Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

11 Bloodthirsty Facts About Little Shop of Horrors

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

At first, the horrifically hilarious musical remake wasn't a huge hit. Since then, you might say it has grown on people.  

1. IT CAN BE TRACED BACK TO A BET.

The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) has been called “the best film that was ever shot in two days.” Strictly speaking, this isn’t entirely true. According to some accounts, the project was born when director Roger Corman—who had a knack for making cult classics on the cheap—bet his brother, Gene, that he could rehearse and shoot an entire film during the last week of 1959.

Using leftover sets from an earlier movie, Corman spent Monday through Wednesday going through the motions with his actors before shooting on Thursday and Friday. Most sources end the story right here. What generally goes unreported is the fact that Corman called his cast back for re-shoots and new sequences over the next two weekends.

The Little Shop of Horrors was also one Jack Nicholson’s earliest roles (he plays a masochistic dental patient). This future star later reminisced about the film’s tight budget, saying that Corman wouldn’t even pay to make copies of the script.  

After its release, the picture became a popular title on late-night telecasts. It also inspired a hit off-Broadway show. Premiering on May 6, 1982, the original production ran for a month, until it got picked up by a producer and began an impressive 2209-performance run over the next five years, making it, at the time, the highest-grossing off-Broadway production ever. The $25 million film adaptation of the musical hit theaters in 1986.

2. THE BIGGEST PLANT PUPPET REQUIRED UP TO 60 TECHNICIANS TO OPERATE.

If Little Shop of Horrors was green-lit today, its leafy, extraterrestrial villain would probably be computer-animated. Back in the mid-1980s, though, this technology hadn’t yet come of age. Fortunately, the movie’s director, Frank Oz, knew puppetry inside and out. A key collaborator of Jim Henson's, Oz had spent 10 years voicing Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, and others before he was hired to helm Little Shop of Horrors.

Oz's biggest challenge was creating the plant itself. Named Audrey II, it not only grows from a sapling to a giant over the course of the film, but it also sings, shimmies, and eats people alive. Technicians built six animatronic flytraps of varying sizes for the film. The smallest was a mere 4 inches tall and the largest stood over 12 feet in height. Used toward the climax of the movie, it required as many as 60 human operators

3. ONE SONG FORESHADOWED ARIEL'S BIG SHOWSTOPPER IN THE LITTLE MERMAID.

Though several musical numbers that had appeared in Little Shop of Horrors’s off-Broadway score were cut from the film, “Somewhere That’s Green” survived the transition. In the song, Audrey—a downtrodden slum-dweller—yearns for the greener pastures of suburbia. No doubt a certain sea princess could relate. Lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken, who worked together on the musical and 1986 film, also collaborated on Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Described as an “I Want” song, Little Mermaid's “Part of Your World” was heavily influenced by “Somewhere That’s Green.” In fact, Menken says that they “used to jokingly call this one ‘Somewhere That’s Wet.’”

4. TWO OF JIM HENSON'S KIDS WERE INVOLVED.

Before Audrey II reaches its full size, the plant sings for some supper in “Feed Me.” On the film’s DVD commentary, Oz notes that Brian Henson—who currently chairs the Jim Henson Company—was the puppet’s main operator throughout this scene. A few minutes later, viewers see his little sister Heather Henson doing a cameo as an abused dental patient.

5. STEVE MARTIN SUSTAINED A MINOR INJURY DURING "FEED ME."

When Orin Scrivello, D.D.S. (Martin) and his long-suffering girlfriend Audrey (Ellen Greene) walk up to her apartment, the deranged dentist kicks open the building’s door. On the DVD commentary, Oz mentions that Martin had previously tried opening it by hand only to have the glass unexpectedly shatter, cutting his palm.

6. AUDREY II MADE THE ACTORS TAKE THINGS SLOW. 

The foam rubber lips on Audrey II couldn’t move fast enough to synch up with the audio during any of his songs. As Oz explains at 4:10 in the above video, the team responded by filming the puppets at a slower-than-average rate of 12 or 16 frames per second, then speeding up the footage to the standard 24 frames per second. Whenever Rick Moranis (who played Seymour Krelborn) or one of the other actors sang side-by-side with the monster, he or she was really lip-syncing in slow motion. “It was a b*tch,” says Oz.

