“Keep behind me. There’s no sense in getting killed by a plant.”
Dir. Steve Sekely, Freddie Francis
Runtime: 93 minutes
Starring: Howard Keel, Nicole Maurey, Janina Faye
Loosely based on the 1951 John Wyndham novel of the same name, “The Day of the Triffids” (or “Invasion of the Triffids” in some countries), is a 1962 science fiction horror film. When I first watched this film as a child with dirty knees (like all good children who play in the garden) I wasn’t really scared, but the use of the word “Triffids” became synonymous in my family with overgrown plants and foliage. My dad enjoyed pointing and proclaiming “Careful of the Triffids” when a hedge needed cutting or the grass needed mowing.
There have been a few film versions of the Triffids story, and some TV series too. They all generally follow a certain pattern laid out in this film (and the book). A meteor shower lights up the skies. While it looks pretty enough it is camouflage for an alien invasion. Extra-terrestrial plant spores land on earth and react to the environment. They, the Triffids, grow into tall, aggressive, carnivorous plants. They are mobile because they can walk on their roots; they are seemingly intelligent and can communicate amongst themselves; but more importantly they are dangerous – they have whip like tentacles, laced with poison which can kill people. They consume their victims like a regular plant would suck the goodness and moisture out of the earth.
As well as a cover for the Triffids arrival, the meteor shower was also the first wave of an attack. Anybody who witnessed the meteor shower is rendered blind. Fortunately, merchant navy officer Bill Masen (Howard Keel) didn’t see it so becomes the hero of the film. He has been in hospital with bandages covering his eyes due an accident and he’s just days away from being discharged. Because everything is mysteriously quiet, he has to discharge himself, and upon taking off his bandages he sees chaos all around. Masen manages to navigate his way around easily enough thanks to having his sight, but not everyone he runs into is so lucky – something he finds out when a young schoolgirl called Susan (Janina Faye) gets mobbed when the blind realise that she can see and want to use her for their own.
Simultaneously Karen and Tom Goodwin (Janette Scott & Kieron Moore) are having a tough spot in their marriage. They live and work in a lighthouse on an island off the coast of Cornwall where Tom is a scientist. Although isolated, they are not immune to the attacks of the Triffids on the island, and the couple soon find themselves barricaded in, trying to find a solution the problem.
While Karen and Tom are stuck on an island, Masen and Susan do a lot of travelling. They cross the English Channel to Toulon in France and meet a group of survivors which includes Christine Durrant (Nicole Maurey) who joins their adventure. Unfortunately, death, escaped convicts, and of course Triffids, force the journey onward. The next stop is Cadiz in Spain where the group meet more people and make a final stand with a couple that are no strangers to blindness. The group establish that a local navy base offers some safety as submariners were underwater and missed the meteor shower so retained their sight. The remaining navy are coordinating an escape plan with their submarines and there is one last pick-up available, if Masen and the group hurry. After an incident helps them learn something about their enemy the group come up with a plan to escape so that they might get to Alicante.
Meanwhile, still on the lighthouse island, Karen and Tom are about to make a discovery that could help the world in their fight against the Triffids.
Summary in 180 characters or less…
Under the cover of a meteor shower, alien plants attempt world domination.
When I first watched the film, I was entertained. Despite a slow-moving menace, the pacing of the film kept me interested as the group of survivors moved from England, then to France, and finally to Spain all in quick succession. The acting was decent for a film of the 1960’s and Howard Keel leads the film well and the supporting cast all do a good job. The whole thing was colourful and engaging.
The Triffids haven’t aged too well in appearance, a recent re-watch of this showed me how laughable the evil plants are compared to the kind of horrors that films give us these days (it’s hard to believe that this was originally a rated X due to it’s horrors). Even other modern adaptions of the story fail to make the Triffids scary though, because they are overgrown plants at the end of the day. While this 1960’s version of the film doesn’t have big-budget Hollywood CGI, modern versions of Triffid films don’t necessarily outshine this version because of their modern technology to bring the alien plants to life. In fact, compare this to a lot of films you might find on free-view cable channels that advertise themselves as science fiction or horror themed, and you might just appreciate that the lack of CGI makes the film feel more tasteful and classier.
While the film is enjoyable, thanks to hindsight, I have developed issues with the end of it over the years that I have matured as a film fan. The film is only loosely based on Wyndham’s book, something I have had the pleasure of reading, and the end of it in particularly has changed significantly in the film. Other things too of course, like using Spain or removing characters like Josella Playton, adding Religion too. But the whole concept of using salt water to kill Triffids feels more like “The War of the Worlds” than it should do. The use of water to fight of the enemy isn’t something new in film, it was used before this film and plenty of times after it too. Recently I reviewed “Night of the Big Heat” from 1967, and I know that M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs” also used it in 2002.
This film falls on a weird line when it comes to acceptance and ratings. It is somewhere between a camp and trashy B-Movie, but it’s also actually quite clever and excellent. This particular version of the film is a perfect and harmless way to spend a Sunday afternoon if you enjoy films from yesteryear which are sure to give you plenty of feels and nostalgia.