Musical film Little Shop of Horrors has developed a cult following since its release in 1986. An adaptation of the 1982 off-Broadway musical comedy and the original 1960 film, the 1986 movie follows a florist shop worker who realises his Venus flytrap is a carnivore. Here are 25 things you never knew about this classic film.
25. Most of the props were sourced from New York thrift shops
For added period realism – the film is set in the early 1960s, after all – the film’s crew sourced most of the wardrobe and props from thrift shops in New York.
Interestingly, it proved most difficult to find battered garbage cans. Set decorator Tessa Davies used a slightly unconventional tactic to source some ‘vintage’ bins.
She drove around New York in a truck filled to the brim with new garbage cans and simply knocked on people’s doors asking if they would swap their old can with a new one.
“They had to be genuine and they had to be old,” Davies said of the importance of sourcing old cans.
“I went around the streets in a truck loaded with new garbage cans, offering to trade them for used ones,” she recalled.
“People thought I was crazy,” she said. “I suspect I got away with it only because I was a foreigner.”
24. The original film was only made because of a bet
The original 1960 film has often been referred to as the “best film that was ever shot in two days.”
Although accounts vary on how long it actually took to shoot the entire film, the movie was borne out of a competition.
This took place between director Roger Corman and his brother, where Corman bet that he could create an entire film during the final week of 1959.
Corman used leftover sets to shoot the original film. He rehearsed with the cast intensively on Monday to Wednesday before shooting on Thursday and Friday.
Apparently Corman technically lost the bet as the cast did have to be called back in for several re-shoots.
Regardless, it’s still hugely impressive that he managed to create a great piece of art in such a short space of time.
23. Bill Murray essentially improvised all his lines
In the film, Bill Murray plays a masochistic dental patient alongside Steve Martin’s portrayal of a sadistic dentist.
While others flee the dentist’s office in horror, Murray’s character (who only appears in a single scene) cannot wait for his turn.
Frank Oz credits producer David Geffen for Murray’s casting – and adds that it was Murray’s idea to run wild with ad-libbing and improvisation.
“It was David Geffen who wanted Billy, and I knew Billy just briefly – we played a little basketball as a matter of fact,” Oz told MTV in 2012.
“I hardly knew him,” he added. “David wanted him. So I called Billy and I said, ‘So Billy, you wanna do this thing?'”
He said, ‘Yeah, but do I have to say the lines?’ I said, ‘Look, as long as you’re the masochist and Steve’s the sadist, I don’t care.’ So that’s what happened.”
22. Everyone died in the original ending
Spoiler alert: in the original 1960 Little Shop of Horrors, Seymour ends up climbing into Audrey Jr’s mouth, brandishing a knife, ultimately killing them both.
In the musical version, the ending is even bleaker: after eating Seymour, Audrey Jr devours all of the film’s main characters and goes on to take over the world with the help of its offspring.
Oz spent around one-fifth of the movie’s total budget recreating this dramatic ending – but when the movie previewed in San Jose, test audiences weren’t keen on the ending at all.
“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,” Oz told Entertainment Weekly in 2012.
“And then the theatre became a refrigerator, an ice box,” he said. “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 […],” he pointed out. “We had to cut that ending and make it a happy ending, or a satisfying ending.”
21. The actors had to shoot the Suddenly Seymour number with ice cubes in their mouths
At the time, Little Shop of Horrors was the most expensive movie Warner Bros had ever produced, with a budget of $25 million.
This is unsurprising given the fact that the plant puppets needed to be operated manually in the days before CGI. All scenes were shot at Pinewood Studios in England.
The famous 007 Stage was the setting for the Suddenly Seymour number – but the cast and crew ran into some problems while shooting.
Because the stage was so big, it was impossible to heat properly. This meant that the room was absolutely freezing.
The actor’s breath condensation was visible every time they spoke or sang, messing up each shot.
Ellen Greene and Rick Moranis then came up with the idea of having the cast put ice cubes in their mouths to counter this.