7. BILL MURRAY'S DIALOGUE WAS IMPROVISED. 

No script? No problem. Murray was invited to portray a giddy, Nicholson-esque masochist opposite Martin’s sadistic character in Little Shop of Horrors. The former SNL cast member took the gig, but asked if he could go off-script. “Look,” Oz told him, “as long as you’re the masochist and Steve’s the sadist, I don’t care.” Murray proceeded to ad-lib his way through the scene, using different lines in every take.

8. A TV-FRIENDLY VERSION OF "MEAN GREEN MOTHER FROM OUTER SPACE" ROCKED THE 1987 ACADEMY AWARDS. 

Written specifically for the film by Ashman and Menken, this brassy number has power-crazed Audrey II drop a few expletives. “Mean Green Mother from Outer Space” netted an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song, and the plant’s voice actor—R&B legend Levi Stubbs (lead singer of the Four Tops)—was invited to sing it at the ceremony. Obviously, some editing was needed. In the end, Top Gun’s “Take My Breath Away” took home the prize, despite Stubbs’s inspired performance.

9. A SURREAL DREAM SEQUENCE WAS AXED.

In the original edit of “The Meek Shall Inherit" segment, Seymour battles his inner demons through a Dalí-esque nightmare that involves bodily transformation, Greek columns, and a bleeding painting. The odd sequence ultimately landed on the cutting room floor.

10. THE ORIGINAL ENDING WAS CUT, TOO.

Spoiler alert: In Corman’s The Little Shop of Horrors, Seymour grabs a knife and leaps into the open maw of his dastardly plant, killing them both. The musical wraps up on an even grimmer note: Not only does Audrey II eat all of the principal characters, but the finale reveals that an army of the plant's ravenous offspring has laid waste to cities all across the nation.

Oz spent roughly one-fifth of his movie’s budget bringing a version of this apocalyptic conclusion to the silver screen. Completing the elaborate sequence—which referenced Godzilla, War of the Worlds, and countless other sci-fi classics—took just under one year.

When Little Shop of Horrors ran its first preview in San Jose, test audiences could barely contain their enthusiasm—at first. “For every musical number,” recalls Oz, “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.” Another screening in Los Angeles provoked a similar reaction.

The ending needed a complete overhaul. As Oz told Entertainment Weekly, “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.” Reluctantly, Ashman cooked up a merrier resolution. The discarded ending has since been restored on a 2012 director’s cut DVD.

11. LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS SPAWNED A SHORT-LIVED CARTOON SERIES.

Simply titled Little Shop, the show ran on Fox Kids in 1991. Starring a young Seymour and “Junior,” his rapping prehistoric flytrap, it only lasted for 13 episodes. 

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA
12 Surprising Facts About Robin Williams
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA

Robin Williams had a larger-than-life personality. On screen and on stage, he embodied what he referred to as “hyper-comedy.” Offscreen, he was involved in humanitarian causes and raised three children—Zak, Zelda, and Cody. On July 16, HBO debuts the documentary Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, directed by Marina Zenovich. The film chronicles his rise on the L.A. and San Francisco stand-up comedy scenes during the 1970s, to his more dramatic roles in the 1980s and '90s in award-winning films like Dead Poets Society; Good Morning, Vietnam; Awakenings; The Fisher King; and Good Will Hunting. The film also focuses on August 11, 2014, the date of his untimely death. Here are 12 surprising facts about the beloved entertainer.

1. ROBIN WILLIAMS GOT HIS START AT A COMEDY WORKSHOP INSIDE A CHURCH.

A still from 'Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind' (2018)
HBO

After leaving Juilliard, Robin Williams found himself back in his hometown of San Francisco, but he couldn’t find work as an actor. Then he saw something for a comedy workshop in a church and decided to give it a shot. “So I went to this workshop in the basement of a Lutheran church, and it was stand-up comedy, so you don’t get to improvise with others, but I started off doing, ostensibly, it was just like improvising but solo," he told NPR. "And then I started to realize, ‘Oh.’ [I started] building an act from there."

