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.
Time and time again, when I’ve been asked in interviews to name my favourite book, I always plump for John Wyndham’s 1951 classic, THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS. As I started typing this piece, I’d literally just put the novel down after reading it for the first time in ten years or so, and it seemed that now would be an ideal time to write about it in more detail and explain why it’s been such an influence on me and my work. Similar to what I did with Richard Matheson’s I AM LEGEND a couple of years back, I also plan to re-watch and write about each of the film/TV adaptations of the story. I’ve always found this a really interesting thing to do – each adaptation has pluses and minuses (some many more minuses than pluses) and by analysing them it helps me appreciate the strengths of the source material even more.
So, what’s it about? I’m sure you know by now, but here’s a brief synopsis. A new breed of plant is discovered – the Triffid. It has some remarkable qualities. Not only are Triffids a rich source of a natural oil, they’re also incredibly dangerous: they’re mobile and are able to drag themselves around, they possess poisonous, whip-like stings which they deploy with deadly accuracy, allowing them to kill and feed off the remains. And they can communicate with each other. Great herds of them roam the countryside together, given half a chance.
Typically, the potential for profit outweighs risk, and soon huge numbers of Triffids are being farmed commercially. Bill Masen is a Triffid farmer. When the book begins he’s in hospital, recovering from a sting which has almost rendered him blind. His eyes are covered, which is particularly frustrating because the Earth is scheduled to pass through a cloud of comet debris, and the skies around the world will be lit up in a display of unparalleled magnificence.
Next morning, everyone who watched the comet display discovers they’ve been blinded, and the world descends into utter chaos.
It’s the synchronicity of this story that gets me every time. Two events – the arrival of the Triffids and the comet debris – are apparently unconnected (though there’s some question as to whether that actually is the case), but their combined impact is devastating. By stripping the vast majority of the human population of their sight, Wyndham skews the odds in favour of the Triffids.
Here’s one which doesn’t need any recommendation from me, but I wanted to comment on it anyway. I first read Josh Malerman’sBIRD BOX several years ago. My friends at THIS IS HORROR sent me a copy of the chapbook they’d published by Malerman, THE HOUSE AT THE BOTTOM OF A LAKE, and I was really taken by it. Having been aware of the buzz surrounding BIRD BOX, and the fact it was being adapted for film, I picked a copy up and was seriously impressed. Fast-forward a few years, and the Netflix movie adaptation of BIRD BOX is proving to be incredibly successful.
Unless you’ve been living in a house with the windows covered and have been blindfolded every time you’ve dared step outside your front door, you probably know what it’s about by now. If not, here’s a synopsis and the movie trailer:
Five years after an ominous unseen presence drives most of society to suicide, a mother and her two children make a desperate bid to reach safety.
On 26 January THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS hits US cinema screens. Here in the UK we were lucky enough to get to see the film in September last year. My advice to those of you in the States? Go see this movie as soon as you’re able. Based on the acclaimed novel by M R Carey, it’s a superb zombie tale with an excellent cast, which echoes the works of George Romero and John Wyndham in equal measure. Below you’ll find a synopsis, the trailer, and a link to click to read my thoughts.
The near future; humanity has been all but destroyed by a mutated fungal disease that eradicates free will and turns its victims into flesh-eating “hungries”. Only a small group of children seem immune to its effects.
At an army base in rural England, this group of unique children are being studied, subjected to cruel experiments by biologist Dr. Caldwell. Despite having been infected with the zombie pathogen that has decimated the world, these children retain normal thoughts and emotions. And while still being subject to the craving for human flesh that marks the disease these second-generation “hungries” are able to think and feel making them a vital resource in the search for a cure.
The children attend school lessons daily, guarded by the ever watchful Sergeant Parks. But one little girl, Melanie, stands out from the rest. Melanie is special. She excels in the classroom, is inquisitive, imaginative and loves her favourite teacher Miss Justineau.
When the base falls, Melanie escapes along with Miss Justineau, Sergeant Parks and Dr. Caldwell. Against the backdrop of a blighted Britain, Melanie must discover what she is and ultimately decide both her own future and that of the human race.
You might remember that a couple of months ago I started looking back at Richard Matheson’s landmark novel, I AM LEGEND, and the various film adaptations which have followed. I wrote about LAST MAN ON EARTH here, and eviscerated THE OMEGA MAN here. Now it’s time to look at the version I was dreading most. Alex Proyas’ 2007 I AM LEGEND starring Will Smith.
It’s funny how time affects your perception and enjoyment of movies. I originally loved THE OMEGA MAN back in the day, but hated it following my recent re-watch. Similarly, whilst I despised I AM LEGEND first time around, it didn’t annoy me anywhere near as much when I watched it again. It’s still horribly flawed, it still takes huge liberties with Matheson’s story, it still stars Will Smith (and I still can’t stand him), but it was… well, okay, I guess.
Here’s the trailer. Click the link for my thoughts.
Do away with The Stand: we’ve all read it (hopefully) and seen the TV movie. I am Legend as well – you’re not welcome here. Anything with zombies spelling the end of mankind? Please leave the building in an orderly fashion, kindly taking any severed limbs with you.
It’s all the Mayan’s fault. They ran out of days on their calendar and created a concern that touched almost every man, woman and child on the planet in the process. The big day came and went with about so much as a plane falling from the sky: an incorrect belief that circled the globe because an ancient mathematician was too lazy to count any further than he had too. Every soothsayer and psychic since we’ve been able to put quill to papyrus has had the fantasy of getting it right and guessing humanity’s ultimate demise, as if correctly guessing our extinction would earn them bonus points in the afterlife or perhaps to be smug for that last second before we’re all wiped out would make it all worthwhile.
Death is our last fetish and is as inevitable as taxes, as the adage goes. It greets us on the news, in soap operas and in our own little lives with our own sequence of tragedies that pepper our existence. There are many books that speculate on our end. Nostradamus had a good go. The Bible dwells on fire, brimstone and punishing sinners with the arrival of the Four Horsemen and the ultimate torture room, Hades. The recent surge in post-apocalyptic fiction, with the rise of The Walking Dead series for example has further cemented the end of days into popular culture. The end sells.
Many writers have explored this, some more popular than others. So I’d like to introduce you to five powerful novels which treat the end of us just as brutally as Stephen King preaches in The Stand, Richard Matheson explores in I am Legend and John Wyndham shows the dangers of meddling with nature in The Day of the Triffids.
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.