Marlow Vella & Lisa Paulette (episode 1-4) and Jana Lexxa (singing) – Seymour Krelborn, various
Tamar Lee & Jennie Kwan (singing) – Audrey Mushnik, various
Harvey Atkin & Michael Rawl (singing) – Mr. Mushnik
Roland “Buddy” Lewis & Terry McGee (singing) – Audrey Junior
David Huband & Mark Ryan-Martin (singing) – Paine Driller, various
For Corman’s next attempt at horror comedy, there has been several origin stories for its conception. One account was that it was a bet. Another was that because new residual rules for actors were coming into place on January 1, 1960 that would change how Corman did business he wanted to beat the deadline with one last picture. Corman himself would say that it began as a joke; that while having lunch with the manager of the small rental studio where he worked out of, he was told that production on a film was wrapping and they were leaving the sets up for a time before taking them down. Corman, familiar with the sets and not having a lot of money on hand, decided almost as a joke that he would make a film utilizing them within two days. Re-teaming with Griffith, they hashed out a story and Griffith wrote the script.
The Little Shop of Horrors was set in a flower shop in Los Angeles’ Skid Row. Bumbling shop clerk Seymour Krelboined (Jonathan Haze) was attempting to keep his job by presenting his boss, Gravis Mushnick (Mel Welles), a unique flower grown by combining seeds he acquired from a Japanese gardener. The plant, resembling a large Venus flytrap, was named Audrey Jr. after his crush and co-worker, Audrey Fulquard (Jackie Joseph). However, the flower was in poor shape and Seymour had only a week to revive it before losing his job. Discovering it thrived on human blood (and could talk, courtesy of Griffith), Seymour soon fell into an accidental murder spree that kept Audrey Jr. fed and growing almost larger than the shop, attracting new business for Mushnick in the process. The film was populated by a host of eccentric characters, including regular customer Siddie Shiva (Leola Wndorff), whose relatives seemed to die every day; new customer Burson Fouch (Dick Miller), who enjoyed eating plants and decided to make Mushnik’s his regular spot; sadistic and lousy dentist Dr. Farb (John Herman Shaner); and Seymour’s hypochondriac mother, Wnifred (Griffith’s grandmother Myrtle Vail).
The film was shot similarly to a sitcom, with three days of rehearsals and two days of actual filming utilizing multiple cameras on fixed sets with no dynamic lighting. Because of rules at the time, it worked out cheaper in Corman’s favor to pay the actors on a weekly basis than on a daily one, so he hired them all for the week. Exterior shots were then done over two weekends by Griffith and Welles, and Haze would later recall that there were some reshoots. The film was very similar to Blood, utilizing minimal sets, Corman’s regular stock actors, and the structure of the story of a dim-witted character failing upwards with murderous results. Miller, who played the lead in Blood, turned down the starring role for the smaller role he ended up having. A pre-fame Jack Nicholson also appeared as a masochistic dental patient.
Corman had trouble finding distribution for his film as some felt the characters of Mushnik and Shiva were anti-Semitic (Welles himself was Jewish and created his character’s accent). It was finally released by his production company, The Filmgroup, nine months after its completion. After being screened out of competition at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival, AIP distributed the film as the B movie for their release of Mario Bava’s Black Sunday, gaining it extra attention. The film slowly gained popularity through television airings throughout the 1960s and 1970s, becoming a cult classic.
In 1982, the film was adapted into an Off-Broadway horror comedy rock musical with direction and lyrics by Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken. The musical took some liberties with the original story: some of the changes included the setting being moved to New York’s Skid Row; Mrs. Shiva, Burson Fouch, the detectives that investigated the various deaths and Seymour’s mother were omitted and Seymour (given the new surname Krelborn, played by Lee Wilkof) became a ward of Mr. Mushnik (Hy Anzell); Audrey (Ellen Greene) was put into an abusive relationship with the dentist, now renamed Orin Scrivello (Franc Luz), to give Seymour more of a motive to kill him; a chorus of street urchins modeled after girl groups of the 1960s was added; Audrey Jr., now named Audrey II (Ron Taylor voice, Martin P. Robinson puppeteer), was remade as an alien intent on taking over the world; and the show ended with a much darker ending emphasizing class struggles and moral values. By the time the show closed in 1987, it was the third-longest running musical and the highest-grossing production in Off-Broadway history.