2. HE FORMED A FRIENDSHIP WITH KOKO THE GORILLA.

In 2001, Williams visited Koko the gorilla, who passed away in June, at The Gorilla Foundation in Northern California. Her caregivers had shown her one of his movies, and she seemed to recognize him. Koko repeatedly signed for Williams to tickle her. “We shared something extraordinary: laughter,” Williams said of the encounter. On the day Williams died, The Foundation shared the news with Koko and reported that she fell into sadness.

3. FOR A TIME, HE WAS A MIME IN CENTRAL PARK.

In 1974, photographer Daniel Sorine captured photos of two mimes in New York's Central Park. As it turned out, one of the mimes was Williams, who was attending Juilliard at the time. “What attracted me to Robin Williams and his fellow mime, Todd Oppenheimer, was an unusual amount of intensity, personality, and physical fluidity,” Sorine said. In 1991, Williams revisited the craft by playing Mime Jerry in Bobcat Goldthwait’s film Shakes the Clown. In the movie, Williams hilariously leads a how-to class in mime.

4. HE TRIED TO GET LYDIA FROM MRS. DOUBTFIRE BACK IN SCHOOL.

As a teen, Lisa Jakub played Robin Williams’s daughter Lydia Hillard in Mrs. Doubtfire. “When I was 14 years old, I went on location to film Mrs. Doubtfire for five months, and my high school was not happy,” Jakub wrote on her blog. “My job meant an increased workload for teachers, and they were not equipped to handle a ‘non-traditional’ student. So, during filming, they kicked me out.”

Sensing Jakub’s distress over the situation, Williams typed a letter and sent it to her school. “A student of her caliber and talent should be encouraged to go out in the world and learn through her work,” he wrote. “She should also be encouraged to return to the classroom when she’s done to share those experiences and motivate her classmates to soar to their own higher achievements … she is an asset to any classroom.”

Apparently, the school framed the letter but didn’t allow Jakub to return. “But here’s what matters from that story—Robin stood up for me,” Jakub wrote. “I was only 14, but I had already seen that I was in an industry that was full of back-stabbing. And it was entirely clear that Robin had my back.”

5. HE WASN’T PRODUCERS' FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY MORK ON MORK & MINDY.

Anson Williams, Marion Ross, and Don Most told The Hallmark Channel that a different actor was originally hired to play Mork for the February 1978 Happy Days episode “My Favorite Orkan,” which introduced the alien character to the world. “Mork & Mindy was like the worst script in the history of Happy Days. It was unreadable, it was so bad,” Anson Williams said. “So they hire some guy for Mork—bad actor, bad part.” The actor quit, and producer Garry Marshall came to the set and asked: “Does anyone know a funny Martian?” They hired Williams to play Mork, and from September 1978 to May 1982, Williams co-headlined the spinoff Mork & Mindy for four seasons.

6. HE “RISKED” A ROLE IN AN OFF-BROADWAY PLAY.

Actor Robin Williams poses for a portrait during the 35th Annual People's Choice Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on January 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California
Michael Caulfield, Getty Images for PCA

In 1988, Williams made his professional stage debut as Estragon in the Mike Nichols-directed Waiting for Godot, which also starred Steve Martin and F. Murray Abraham. The play was held off-Broadway at Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center. The New York Times asked Williams if he felt the show was a career risk, and he responded with: “Risk! Of never working on the stage again! Oh, no! You’re ruined! It’s like you're ruined socially in Tustin,” a town in Orange County, California. “If there’s risk, you can’t think about it,” he said, “or you’ll never be able to do the play.”

Williams had to restrain himself and not improvise during his performance. “You can do physical things,” he said, “but you don’t ad lib [Samuel] Beckett, just like you don’t riff Beethoven.” In 1996, Nichols and Williams once again worked together, this time in the movie The Birdcage.

