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.
I’ve been writing about the living dead for over twenty years and have been watching zombie movies for even longer. There’s been such a plethora of stories over the last decade in particular that it seems harder than ever to come up with an original premise and yet, people keep doing so. Perhaps that’s because zombies are so very adaptable: wherever there are people there exists the potential for the reanimated dead!
After hearing the title talked about quite a bit last year, I was interested to recently catch up with THE CURED, a 2017 post-post-apocalyptic zombie movie set in Ireland. I’m pleased to report that the film a). is very good and b). has a reasonably original approach.
A disease that turns people into zombies has been cured. The once-infected zombies are discriminated against by society and their own families, which causes social issues to arise. This leads to militant government interference.
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.
Today’s film recommendation comes from Ryan Fleming (again), who watches (and makes) more post-apocalyptic movies than I do. AFTERMATH is something of an oddity. It has all the trappings of your typical low-budget, end of the world movie, yet there’s something about its approach, its nihilistic outlook, that sucks you in and drags you along. As usual, here’s a synopsis, a trailer, and some thoughts.
In a post-World War III nuclear apocalypse, nine strangers must band together to try to defend themselves against massive radiation, attacking refugees, and each other.
I’m very proud of the Recommendations page on this site. It’s built up over the years to be a fairly substantial list of movies I’ve watched and books I’ve read that I’ve enjoyed enough to want to publicly recommend. Of course, not every book or film fits into that category.
I’ve long been a fan of bad movies. I think if you’re even remotely interested in the art of storytelling, you can learn as much from a bad film as you can a good one. So I’ve rejigged the recommendations page to include movies which I’m happy to recommend, and those I’m not. Which brings me onto today’s film…
You might recall the time when a production company were planning to option STRAIGHT TO YOU but changed their minds at the last minute, only to release a movie a couple of years later which shared a suspiciously high number of similar scenes, themes and story beats with my book. When I started getting emails earlier this year about another movie with a not too dissimilar premise, I was concerned. I needn’t have been. Netflix’s HOW IT ENDS is nothing like STRAIGHT TO YOU. It is, however, a masterclass in how NOT to tell an apocalyptic story.
When a mysterious disaster turns the country into a war zone, a young lawyer heads west with his future father-in-law to find his pregnant fiancée.
My friend CRAIG DILOUIE released a new book earlier this month. Craig and I go a long way back and I consider him one of the most interesting voices in genre fiction. You can read my thoughts on his earlier releases TOOTH AND NAIL and SUFFER THE CHILDREN in the archives of this site. What I love about his work is the way he’ll take an extraordinary premise and write about it in a detached yet personal way which pulls no punches. He takes world-changing events like the military response to a fast moving zombie infection or a virulent strain of vampirism which affects only children, and looks at them in a whole new light, often making them feel uncomfortably plausible. His latest release ONE OF US (out now from Orbit) is no exception. It takes the well-used set-up of mutant kids born with special powers, but instead of going down the tired and cliched X-Men superhero route, he instead tells a much darker and altogether more disturbing story of neglect, distrust and hatred.
THEY CALL IT THE PLAGUE – A generation of children born with extreme genetic mutations
THEY CALL IT A HOME – But it’s a place of neglect and forced labour
THEY CALL HIM A FREAK – But Dog is just a boy who wants to be treated as normal
THEY CALL THEM DANGEROUS – They might be right
The story of a lost generation, and a boy who just wants to be one of us.
I thoroughly enjoyed ONE OF US. Set in Georgia in an alternate 1984, it’s a fascinating read. As you’d expect, the grotesques aren’t the real monsters here, rather it’s DiLouie’s cast of prejudiced, cruel, moralistic non-mutants. For me, what sets this story apart is the masterstroke of having the deformed and mutated kids being born as the result of a new strain of sexually transmitted disease. Because this is a generational shift, it allows DiLouie to present us with a cast of ‘special’ kids who grow up together and who therefore both lose their innocence and mature/gain their powers at the same time. This effectively amplifies the problem facing the backward facing society from which the children have been ostracised, and you get the sense from the very beginning of the book that once these kids are fully in control of their destinies, things will never be the same again. Highly recommended.
But ONE OF US isn’t the only Craig DiLouie release I want to tell you about. I’m also very excited to announce that his entry in THE FRONT series – following SCREAMING EAGLES by Tim Long and my novel RED DEVILS – will be released on 31 August. I’ve had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of the book and it definitely doesn’t disappoint. BERLIN OR BUST is a cracking tale which takes us right into the rotting black heart of the undead Nazi war machine. You can pre-order it now.
Here’s a film recommendation I’ve waited a long time to share. Before I tell you why you should see WELCOME TO ESSEX, let’s wind the clock back a few years…
I’ve mentioned Ryan J. Fleming on this site several times previously. As well as being a connoisseur of all things post-apocalyptic (a number of the film releases I’ve written about here have been direct recommendations from Ryan), he’s also a roving reporter, a long-time member of MOODY’S SURVIVORS, and he even had a starring role as a featured zombie in AUTUMN: AFTERMATH. We can now add film director to that list.
