A recently widowed broad (Victoria Tennant) takes her four kids up to her mother’s (Louise Fletcher) who lives in an old, Gothic mansion in the name of winning her dads love back i.e. che and ching. The kids, who are a liability in terms of nabbing that coin are hidden in the attic and eventually abandoned there. Deception and murder ensues.
Am loving this time of year! No new horror movies on the big screen means the opportunity to go back and tap some older films that I have seen but never reviewed. Last week I wrestled THE HORROR SHOW and this week it’s FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC. Now before I "vacuseal" this one, it should be said that: 1- I was a big fan of V.C. Andrews books. I read 4 out of 5 of the series which were: Flowers in the Attic (1979), Petals on the Wind (1980), If There Be Thorns (1981) and Seeds of Yesterday (1984). I never tackled Garden of Shadows (1986) which was started by Andrews (who passed on that same year) and finished by Andrew Neiderman (who went to continue writing as V.C. Andrews). And 2-When this adaptation of the first book came out, I was beyond elated, then I saw it and was pretty bummed. So how did it go down today? Lets roll!
Before I crack down the flick, let me address some of its behind the scenes woes. Why? Cause it’s interesting. Ya see the FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC book was pretty “out of line”, incest, rape, cruelty to children… pretty severe shite. In fact the incest bit of the story was pretty much the core of it all. Kids are put in an aberrant circumstance, they grow up in it and through that, they develop natural feelings for each other; but feelings that outside of the prison that they were forced in, are socially reprehensible. Pretty daring, bleak and yet at the same time touching stuff. So when development got on the way, V.C. Andrews asked for script approval and she got it. What she didn’t bank on though, was that the producers (and Studio) would make asinine changes during the actual shoot and in Post. Result was that all the nasty (which was also the heart) of the piece was taken out (incest is lightly hinted at and I mean mucho lightly) and the baldy executed and fairly dumb ending we got was a producer imposed reshoot (Director Jeffery Blooms didn't want to shoot it, so he walked off the movie and had no say in that ending or the edit of the flick for that matter). NOTE: Another dumb move by the producers. Wes Craven was initially gonna do the movie, he even wrote a script for it (READ IT HERE)
but it fell through cause the Producers were disturbed by his approach to the incest-laden story. So basically if he would have directed it, it would have been closer to the book. F*cking Hollywood suits man. Monkeys yo...MONKEYS! END OF NOTE.
But even with all of that typical “suits think they know best but don’t know shit” baggage weighting it down; FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC still had some things going for it. The picture unraveled at a clip pace and I dug Blooms shot compositions, his stylized angles and the haunting imagery he put out. There was a macabre vibe to this sucka that kind of got under my skin, so kudos for that. Some of the actors tackled their roles with gusto. Louise Fletcher was ideal as the bitch grandmother, basically playing a variation of her famous Nurse Ratched role in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Kristy Swanson actually looked exactly the way I envisioned the character of Cathy when I read the book and she gave a solid performance (too bad the lousy dialogue would play against her at times). Victoria Tennant conveyed her character’s many layers to a T. (her display definitely evoked the right reactions out of me) while the tiny tots convinced me as well (what was up with the king shit Afro on that little boy though…damn). Moreover, even sanitized, some turn of events hit me hard, so I was affected. I mean this is no happy go lucky movie. It’s depressing and sometimes hard to watch. Last but certainly not least Christopher Young’s choral and music box laden score was pure genius. It added so much to the film and would often bring out the emotions that the content wasn't pulling off 100%. To be honest, it’s probably the best damn thing in the movie…
Alas, by removing all of the racy content that made the book what it is and by shying away from the violence when it arose; this cinematic version often felt like a condom safe TV Movie. Further edge and balls could have made this a great flick instead of a passable one. The dialogue was often off the mark too. Some of it worked, some of it stank. I personally hated that the two older kids kept saying each others names all the time. Every other sentence would end with Chris or Cathy. Nobody talks like that man, call the Dialogue Polish Police! Then we had the passing of time which was clumsily communicated. This story was supposed to be happening over the course of years, I didn’t feel it and that took away from the overall impact.
And was I alone in thinking that Jeb Stuart Adams looked too old for the role of Chris? Although his performance was convincing, there’s no way that dude was a teenager. Also the fact that he could have easily back-handed that grandmother, grabbed everybody and booked out of there like that, no I mean, LIKE THAT, lessened my belief in he happenings. NOTE: In the book Cathy is 12 and Chris is 14. Going for that age range would have made the chain of events more credible. Finally, running at 93 minutes; the flick was too short to give its narrative justice. Yup, the chain of events was rushed. So there ya have it, they took a great novel that torched the envelope and turned it into a fairly harmless film that showcased hints of how great it could have been but never pulled it off. You would think that the reason that they optioned the novel was cause they esteemed it and understood what made it work…guess not. So you gonna lock yourself in this attic? Just don’t eat the cookies yo!
We get some light blood.
Kristy Swanson is naked in a tub but we don't see jack squat... damn bubbles.
I truly believe that if they had used Wes Craven’s script and had him direct it we would have gotten a much superior film. I rarely say this but I think FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC warrants it: I would love to see another film adaptation of the book; one that "goes for it" and stays closer to the source material. It would make for one hell of a movie! This watered down telling of the tale had some good acting, potent visuals, an ASTOUNDING score that often elevated the picture and some moments that worked. It was bleak and downbeat, definitely not something that will lift your spirits. Unfortunately, the thing felt rushed, the dialogue sometimes blew, the ending was pretty silly and it held back way too much on "what it's about' to have the impact it should have had. I do have a soft spot for it though, good old nostalgia talking once again, but yeah, on its own it’s okay and compared to the book, it’s weak tit.
Kristy Swanson and Louise Fletcher were approached to do the film adaption of the second book: "Petals on the Wind". The film never happened. Swanson read the script and said it was "all sex".
Jeffrey Bloom also directed a TV Movie I used to dig when younger: Starcrossed (1985)
Wes Craven's script was graphically violent and dove into the incest of the book. It would have been an R rating.