Test screenings have lost some of their power now that anyone can spoil everything about a movie before even leaving the theater. There was a time, however, when audiences granted access to an unfinished cut of a film wielded massive influence over its fate, and the most tragic victim might be Little Shop of Horrors.
This 1986 cult classic, helmed by acclaimed director Frank Oz, adapted Howard Ashman and Alan Menken's musical — which was itself based on a low-budget B-movie by Roger Corman. The stage show ended like a true morality play, having hero Seymour's Faustian bargain with a man-eating plant lead to his own downfall, the loss of his beloved Audrey, and finally civilization itself. A rollicking musical number reminded the audience of the story's moral, the cast came back for a final bow, and a silly night of song and dance was had by all.
A test screening quickly taught Oz a lesson in the differences between stage and screen. "In a movie, the character does not come back for a bow. That character is dead," he would later reflect. The audience had grown attached to the characters and hated seeing them die — and light of their negative reaction, Oz and Ashman knew they had to quickly come up with a happier ending.
The result is arguably more crowd-pleasing, but doesn't really follow through with the story's themes. Seymour (Rick Moranis) never faces any comeuppance, and the plant is rapidly defeated. Plus, a showcase of stunning puppet effects was left on the cutting room floor, seemingly never to be seen again. That is, until 2012, when an Oz-sanctioned "Director's Cut" debuted at the New York Film Festival to enthusiastic applause. The intended ending in its finished form is so big, bright, and raucous that the early hesitance seems to have been unfounded after all.