Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Triffidus Celestus

Come Halloween season, one of my favorite things is to run older movies that scared the pants off me when I was a kidlet. 1962's Day of the Triffids was one of those; in fact, when I was eight or nine years old, it ranked so high on the terror scale that even the mention of title gave me cold chills. I remember going to bed after seeing the movie for the first time, and for what seemed like countless hours I lay there in agonized fear, occasionally drifting off, only to be jarred into awful wakefulness by the faintest sounds in my darkened house.

In my teens, I read John Wyndham's novel on which the movie was based, and while it's very different, it still gave me a fair case of the creeps. By contemporary standards, the 1962 movie, produced by Philip Yordan and George Pitcher and directed by Steve Sekely, might be considered cheesy, but it retains an air of eeriness that overcomes its occasionally weak script and technological limitations. The design of the triffids — giant, venomous, carnivorous, ambulatory plants with a taste for human flesh — was and is nightmarish. In the novel, the plants were terrestrial, probably genetically engineered, whereas in the movie, their seeds are brought to Earth via meteorites. To me, making their origin unearthly serves to ramp up the fear factor a bit. The movements of the puppets and men-in-suits in the film are oftentimes either entirely too clunky or too streamlined, but from another perspective, these unnatural movements actually underscore the alien flora's inherent bizarreness.

The film opens with a meteor shower, which provides a spectacle unlike any other seen on Earth. It's also the last thing most human beings ever see, for the flashes in the sky result in total, permanent blindness for any who witness them. Simultaneously, the triffids begin to appear in increasingly vast numbers and wreak havoc on the helpless, blind populace. The film stars Howard Keel, Nicole Maurey, Janina Faye, Kieron Moore, and Janette Scott as survivors who have retained their sight, and are thus among the scant few capable of combating the endlessly multiplying, man-eating plants. While the novel focuses on the bigger picture of survival and restoration of humanity, the movie presents a gritty man-versus-monster (and occasionally man-versus-man) melodrama that holds up reasonably well, even after all these years.

I have never seen either of the more recent adaptations (1981 and 2009, respectively), which are reputed to more closely follow the novel, but I do anticipate remedying this situation. I'm also rather keen on reading Simon Clark's Night of the Triffids, a sequel that takes place 25 years after the events of the original. For tonight, I have very happily revisited a memorable childhood fear-ground.
Day of the Triffids stars Howard Keel, Janina Faye, and Nicole Maurey
A triffid menaces Janette Scott, who screams through most of the film.
Howard Keel gives triffids some what for with a makeshift flamethrower.

1 comment:

James Robert Smith said...

I always "liked" the movie. In that it didn't make me feel like I had wasted my time.

I have seen none of the remakes, nor have I read the sequel. I have been told there's an even more recent effort afoot to adapt it--not sure if a TV show or theatrical release.