7. HE USHERED IN THE ERA OF CELEBRITY VOICE ACTING.

The 1992 success of Aladdin, in which Williams voiced Genie, led to more celebrities voicing animated characters. According to a 2011 article in The Atlantic, “Less than 20 years ago, voice acting was almost exclusively the realm of voice actors—people specifically trained to provide voices for animated characters. As it turns out, the rise of the celebrity voice actor can be traced to a single film: Disney’s 1992 breakout animated hit Aladdin.” Since then, big names have attached themselves to animated films, from The Lion King to Toy Story to Shrek. Williams continued to do voice acting in animated films, including Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Happy Feet, and Happy Feet 2.

8. HE FORGOT TO THANK HIS MOTHER DURING HIS 1998 OSCAR SPEECH.

In March 1998, Williams won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting. In 2011, Williams appeared on The Graham Norton Show, and Norton asked him what it was like to win the award. “For a week it was like, ‘Hey congratulations! Good Will Hunting, way to go,'” Williams said. “Two weeks later: ‘Hey, Mork.’”

Then Williams mentioned how his speech accidentally left out one of the most important people in his life. “I forgot to thank my mother and she was in the audience,” he said. “Even the therapist went, ‘Get out!’ That was rough for the next few years. [Mom voice] ‘You came through here [points to his pants]! How’s the award?’”

9. HE COMFORTED STEVEN SPIELBERG DURING THE FILMING OF SCHINDLER’S LIST.

At this year’s 25th anniversary screening of Schindler’s List, held at the Tribeca Film Festival, director Steven Spielberg shared that Williams—who played Peter Pan in Spielberg’s Hook—would call him and make him laugh. “Robin knew what I was going through, and once a week, Robin would call me on schedule and he would do 15 minutes of stand-up on the phone,” Spielberg said. “I would laugh hysterically, because I had to release so much.”

10. HE HELPED ETHAN HAWKE GET HIS AGENT.

During a June 2018 appearance on The Graham Norton Show, Ethan Hawke recalled how, while working on Dead Poets Society, Williams was hard on him. “I really wanted to be a serious actor,” Hawke said. “I really wanted to be in character, and I really didn’t want to laugh. The more I didn’t laugh, the more insane [Williams] got. He would make fun of me. ‘Oh this one doesn't want to laugh.’ And the more smoke would come out of my ears. He didn’t understand I was trying to do a good job.” Hawke had assumed Williams hated him during filming.

After filming ended, Hawke went back to school, but he received a surprising phone call. It was from Williams’s agent, who—at Williams's suggestion—wanted to sign Hawke. Hawke said he still has the same agent today.

11. HE WAS ALMOST CAST IN MIDNIGHT RUN.

In February 1988, Williams told Rolling Stone how he sometimes still had to audition for roles. “I read for a movie with [Robert] De Niro, [Midnight Run], to be directed by Marty Brest,” Williams said. “I met with them three or four times, and it got real close, it was almost there, and then they went with somebody else. The character was supposed to be an accountant for the Mafia. Charles Grodin got the part. I was craving it. I thought, ‘I can be as funny,’ but they wanted someone obviously more in type. And in the end, he was better for it. But it was rough for me. I had to remind myself, ‘Okay, come on, you’ve got other things.’”

In July 1988, Universal released Midnight Run. Just two years later, Williams finally worked with De Niro, on Awakenings.

12. BILLY CRYSTAL AND WILLIAMS USED TO TALK ON THE PHONE FOR HOURS.

Actors Robin Williams (L) and Billy Crystal pose at the afterparty for the premiere of Columbia Picture's 'RV' on April 23, 2006 in Los Angeles, California
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Starting in 1986, Williams, Billy Crystal, and Whoopi Goldberg co-hosted HBO’s Comic Relief to raise money for the homeless. Soon after Williams’s death, Crystal went on The View and spoke with Goldberg about his friendship with Williams. “We were like two jazz musicians,” Crystal said. “Late at night I get these calls and we’d go for hours. And we never spoke as ourselves. When it was announced I was coming to Broadway, I had 50 phone messages, in one day, from somebody named Gary, who wanted to be my backstage dresser.”

“Gary” turned out to be Williams.

