio visitor found “Little Shop of Horrors” to be a case of complex special effects, not a case of wasteful wonton or stupid neophyte director. Everything, it seems, was well spent. The budget guy returned to the States to basically repeat what had already been said. Reminds Oz:

“And that’s what he did. The guy came for about a week, went through all the departments and at the end he said the same thing: ‘They’re doing the best they can.'”

As fans of the movie know, the unused ending is an example of a runaway budget. During “Little Shop of Horrors”, Seymour (Rick Moranis) gained fame and affection from Audrey (Ellen Green) by donating blood, and then bodies, to Audrey II (voiced by Levi Stubbs). In the final theatrical cut, Audrey II had grown to enormous heights and announced a plan for world domination, causing Seymour to attack and electrocute the plant to death. In the original cut of the film, Audrey II ate Seymour and Audrey, escaped the building into the streets, and effectively took over the world in an expensive 23-minute kaiju sequence.

The ending was rewritten when test audiences found it too depressing.

But otherwise, Oz really did his best. The film’s special effects are still impressive to this day, and Oz would go on – now savvier – to achieve many more comedic hits, including “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”, “What About Bob?” “, “In & Out” and “Bowfinger”. “

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