One of the show’s original producers, David Geffen, decided to adapt the stage show into a new musical feature film. Frank Oz was tapped to direct and worked on the story to make it more fitting for film. The film starred Rick Moranis as Seymour, Vincent Gardenia as Mr. Musnik, Steve Martin as Orin Scrivello, and Levi Stubbs as Audrey II, who was now operated by an entire team of puppeteers, along with Greene reprising her role as Audrey. A few of the songs were removed from the production, and the masochistic dental patient was added back in, played by an ad-libbing Bill Murray. Although the original dark ending from the stage show was adapted, it didn’t test well with preview audiences and was replaced with a new, happier one. Little Shop of Horrors was released by Warner Bros. on December 19, 1986, underperforming the studio’s expectations with only a $39 million box office. However, home video sales made the film a smash hit.
In 1991, a new adaptation came in the form of an animated series produced by Saban Entertainment and Marvel Productions. This version, developed by Mark Edward Edens and Ellen Levy, combined elements from the original and musical productions while making changes of their own. Seymour (Marlow Vela, Lisa Paulette and Jana Lexxa singing) was now 13-years-old and a wannabe nerd (he had all the right qualities, except the smarts). Seymour frequently broke the 4th wall to relay his inner thoughts and commentary on situations to the audience. Seymour’s mother’s hypochondria was changed to her being a health nut, constantly working out and sticking Seymour with healthy foods. Seymour still had a crush on Audrey (Tamar Lee & Jennie Kwan), who was now the daughter of his boss, Mr. Mushnik (Harvey Atkins & Michael Rawls). Audrey barely acknowledged his existence, focusing entirely on finding her future career (the first episode said she had a lifelong dream of being a firefighter, but she pursued a different occupation in every episode). The dentist character was reimagined as school bully Paine Driller (David Huban & Mark Ryan-Martin), who wore orthodontic headgear (his father was also a dentist). It was Paine’s bullying that sent Seymour to the city dump where he stumbled upon the 200-million-year-old petrified seed that would sprout into Audrey Jr. (Roland “Buddy Lewis” & Terry McGee). Junior was more of an omnivore than a strict carnivore, eating basically any type of food or object. He was also a rabble rouser, constantly attempting to make plants rise up against humanity and reassert their place on the food chain once held during his time via his new “plant magnetism” ability. And he was a lot nicer to Seymour, often trying to help him out—especially in regards to Audrey—in his own, crude ways. Junior retained his hypnosis abilities from the original film, and had a penchant for plant puns. A character resembling Nicholson made small appearances in various episodes, as did the flower-eating Fouch.
Little Shop debuted on FOX as part of the Fox Kids programming block on September 7, 1991. It was written by Edens, Mel Gilden, Robert Tarlow, Marty Isenberg, Robert N. Skir, Steve Cuden, Barbara Slade, Matthew Malach and Hope Juber, with Edens serving as story editor. Noticeably absent from the show—and the title—was any kind of horror. Since this was meant for children, the episodes largely dealt with the antics of Seymour and Junior and tried to convey morality lessons amidst the absurdity. The characters broke out into song several times an episode, and with this being the 90s it wouldn’t have been complete without at least one of them (in this case, Junior) breaking out into a rap. Haim Saban and Shuki Levy handled the series’ music, while the raps were produced by Romeo Williams, John D. Mitchell and Ron Kenan. The characters were designed by Joe Horne, Darrel Bowen and David Mucci and animation duties were handled by KKC&D. Corman himself served as a creative consultant and his distribution company, Concorde-New Horizons Corporation (now New Horizons), also handled the show’s distribution. Noticeably, while the characters and the objects they interacted with were fully colored, the backgrounds instead were only loosely done so with swatches of colors similar to the style of old UPA cartoons.
The series only lasted 13 episodes before it was cancelled. It remained on the network until the following September and later made its way to the Sci-Fi Channel’s (now Syfy) Cartoon Quest and The Animation Station programming blocks until 1997. It wouldn’t be until 2017 that episodes began to surface online; however, one is only available in a German translation. However, the legacy of Little Shop continues on. Since 2003, multiple revivals of the stage production have been made both in America and the United Kingdom. In 2012, the original ending for the 1986 film was made available on home media for the first time (technically second, but the original poorly-done attempt was pulled off the shelves at Geffen’s request). Warner Bros. had also announced a remake of the musical film was in development, however it has since been postponed indefinitely.
“Bad Seed” (9/7/91) – Seymour grows a 200 million-year-old seed into Junior who, unable to go home, stays and helps Mr. Mushnik’s flowers grow.