20. The puppet’s lip-syncing had to be shot in slow motion then sped up later to make it look like Audrey II was singing
While figuring out how to film Audrey II’s musical numbers, the producers found the large puppet couldn’t lip-sync very effectively.
However, when they filmed the plant slowly lip-syncing to the music, and then sped up the footage, Audrey II looked far more lifelike.
So the filmmakers settled on a slow-motion filming process, to be sped up in post-production.
The major hitch in this plan was in any group numbers or duets involving Audrey II.
The actors had to lip-sync and act at half-speed to match the puppets.
While this worked beautifully onscreen, it created a pretty surreal filming experience for the stars.
19. The film had its own tie-in board game called Feed Me!
The 1986 Little Shop of Horrors was so popular that it inspired a board game created by Milton Bradley.
The game, naturally, was called Feed Me!, and was released in 1987, unmistakably inspired by Audrey II.
The game featured a plastic plant with a hinged mouth that would spontaneously slam shut.
To play, players would take turns placing marbles tentatively into the maw of the plant.
If the mouth stayed open on your turn, you could keep playing, but if it slammed shut, you were out.
In this Buckaroo-style game, the last player left unscathed by this snapping shrub was the winner.
18. The biggest plant puppet had to be operated by 60 technicians
Back in 1986, complex CGI wasn’t an option when it came to bringing Audrey II to life.
Everything had to be done manually – which wasn’t a huge issue for expert puppeteer Frank Oz.
A frequent collaborator with Muppets legend Jim Henson, Oz was well-versed when it came to puppeteering, and had spent the best part of a decade voicing characters like Miss Piggy, Yoda, and Fozzie Bear.
The challenge came with actually creating the plant itself. The puppet had to be able to sing, dance and – of course – eat people.
Technicians rose to the challenge and built six animatronic flytraps for the film. The smallest was only four inches high, while the largest was over 12 feet.
For complex scenes, the largest puppet required around 60 technicians to operate it. Technicians would pull on various levers and cables to make the puppet move realistically.
17. Cyndi Lauper and Madonna were considered for the role of Audrey
Ellen Greene makes a great Audrey – but she almost didn’t get the role. Amazingly, singers Cyndi Lauper and Madonna were actually in the running for the part.
Lauper reportedly was very keen to sign up for the role, but ultimately wasn’t available due to prior recording and touring commitments.
Eddie Murphy was also considered to voice Audrey II, although the role ultimately went to Levi Stubbs.
John Candy was offered the role of Mr. Mushnik – which went to Vincent Gardenia – but ended up playing radio host Wink Wilson instead.
Furthermore, when the studio needed to do re-shoots for the character Patrick Martin, it turned to James Belushi.
Paul Dooley was the original Martin actor, but he was unavailable when the reshoots were scheduled to take place.
16. A bizarre dream sequence was cut from the final movie
In the original edit of Little Shop of Horrors, Seymour’s fears are explored through a lurid nightmare sequence.
Seymour finds himself smothered in money and falling into a black pit, to the tune of The Meek Shall Inherit.
He’s tormented by a giant sand timer and blood gushing from Audrey II’s victim’s portrait.
Seymour himself begins to transform into a plant, and later Audrey appears waltzing over pink clouds in a green ballgown.
He finds himself surrounded by giant contracts and flying business partners, before seeing his face on the cover of Time Magazine.
It isn’t clear why this scene was removed – but it certainly made the original edit even more menacing.
15. Steve Martin injured himself when he accidentally punched his fist through a door filming one scene
One scene in the film sees Orin Scrivello and Audrey walk up to her apartment, where sadistic Scrivello kicks the building door open.
Yet this tough-guy moment in the movie belies an unpleasant injury behind the scenes.
In an earlier take for this scene, Martin pushed the double swinging doors open with his hands.
But the star ended up injuring himself when the glass unexpectedly shattered, cutting his hands.
