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. 

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

10 Facts About Real Genius On Its 35th Anniversary

Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

In an era where nerd is a nickname given by and to people who have pretty much any passing interest in popular culture, it’s hard to imagine the way old-school nerds—people with serious and socially-debilitating obsessions—were once ostracized. Computers, progressive rock, and role-playing games (among a handful of other 1970s- early '80s developments) created a path from which far too many of the lonely, awkward, and conventionally undateable would never return. But in the 1980s, movies transformed these oddballs into underdogs and antiheroes, pitting them against attractive, moneyed, successful adversaries for the fate of handsome boys and pretty girls, cushy jobs, and first-place trophies.

The 1985 film Real Genius ranked first among equals from that decade for its stellar cast, sensitive direction, and genuine nerd bona fides. Perhaps fittingly, it sometimes feels overshadowed, and even forgotten, next to broader, bawdier (and certainly now, more problematic) films from the era like Revenge of the Nerds and Weird Science. But director Martha Coolidge delivered a classic slobs-versus-snobs adventure that manages to view the academically gifted and socially maladjusted with a greater degree of understanding and compassion while still delivering plenty of good-natured humor.

As the movie commemorates its 35th anniversary, we're looking back at the little details and painstaking efforts that make it such an enduring portrait not just of ‘80s comedy, but of nerdom itself.

1. Producer Brian Grazer wanted Valley Girl director Martha Coolidge to direct Real Genius. She wasn’t sure she wanted to.

Following the commercial success of 1984’s Revenge of the Nerds, there was an influx of bawdy scripts that played upon the same idea, and Real Genius was one of them. In 2011, Coolidge told Kickin’ It Old School that the original script for Real Genius "had a lot of penis and scatological jokes," and she wasn't interested in directing a raunchy Nerds knock-off. So producer Brian Grazer enlisted PJ Torokvei (SCTV) and writing partners Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz (Splash, City Slickers) to refine the original screenplay, and then gave Coolidge herself an opportunity to polish it before production started. “Brian's original goal, and mine, was to make a film that focused on nerds as heroes," Coolidge said. "It was ahead of its time."

2. Martha Coolidge’s priority was getting the science in Real Genius right—or at least as right as possible.

In the film, ambitious professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton) recruits high-achieving students at the fictional Pacific Technical University (inspired by Caltech) to design and build a laser capable of hitting a human-sized target from space. Coolidge researched the subject thoroughly, working with academic, scientific, and military technicians to ensure that as many of the script and story's elements were correct. Moreover, she ensured that the dialogue would hold up to some scrutiny, even if building a laser of the film’s dimensions wasn’t realistic (and still isn’t today).

3. One element of Real Genius that Martha Coolidge didn’t base on real events turned out to be truer than expected.

From the beginning, the idea that students were actively being exploited by their teacher to develop government technology was always fictional. But Coolidge learned that art and life share more in common than she knew at the time. “I have had so many letters since I made Real Genius from people who said, 'Yes, I was involved in a program and I didn’t realize I was developing weapons,'" she told Uproxx in 2015. “So it was a good guess and turned out to be quite accurate.”

4. Val Kilmer walked into his Real Genius audition already in character—and it nearly cost him the role.

After playing the lead in Top Secret!, Val Kilmer was firmly on Hollywood’s radar. But when he met Grazer at his audition for Real Genius, Kilmer decided to have some fun at the expense of the guy who would decide whether or not he’d get the part. "The character wasn't polite," Kilmer recalled to Entertainment Weekly in 1995. "So when I shook Grazer's hand and he said, 'Hi, I'm the producer,' I said, 'I'm sorry. You look like you're 12 years old. I like to work with men.'"

5. The filmmakers briefly considered using an actual “real genius” to star in Real Genius.

Among the performers considered to play Mitch, the wunderkind student who sets the movie’s story in motion, was a true genius who graduated college at 14 and was starting law school. Late in the casting process, they found their Mitch in Gabriel Jarrett, who becomes the third generation of overachievers (after Kilmer’s Chris and Jon Gries’s Lazlo Hollyfeld) whose talent Hathaway uses to further his own professional goals.

6. Real Genius's female lead inadvertently created a legacy for her character that would continue in animated form.

Michelle Meyrink, Gabriel Jarret, Val Kilmer, and Mark Kamiyama in Real Genius (1985).Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Michelle Meyrink was a staple of a number of ‘80s comedies, including Revenge of the Nerds. Playing Jordan in Real Genius, she claims to “never sleep” and offers a delightful portrait of high-functioning attention-deficit disorder with a chipper, erratic personality. Disney’s Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers co-creator Tad Stones has confirmed that her character went on to inspire the character of Gadget Hackwrench.

7. A Real Genius subplot, where a computer programmer is gaming a Frito-Lay contest, was based on real events.

In the film, Jon Gries (Napoleon Dynamite) plays Lazlo Hollyfeld, a reclusive genius from before Chris and Mitch’s time who lives in a bunker beneath their dorm creating entries to a contest with no restrictions where he eventually wins more than 30 percent of the prizes. In 1969, students from Caltech tried a similar tactic with Frito-Lay to game the odds. But in 1975, three computer programmers used an IBM to generate 1.2 million entries in a contest for McDonald’s, where they received 20 percent of the prizes (and a lot of complaints from customers) for their effort.

8. One of Real Genius's cast members went on to write another tribute to nerds a decade later.

Dean Devlin, who co-wrote Stargate and Independence Day with Roland Emmerich, plays Milton, another student at Pacific Tech who experiences a memorable meltdown in the rush up to finals.

9. The popcorn gag that ends Real Genius isn’t really possible, but they used real popcorn to simulate it.

At the end of the film, Chris and Mitch build a giant Jiffy Pop pack that the laser unleashes after they redirect its targeting system. The resulting popcorn fills Professor Hathaway’s house as an act of revenge. MythBusters took pains to recreate this gag in a number of ways, but quickly discovered that it wouldn’t work; even at scale, the popcorn just burns in the heat of a laser.

To pull off the scene in the film, Coolidge said that the production had people popping corn for six weeks of filming in order to get enough for the finale. After that, they had to build a house that they could manipulate with hydraulics so that the popcorn would “explode” out of every doorway and window.

10. Real Genius was the first movie to be promoted on the internet.

A week before Real Genius opened, promoters set up a press conference at a computer store in Westwood, California. Coolidge and members of the cast appeared to field questions from press from across the country—connected via CompuServe. Though the experience was evidently marred by technical problems (this was the mid-1980s, after all), the event marked the debut of what became the online roundtable junket.