Prior to re-watching the most recent (2009) BBC adaptation of DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, I’d only seen it once before. I had to psych myself up to watch it again, because my overriding memory of the 3 hours miniseries was crushing disappointment. This was the first time TRIFFIDS had been adapted for the screen with a decent budget, and yet I found it to be massively off the mark. A wasted opportunity.
Many of the novel’s story beats are there, and the Triffids themselves are very well realised, but I remember being hugely frustrated by a number of aspects of the production, to the point where I’d promised myself I wouldn’t watch it again. But then this series of posts came around, and I gritted my teeth and pressed play. My expectations were clearly better managed second time around, because I found more to enjoy on repeat viewing, but there’s no question this is certainly NOT the definitive version I’d hoped for.
There’s no trailer available as such, so here’s a BBC preview from when the series was shown over Christmas 2009 (hence the seasonal graphics at the end):
This week my DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS retrospective reaches peak point. If you’ve read my earlier posts you’ll know that a). TRIFFIDS is my favourite book and it’s had an enormous influence on my writing and b). I’m currently working my way through the various film and TV adaptations. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’d love to write the screenplay for a Triffids movie/miniseries, so I’ve been looking at the pluses and minuses of each version to try and understand why they’ve succeeded or failed. Today we get to the 1981 BBC TV version which is, without question, the most faithful adaptation of John Wyndham’s story yet produced.
Back in the day, when there were only three UK TV channels and we were on the cusp of the home video revolution, this adaptation of TRIFFIDS occupied the primetime. It faired pretty well, with decent viewing figures, favourable reviews and plenty of media coverage. Following the release of the novel in 1951, the name Triffid came to be used to describe any over-sized or vaguely menacing-looking plant, and the beautiful design of the 1981 creature (for want of a better word) also became unexpectedly iconic. I wrote previously about how hard it must be to visualise a genuinely threatening, seven-foot tall, walking carnivorous plant, and yet visual effects designer Steve Drewett did just that. Their vivid colouring, their stings dripping with poison, and their borderline flamboyant, quiff-like styling resulted in a realisation of the Triffids like nothing seen previously or since. There’s an arrogance to their appearance. It’s almost as if they want you to come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough.
But before I get into the detail and explain why I think this adaptation works so well, let’s watch the title sequence and enjoy the theme music by Christopher Gunning. I say enjoy, but if I’m honest, at the tender age of eleven, these titles scared me just about as much as the Triffids themselves!
The first screen adaptation of John Wyndham’s DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS was released in 1963, was also known as INVASION OF THE TRIFFIDS, and was directed by Steve Sekely, a Hungarian-born director with very little else of note on his long filmography. Interestingly, Sekely was supported on TRIFFIDS by an uncredited Freddie Francis (more about this later). Francis, you might remember, was the director of a number of Hammer and Amicus horror films before going on to become an Oscar-winning cinematographer who worked on many films including CAPE FEAR, GLORY and THE ELEPHANT MAN.
Interestingly, the reviews of this adaptation of TRIFFIDS are split, with many people finding a lot to enjoy in here. As a huge admirer of the novel, I was disappointed. The film suffers greatly because of its age. Have a look at the trailer, click the link, and I’ll explain why.
NIGHT OF THE TRIFFIDS is a book I avoided reading for a very long time. As many of you might know, whenever I’m asked to cite my favourite book or the book that’s had the biggest influence on me, I always talk about John Wyndham’s seminal DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, and the idea of a non-Wyndham sequel never appealed to me in the slightest. But then I got to know the author, Simon Clark. I’d heard a lot about Simon when HATER was first released, with people mentioning my book alongside his BLOOD CRAZY (a great read which I must feature here in the near future). Simon and I both had stories appear in the MAMMOTH BOOK OF BODY HORROR and we met at an event to launch the book a few years back. I caught up with him again at a convention a while later, and was able to talk to him about all things triffid-related. It was immediately clear that this was no cash-in: he wrote a sequel because of his love of Wyndham’s original.
First published in 1991 and given a long-overdue re-release this month, the book takes place some twenty-five years after the events of DAY. Here’s the synopsis. Click the link below for my thoughts.
“In John Wyndham’s classic bestseller The Day of the Triffids, the world has been overwhelmed by killer plants that have blinded almost the entire population. As the novel ends, Wyndham’s narrator scientist Bill Masen is escaping, with his wife and four-year-old son, to the Isle of Wight where a small colony of survivors is holding out. Simon Clark’s sequel picks up the story twenty-five years on.
The survivors are safe, for the time being at least, on their island, where they have continued efforts to combat the triffids, while also striving in various ways to build a new civilization – in a Mother House, for example, women spend their lives endlessly giving birth. Elsewhere in the world, similar colonies cling to survival, while the triffids persist in their attempts to destroy humanity.
One morning Bill Masen’s son, David, now grown up, wakes to a world plunged into darkness. Now, the triffids have an advantage over even sighted humanity.”
After an Easter weekend away at the mother-in-law’s in East Anglia, researching the third HATER book (no blood was spilled – that comment will make sense in about 18 months time!), I’m back with a few quick updates.
I’m often asked in interviews which authors and books have influenced me, but I don’t often get chance to explain why in any great detail. So here are my reasons why the book has been such a massive influence on me and my writing, and why Triffids is the book I’d like to be buried with.