This was edited out and replaced with the shot where Martin opens the door with his foot.
However, the outtake of Martin injuring his hand can still be seen as a special feature on the DVD and Blu-ray releases.
14. It contains the first R-rated Oscar song
No villain is complete without an awe-inspiring theme song, and for Audrey II this was Mean Green Mother From Outer Space.
It was composed specifically for this film, although it has since become a staple of stage productions.
It holds the unusual honour of being the first-ever Oscar-nominated song to contain swear words.
It also became the first-ever villain’s song to make the list of nominees in 1987.
It was even performed at the Oscars ceremony by Levi Stubbs of the band Four Tops – with the profanities removed.
However, Mean Green Mother lost the award to Berlin’s Take My Breath Away, written for Top Gun.
13. At one point gunfire came through the wall from the neighbouring Aliens set
Little Shop of Horrors was created in the biggest movie studio in the world: Pinewood in Buckinghamshire.
Their next-door neighbours in the studio were the cast and crew of Aliens, the 1986 sequel to Alien.
With budgets of $18 million and $25 million respectively, Aliens and Little Shop of Horrors were pulling out all the stops to make their productions perfect.
However, at one point while acting, James Remar fired a gun on the set of Aliens – not realising it was loaded with blanks.
The explosion tore through the wall between the two productions, but fortunately no one was injured.
Soon afterwards, James Remar was caught in possession of drugs and was replaced by Michael Biehn in the role of Corporal Hicks.
12. Somewhere That’s Green heavily influenced a Little Mermaid song
In the musical number Somewhere That’s Green, Audrey pines after green space as she longs to get out of Skid Row.
Lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken, who collaborated on the off-Broadway musical and 1986 film, also worked together when it came to writing music for Disney’s The Little Mermaid.
The film’s most famous song, Part of Your World, was apparently heavily influenced by Somewhere That’s Green.
Speaking to Entertainment Weekly in 2015, Menken said: “There had never really been an ‘I want’ number before in a Disney film.
“Subsequently everybody at Disney would ask, ‘Where’s our “I want” moment?!'” he elaborated. “But it’s that important moment where you engage the audience in the quest of the central character so you know what you’re rooting for.”
“We jokingly used to call [Part of Your World] ‘Somewhere That’s Wet,’ like Somewhere That’s Green but underwater,” he noted.
11. Vincent Gardenia says Frank Oz only cast him because he liked his name
Vincent Gardenia reportedly thought Frank Oz chose him for Little Shop of Horrors because he liked his name.
This Italian-American actor plays shop owner Mr Mushnik in the 1986 movie. He also stars in Moonstruck and Bang the Drum Slowly.
Frank Oz was clearly a fan of his own unusual name, too – it makes a flickering appearance in the movie.
There’s a neon sign for ‘Chooz’ gum behind the stars, which repeatedly flashes the final two letters: OZ.
On Twitter in 2018, Oz added that he picked Chooz – a defunct brand – to avoid any contemporary product placement.
On the other hand, the movie did have a product placement deal with tobacco company Philip Morris.
10. Jim Belushi was only cast when the original Patrick Martin actor wasn’t available for reshoots
Frank Oz’s decision to release both the more upbeat ending of Little Shop of Horrors, and the apocalyptic, closer to source-accurate ending, is a win for audiences everywhere.
However, even if it’s wonderful that fans can now choose whether they want to watch Audrey II get its comeuppance or go on to destroy the entire world with an army of carnivorous plants, it wasn’t a win for the cast.
Oz’s determination to film the original ending, in which Audrey is never defeated, and the studio pressure to release a more palatable ending in which the heroes get to live happily ever after meant a lot of reshoots were needed.
When it was decided that the theatrical cut would show Seymour and Audrey making it out alive, and Audrey II’s domination would be relegated to the director’s cut, one casualty was Paul Dooley’s performance.
