In the 1960s, Crystal, Ronette, and Chiffon introduce the film. Seymour Krelborn (Rick Moranis) and Audrey (Ellen Greene) work at Mushnik’s Flower Shop on Skid Row. Struggling because of the lack of customers, Mushnik (Vincent Gardenia) wants to close the store, but Audrey suggests he display Seymour’s unusual plant. The plant, Audrey II, was purchased from a Chinese flower shop during a solar eclipse. When Seymour accidentally pricks his finger, he learns that it needs blood to grow.
Seymour becomes a local celebrity as the plant grows. Audrey suffers at the hands of her abusive sadist dentist boyfriend Orin Scrivello (Steve Martin) and resists going out with Seymour, who is becoming weak from blood-loss. Audrey II (voice of Levi Stubbs) demands more blood and suggests Seymour kill somebody to get it. Seymour is unable to shoot Orin. But he dies from abusing nitrous oxide. Mushnik sees Seymour feed Orin’s body to the plant and flees in horror.
Mushnik confronts Seymour about it but is himself devoured. Seymour decides to escape Skid Row with Audrey. The plant tries to eat Audrey, but Seymour saves her. Offered money for saplings to spread the alien invasive plant worldwide, he decides to kill it. After a struggle, he electrocutes the plant and lives happily in the suburbs with Audrey, but there is a smirking bud in their front yard.
In an alternate ending, based on the Broadway play, cut from the movie, but later restored, Audrey is injured and asks Seymour to feed her to the plant. Then he tries to commit suicide, but botanical entrepreneur Patrick Martin (Jim Belushi) is ready to market Audrey II all over the world. The chorus girls reappear to tell how the plants took over the planet, destroying cities, toppling buildings, and eating people like proper alien invaders. Finally, it attacks the viewers.
The film was directed by Frank Oz, an adaptation of the off-Broadway play based on the 1960 film by Roger Corman. It is in color, funnier, full of delightfully dark songs, and has special appearances by John Candy, Christopher Guest, and Bill Murray. It also cost 25 million dollars instead of 30 thousand. It was produced by David Geffen. Levi Stubbs was wonderful as the voice of the lean green mother from outer space.
It was supposed to be produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Martin Scorsese, which would have been quite a different film, no doubt. Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, and Barbra Streisand turned down the role of Audrey, but Ellen Greene had been great on the stage, and they went with her. Bill Murray’s improvised role, which had been played by Jack Nicholson in the 1960 movie, was not in the stage play but was added. It took six weeks for Steve Martin to finish his role as the sadistic dentist because he was constant inventing new schtick. It was the first time he and Rick Moranis worked together.
Audrey II is a creation of 60 Muppet puppeteers. It was filmed in slow motion and speeded up. The ending in which Seymour and Audrey die left audiences cold. Frank Oz pointed out that after characters die on stage, the actors come out and take a bow, but in movies the death seems more real. So, a more upbeat ending was created. Later, cult-film audiences found the original funny and it was restored. It received rave reviews from nearly everyone, including Jim Henson. It was nominated for two Oscars but lost to Aliens and Top Gun. An unnecessary remake is apparently being planned. One hopes the perpetrators will be eaten by carnivorous plants.
Audrey II was interviewed by the press during promotion and sometimes ate the interviewers. The “mean green mother” song was the first nominated song to contain profanity, but the offending words were cut when Levi Stubbs sang it on the Oscars telecast. The dental tools were used later on Jack Nicholson by the Joker’s plastic surgeon in 1989’s Batman. Jim Henson’s son Brian was one of the puppeteers and his daughter Heather was also in the film. It was the only film in which Steve Martin and Bill Murray appeared together. The movie Aliens was being filmed in the next studio and a prop gun turned out to have real bullets in it. A hole was shot in the Little Shop set, but no-one was hurt.