It feels like decades, but it can only have been a few years ago when Ryan told me he was making a film. In this business it’s often hard to have a conversation with anyone who isn’t desperate to tell you they’re writing a book, editing an anthology, working on a screenplay, or directing their first movie. Much of the time these comments are just pipe-dreams or wishful thinking. In Ryan’s case, however, it happened to be true.
Over the following years, he told me about assembling a crowd of more than a thousand zombie extras for a scene in Brentwood High Street, about naming a character (actually a character’s husband) after me (no doubt as payback for AFTERMATH), and about Russell Brand appearing in the film. In 2013 (I think), attendees at the HORROR IN THE EAST convention in Lowestoft actually saw some footage, and we realised he wasn’t just making it all up.
Fast-forward five years, and Ryan’s debut feature – WELCOME TO ESSEX – is finally out on DVD. I’ve had the pleasure of watching it, and I can tell you it was definitely worth the wait. I’m not going to review it here, I’m just going to ask you to support Ryan and his team and pick up a copy. Here’s the customary synopsis and trailer:
Overnight, the United Kingdom was consumed by an epidemic of terrifying proportions. The majority of the population were killed in a matter of hours as millions of recently-dead people returned to life and began to attack and kill the living. The disaster spread so rapidly that the government had no time to control the situation. The order to evacuate England was given. But it was too late. Now, the following day, a small group of mismatched survivors find themselves trapped in the famous town of Brentwood, hunted by large hordes of fast-moving corpses. They must learn to work together and reach the last-known point of rescue, Southend-on-Sea, or face certain death. Or worse.
What I love most about WELCOME TO ESSEX is the fact that it exists. The fact that a gent who passionately loves the post-apocalyptic genre can have the desire to make a movie, and the determination and conviction to make it happen. And on such a scale… this film looks the business and everything Ryan promised eventually appeared on screen, including a thousand zombie extras and Russell Brand. Okay, so it’s not the most original horror movie you’ll see this year, but it’s funny (often very, very funny), technically impressive, and filled with more passion and heart than a hundred Hollywood blockbusters combined. Congratulations to Ryan, the team at Smoking Monkey Productions, and anyone involved in the film in any way, shape or form.
I feel duty bound to draw your attention to CARGO, a top-notch zombie movie which premiered on Netflix this last week. I’ve had my eye on this one for a long time, primarily because of its source material. The film’s based on a stunning short movie which took the zombie-loving world by storm back in 2013. You can watch it here, and I recommend you do. No worries about spoiling the feature length version, because they’re two very different beasts as I’ll explain.
In a desperate bid to outrun a violent pandemic, Andy and Kay have holed up on a houseboat with their one-year-old daughter, Rosie. Their protected river existence is shattered by a violent attack, which sees Kay tragically die and Andy infected. Left with only 48 hours before he transforms into one of the creatures they have fought so long to evade, Andy sets out on a precarious journey to find a new guardian for his child. A flourishing Aboriginal tribe are Rosie’s best chance of survival – but with their merciless attitude toward the afflicted, they also pose a grave threat. A young Indigenous girl becomes Andy’s only chance of safe passage into this sacred community. But unfortunately the girl has no desire to return to her people – she is on a quest to cure her own infected father by returning his stolen soul. Each in their own way is seeking salvation… but they will need to work together if they hope to achieve it.
A fairly predictable film recommendation from me today. I make no secret of the fact that I owe GUILLERMO DEL TORO big time. I’ve never met the man, never even spoken to him directly, but it’s no exaggeration to say that he changed my life. His endorsement of HATER and the movie he almost produced helped propel my gruesome little book from its modest indie roots to a worldwide release which exceeded my wildest expectations. I was trawling through some old clippings the other day and I came across an old interview with him where he talked about it: “…what I love about the premise is that there is a righteousness. It’s not a viral situation, not a contagion, it’s a situation of a social disease. That we can road rage into murdering someone at any second. That it’s a social epidemic is what attracted me. It’s not a zombie movie. The people that kill the people can rationalise why they did it. That’s what is scary about it.”
You can understand why this was such a big deal, but what made it an even bigger deal was the fact I was a huge Guillermo del Toro fan even before this happened. I happened upon a copy of his first movie, CRONOS, shortly after it was released in 1993, and I’d followed his career with interest since then. Or was that his careers? He seems to occupy a unique position whereby he alternates big budget crowd pleasing movies like HELLBOY and PACIFIC RIM with more personal films such as THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE and PAN’S LABYRINTH. His most recent movie, for which he picked up the best director and best picture Oscars at this year’s Academy awards, seems to have brought both of these strands of film-making together.
The premise is simple, the film is outstanding: At a top secret research facility in the 1960s, a lonely janitor forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that is being held in captivity.