“A shower of meteorites produces a glow that blinds anyone that looks at it. As it was such a beautiful sight, most people were watching, and as a consequence, 99% of the population go blind. In the original novel, this chaos results in the escape of some Triffids, experimental plants that are capable of moving themselves around and attacking people. In the film version, however, the Triffids are not experimental plants. Instead they are space aliens whose spores have arrived in an earlier meteor shower.” (courtesy IMDB)
Imagine waking-up in an English hospital after having eye surgery to discover the world’s population had been ravaged by unstoppable flesh-eating monsters! And if that’s not a bad enough way to start the day, there lurks a terror from beyond at the bottom of the garden path. No doubt some of you out there with shorter memories are thinking: “Good lord, Nigel’s going to discuss Twenty-Eight Days Later (2002)!”
Well, you’d be half-right – the “Good lord, Nigel’s going to discuss” half. Director Danny Boyle told me he was inspired to make Twenty-Eight Days Later in 2002 after watching this week’s gold-class presentation. So get your green thumb out of your arse as we don our gardening gloves and grab the popcorn sprinkled with weed-killer, sit back and relax as we absorb by osmosis the science fiction flick-tease The Day Of The Triffids (1962) – and please don’t tell my mother I write for Horror News, it’d be too embarrassing – she thinks I clean toilets in a brothel – ahem.
Not since those immortal words “We want a shrubbery!” have plants been so scary. The Day Of The Triffids was a post-apocalyptic novel written in 1951 by John Wyndham and turned into a script by Bernard Gordon, who had written Earth Versus The Flying Saucers (1956) and Krakatoa East Of Java (1969). Actually, I’ve always meant to talk to Bernie about that script, because Krakatoa was definitely west of Java. Until it blew up at least, then it was in all directions – but I digress.
The Day Of The Triffids was directed by Steve Sekely, who was best known for directing Women-In-Bondage films, like Hitler’s Women (1943) and Revenge Of The Zombies (1943). He was forced to share directorial credit with David Lynch’s favourite cinematographer Freddie Francis, who was behind the camera on Dune (1984), The Elephant Man (1980), Dracula Has Risen From The Grave (1968), The Evil Of Frankenstein (1964), The Innocents (1961), The Deadly Bees (1967), The Creeping Flesh (1973), The Ghoul (1975) and, perhaps scariest of all, The Adventures Of Black Beauty (1972). Freddie directed the lighthouse scenes, an afterthought of the producers, who believed the film needed a totally unrelated subplot, a good dose of action and a happy ending.
The Day Of The Triffids stars Howard Keel, who was better known as the John Wayne of movie-musicals. His obvious, um…talent…in Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (1954), Kiss Me Kate (1953), Calamity Jane (1953) and Show Boat (1951) had women swooning in the aisle and men exiting the same way. In The Day Of The Triffids Howard plays sailor Bill Masen, hospitalised after being temporarily blinded in an accident, thus missing both the most spectacular act-of-God meteor show since Sodom and Gommorah and a chance for a dance spectacular. After a few less than notable westerns, Keel disappeared into the relative obscurity of the television-guest-star circuit including The Love Boat, Fantasy Island and Here’s Lucy before finding a decade of steady work in Dallas as Clayton Farlow, Miss Ellie’s second husband. He started appearing in concert as a result of this renewed fame, and landed his first solo recording contract with And I Love You So in 1983 – on second thoughts, perhaps he deserves to become plant food. Mister Keel plays the protective fatherly hero to fourteen-year-old Susan, portrayed by Janina Faye. Faye also appeared as a deaf-mute in The Two Faces Of Doctor Jekyll (1960), and she’s no better with all her senses in tact.
The compulsory love interest in this week’s Salad Of Doom is Nicole Maurey, a glamorous French beauty who had some Hollywood success in the fifties, a time when being French wasn’t frowned upon. Times changed, so she returned home and enjoyed a long career ending in the late nineties.
But I really got hot, when I saw Janette Scott, fight a Triffid that spits poison and kills – okay, I know, but someone had to say it eventually – I doubt anyone would know who Janette Scott was if it wasn’t for the opening song from The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). It’s certainly not for being the ex-wife of crooner Mel Torme, or for appearing in School For Scoundrels (1960) or Helen Of Troy (1956), or even as a scientist in Crack In The World (1965). The last time I saw her was in the Simon Pegg comedy How To Lose Friends And Alienate People (2008), but I won’t mention that as I don’t want to lose…friends or…alienate people. The Day Of The Triffids sees Janette as the long-suffering Karen Goodwin, one half of the overplayed, lighthouse-bound husband-wife scientist team. Hubby Tom Goodwin is played by Keiron Moore, definitely a long way from his Heathcliffe days or his more earnest failure as Count Vronsky opposite Vivien Leigh’s Anna Karenina (1948). He also appeared in Doctor Blood’s Coffin (1961), playing the contents of the coffin, and as a scientist in Crack In The World, this time not married to Janette. Keiron’s final film was Run Like A Thief (1968), which is good advice but a little too late.
There are many other reasons to watch The Day Of The Triffids, but I’m running out of room: Prolific Aussie actor John Tate, father of not so prolific Nick Tate! Carol Ann Ford from Doctor Who! Alison Leggatt from A Tale Of Two Cities! Geoffrey Matthews from Coronation Street! Now you know why I’m a vegetarian – not because I love animals, it’s because I really hate plants! For mere flying chunks of rock, filmmakers really do give meteors a lot of credit when it comes the end of civilisation as we know it, and the happy ending does stretch credulity a bit far. I mean, who would have thought that Triffids – which thrive on the salt ravaged sea-sprayed rocks of the lighthouse – could be so easily destroyed by salt water? Good thing they dissolve away and are so easy to dispose of.
The Triffids themselves are somewhat cheesy when compared to the 1981 BBC drama based on the same book, but that actually adds to the fun. And there are some very fun moments, such as the wires pulling the Triffids along the ground, visible in the widescreen version, especially obvious when one of them chases Susan. And when the security guard is killed, you can see the Triffids moving towards him on wheels. We didn’t see vegetables this mobile again until Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes (1978). I also like the final shot of the Triffids approaching Bill as he’s driving the truck with the tinny music, in which the operator’s sneakers can be seen pushing the Triffids towards the camera. However, that scene left me with a deathly fear of ice cream vans, or softservophobia as it’s known. Please join me next week when I fish-out more celluloid slop from the wheelie-bin behind Fox Studios, and force-feed it to you without a spoon, all in the name of art for…Horror News. Toodles!
The Day Of The Triffids (1962)