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.
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.
I’ve been looking back at Richard Matheson’s seminal I AM LEGEND and the various movie adaptations the book has spawned. This week, Charlton Heston in 1971’s THE OMEGA MAN.
My horror movie education began with double bills of Hammer classics and Universal monster movies which used to be shown late Saturday nights on the BBC. When my parents bought our first VCR, a whole world of possibilities was opened. For the first time I was able to record and watch films I’d otherwise miss because they were on too late on a school night or because my parents didn’t think they were appropriate (please remember – I was very young, and this was the height of the Video Nasties craziness which outlawed 99.9% of the films I wanted to watch).
I remember recording mainstream horror movies such as ALIEN and THE OMEN and watching them endlessly for as long as I was able (usually until Dad needed the tape to record something else – tapes were damn expensive back in the day, and we had the sum total of four of them).
THE OMEGA MAN was another film I watched again and again until I could pretty much recite the script, and until re-watching it for this feature, I hadn’t seen it in a long time. I expected it to have dated badly, but Charlton Heston’s post-apocalyptic antics really took me by surprise. I knew I’d watched the movie through the rose-tinted spectacles of innocence and youth, but there’s no escaping the fact that this is a clunky and horrendously dated film.
Chuck plays Robert Neville who, in this version of the story, lives an isolated life of relative comfort in a funky pad which, for some inexplicable reason, reminded me of Batman’s cave (and I’m talking Adam West Batman here, not Christian Bale or that Affleck person). More than any other I AM LEGEND adaptation, this film is a product of its time. Watch the trailer and you’ll see what I mean, then click the link for my thoughts.
A couple of weeks ago I kicked off a retrospective look at I AM LEGEND by looking at Richard Matheson’s landmark book and promising to re-watch the three film adaptations which have been produced to date.
To my mind, this first adaptation – the Vincent Price starring LAST MAN ON EARTH from 1964 – is the best by a long shot, and that’s surprising given the increasing budgets and advances in technology used to make movies in the fifty-or-so years since it was made.
Or maybe it’s not surprising at all?
Maybe it makes perfect sense that a small, low-budget movie like this should come closest to matching the claustrophobic tone of Matheson’s book. Without the distraction of summer blockbuster state-of-the-art special effects, all we’re left to focus on is Vincent Price’s intense portrayal of Robert Morgan (confusingly re-named from Neville in this version of the story). When the world outside has shrunk to one man’s area of reach, why would we want to look any wider?
At this point I’d usually include a trailer, but LAST MAN ON EARTH is in the public domain (according to some sources), so I’ve embedded the entire movie below care of the Internet Archive.
Richard Matheson’s I AM LEGEND is a remarkable book. Do a straw poll of a hundred horror authors and ask them to name the single piece of fiction which most influenced them, and I’ll wager that a good number will cite I AM LEGEND. It’s not just authors – the same is probably true of film-makers too. You can’t read the book without having scenes from George Romero’s original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD play out in your head.
There’s no question, therefore, that this is an hugely influential novel, and the fact it’s been filmed on no less than three occasions is further proof of that. Interestingly, though, it’s also a remarkably slight book, coming in at less than 200 pages. So how does Matheson cram so much into so little? I decided to try and find out. There will unavoidably be spoilers ahead.
As I type I’ve literally just finished re-reading the book for the umpteenth time. I thought it would be interesting to give you my thoughts on the novel and then, over the next few weeks, to look at each of the film adaptations in turn (and if you’re not aware of the movies, they are as follows: LAST MAN ON EARTH, THE OMEGA MAN and I AM LEGEND).
I’m sure you know the basic plot by now but, just in case, here’s the back cover blurb: Robert Neville may well be the only survivor of an incurable plague that has mutated every other man, woman, and child into bloodthirsty, nocturnal creatures who are determined to destroy him.
By day, he scavenges for food and supplies, desperate to find any other survivors who might be out there. But all the while the infected lurk in the shadows, watching his every move, waiting for him to make a mistake…
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.
I’m sure by now you’ll have heard the very sad news of the death of Richard Matheson. He was a true giant of the genre who had a long and varied career. He certainly had a huge impact on me, but I don’t think I realised how great that impact actually was until I stopped and looked back at all the times I’d encountered his work over the last thirty years or so. I put together a brief piece about him for This is Horror, which you can find here.