Paul Dooley had played the sleazy salesman Patrick Martin when the apocalyptic ending was shot, but when he was called back to film the happier version of events, he was unavailable due to other commitments.
This led to Jim Belushi stepping into the role, and Dooley being given a “special thanks” in the credits. When the director’s cut was eventually released on DVD, the credits instead featured a special thanks for Jim Belushi, whose work was in turn cut out in favour of Dooley’s performance.
9. It got a spin-off Saturday morning cartoon
For a movie about a people-eating plant and a shy, bumbling wallflower who is slowly driven mad by his experiences both as a celebrity and an accomplice to murder, Little Shop of Horrors actually isn’t very scary.
The film leans hard on comedy with both evil characters, Audrey II and the dentist Orin Scrivello, getting upbeat villain songs with more than their fair share of quips and physical comedy.
With that said, even if it’s fair to separate Little Shop of Horrors from films that feel more closely married to the horror genre, it still doesn’t feel like the kind of movie that would ever be adapted into a kids’ show.
That’s why it’s so surprising that in 1991, a Saturday morning cartoon began airing that was based on the wacky adventures of Seymour and Audrey II, and was squarely aimed at children!
The cartoon was called Little Shop to downplay the scarier aspects of the movie, and none of the original cast accepted the offer to do the voice work.
Little Shop only ran for one season, with the aggressively 90s cartoon style and the tame, not-scary adventures of Audrey II working in a flower shop not exactly capturing the hearts of the movie’s existing fanbase.
8. Rick Moranis and Vincent Gardenia kept ruining shots with their giggling
Even though Little Shop of Horrors mostly has a pretty upbeat and fun time, there are a few truly chilling scenes, helped along by the perfectly atmospheric score and music.
Maybe the most subtly spooky of all the scenes comes during the song Suppertime, when Mr Mushnik discovers that Seymour has been the accomplice to Audrey II’s terrible crimes, and that the pair of them were responsible for the death of Audrey’s despicable dentist boyfriend.
As the creepy Suppertime refrain builds in the background, Seymour has to decide whether or not to betray the only mentor and father figure he has ever known, in order to keep both his secret and his man-eating plant alive.
In the end, Audrey II chomps down on Mr Mushnik before the business owner can successfully blackmail and banish Seymour from town, and the plant’s reign of terror is cemented.
There’s no doubt that the sequence is shot in a pretty memorably creepy way, but the final cut ended up being far different from what Frank Oz had originally intended.
The whole scene was supposed to be shot over-the-shoulder style, but Rick Moranis and Vincent Gardenia could not stop making each other laugh, which was a problem when they were both in the frame. So instead, Oz had to close up shots that couldn’t be ruined by laughter.
7. The film almost starred Rodney Dangerfield
Little Shop of Horrors was very much a passion project for Frank Oz, so he held pretty tightly on to the reins while he tried to get the film made.
Thankfully, the movie we eventually got to see was a pretty undiluted version of his vision, especially if you watch the director’s cut with its original bleak ending.
Despite Oz doing his best to make the movie that he wanted to make, Little Shop of Horrors did come dangerously close to featuring one element that he did not sign off on.
As weird as it sounds, that rough element was Rodney Dangerfield. Someone at the Geffen company was obsessed with the idea of the Caddyshack star appearing in the film, and went to oddly extreme lengths to try and include him.
Someone was so determined to include Dangerfield in the project that he was even asked to secretly record vocals for Audrey II’s songs, completely behind the back of Frank Oz.
Not only that, but when Oz arrived on set to do the ending reshoots, Dangerfield’s name was down on the call list as playing Patrick Martin, despite the fact that Jim Belushi had already been cast. How strange!
6. Two of Jim Henson’s children worked on the movie
Behind Audrey II was an army of puppeteers from the Jim Henson Company, best known for creating the Muppets.
The Jim Henson Company – created by Jim and his wife Jane – is owned and run by the family to this day.
But this movie was also a family affair: two of Jim Henson’s own children were among the cast and crew.
His son Brian Henson was part of the puppeteering team that operated the mighty plant.
Meanwhile, you can spot young Heather Henson, Jim’s daughter, escaping from the dentist’s office before Bill Murray enters with gusto.
Both Heather and Brian still work in puppetry, and Brian Henson went on to direct The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island.
5. The dentist’s equipment was used again in Burton’s 1989 Batman
The dental tools of this movie were used once again as props in Time Burton’s 1989 Batman, where they are used on Jack Nicholson’s Joker.
In a strange coincidence, Jack Nicholson made one of his earliest film appearances in the original Little Shop of Horrors.
In the movie of 1960, Nicholson plays the masochistic dental patient – the character played by Bill Murry in the 1987 version.
Reflecting on his time in the Little Shop dentist’s chair, Nicholson has said he improvised a lot.
“I went into the shoot knowing I had to be very quirky because [director] Roger [Corman] originally hadn’t wanted me,” he said.
“In other words, I couldn’t play it straight,” he explained. “So I just did a lot of weird s*** that I thought would make it funny.”
4. It marked the final movie appearance of Bertice Reading
The elderly lady who opens the song Skid Row (Downtown) is a passing figure, but she’s played by a stage legend.
This actress is Bertice Reading, a Tony-nominated performer and comedian who spent most of her career in the UK.
She sang these few lines live on set, and it became her final movie appearance before her death in 1991.
Born in Pennsylvania, Reading’s career in singing and dancing began when she was only three, after Bill “Bojangles” Robinson talent-spotted her.
She performed a wide range of blues, gospel and comedic music, and she also starred in the 1957 play Requiem for a Nun.
Valmouth, Only In America and her various one-women shows were among her stage credits. She recorded a disco album shortly after Little Shop.
3. The Greek Chorus members are all named after girl bands
Three girls form the ‘Greek Chorus’ of Little Horrors, and they sing in almost every number.
They stand out from the action in the very first scene, as they remain magically untouched by the rainstorm around them.
Named Crystal, Ronnette and Chiffon, the trio get their names from popular girl bands of the 60s.
The Ronnettes were an R&B trio best known for the hits Be My Baby and Baby, I Love You.
The Crystals scored numerous Billboard hits in the early 60s, all produced by now-disgraced music mogul Phil Spector.
The Chiffons started out as three school friends from the Bronx, who won fame with sunny pop tunes like He’s So Fine and Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.
2. It was Ellen Greene who decided Audrey should be blonde
Ellen Greene joined the movie from the off-Broadway production of Little Shop of Horrors.
She was the only star to do so, and it was quite an unusual casting decision for that era.
As a result, Greene knew her character Audrey through-and-through – she’d shaped this personality on stage since 1982.
Greene’s Audrey on stage and screen looks markedly different from the original character of the 1960 movie, played by Jackie Joseph.
Joseph’s Audrey is brunette – but Greene decided her version of the character ought to be blonde.
She always donned a platinum wig, and this idea stuck for her performance in the 1986 movie.
1. Mushnik’s phone conversation is a tribute to the original film
Early on in Little Shop of Horrors, we hear Mr Mushnik having what seems like a completely ordinary and banal conversation with a client called Mrs Shiva.
We glean from the conversation that Mrs Shiva’s relatives are “dropping like flies”, which rather morbidly makes her a great customer – since she has a lot of funeral lilies to buy.
What you may not know about this completely inconsequential-seeming scene is that it’s actually a reference to the 1960 movie The Little Shop of Horrors.
In the original black and white horror movie, there is an elderly character called Mrs Shiva, whose own relatives are mysteriously dying all around her.
There are even more details packed into this little Easter egg homage too, as Mrs Shiva’s name was specifically chosen to line up with the themes of the movie. Not only is Shiva the name of the Hindu god of destruction, but it is also the name of a Jewish mourning ritual, making Mrs Shiva a kind of harbinger that all the death that is to come in the movie.