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind premieres on Monday, July 16 at 8 p.m. ET on HBO.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Walt Disney Pictures
10 Facts About Hocus Pocus
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

In a 2014 Reddit AMA, Bette Midler said she'd be interested in doing a Hocus Pocus sequel. "You have to go to send in your cards to the Walt Disney company," she said. "The ball's in their court." While you get those cards ready, here are some facts about the original, which arrived in theaters 25 years ago today.

1. THE STORY ORIGINATED AS A BEDTIME STORY.

The story for Hocus Pocus came about after writer David Kirschner invented a bedtime story for his kids. He later wrote the story up and submitted it to Muppet Magazine (why does this not still exist?), where it gained recognition.

2. THE WRITERS USED PROPS TO PITCH IT TO STUDIO EXECUTIVES.

Bette Midler in 'Hocus Pocus' (1993)
Walt Disney Pictures

To pitch the story to Disney, the writers had execs enter a dark room with broomsticks and a vacuum cleaner hanging from the ceiling. They also scattered 15 pounds of candy corn throughout the room in an effort to invoke Halloween nostalgia. It obviously worked!

3. IT WAS NOT AN IMMEDIATE HIT.

Though it’s a cult classic now, Hocus Pocus didn’t do that well when it first came out in 1993, perhaps because it was released in July instead of September or October. Though it didn’t have a terrible opening—$8,125,471, putting it in fourth place at the box office that weekend—it fell to $2,017,688 a few weeks later, and bad reviews from the critics didn’t help matters.

Entertainment Weekly was particularly put off by the movie, calling it a “piece of corny slapstick trash” and saying that “It’s acceptable scary-silly kid fodder that adults will find only mildly insulting. Unless they’re Bette Midler fans. In which case it’s depressing as hell.”

4. BETTE MIDLER LOVES IT.

Bette Midler, by the way, has said that Hocus Pocus is her favorite film out of all of the films she’s ever done. (At least as of 2008.) Thora Birch agreed, recently saying, “The most fun I ever had on a film was Hocus Pocus.”

5. KATHY NAJIMY LOVES IT, TOO.

Midler isn't the only star of the film who isn't immune to its allure: Kathy Najimy has said she watches the movie with her family every year on August 15.

6. IT COULD HAVE STARRED LEONARDO DICAPRIO.

The role of Max was originally offered to Leonardo DiCaprio. He turned it down to do What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

7. SARAH JESSICA PARKER IS RELATED TO A WOMAN FAMOUSLY ACCUSED OF BEING A WITCH.

Had Sarah Jessica Parker known then what she knows now, she might have approached the role of Sarah Sanderson a little differently. When the actress went on the show Who Do You Think You Are to trace her family history, Parker discovered that one of her ancestors was Esther Elwell, one of the women accused of being a witch during the Salem Witch Trials. After a young girl said she saw Esther’s “spectre” strangling neighbor Mary Fitch, Elwell was arrested, but escaped going to trial.

8. THORA BIRCH REVISITED THE NEIGHBORHOOD IN AMERICAN BEAUTY.

While the kids are prematurely celebrating victory against the Sanderson sisters after locking them in the kiln, they’re shown talking in front of a house as they walk to a park. The house was later used as the house Thora Birch’s character lived in for American Beauty.

9. THE KIDS WEREN'T HUGE FANS OF THE CATS.

The kids all hated working with the cats. Many different cats were used to represent Binx, and each one served a different purpose—one was good at cuddling with the kids, one would jump on command, etc. Every time a new cat was used, the children would have to coerce the kitty to trust them by using treats and a clicker. They got sick of it.

10. MUCH OF THE ORIGINAL CAST REUNITED FOR A 20TH REUNION.

Most of the cast participated in a 20th anniversary event for D23 (the Disney fan club) members. Sarah Jessica Parker and Bette Midler were not in attendance, but pretty much everyone else was, including Kathy Najimy (Mary Sanderson), Vinessa Shaw (Allison), Omri Katz (Max), Thora Birch (Dani), and Doug Jones (Billy Butcherson). You can watch some of that reunion above.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios