Triffids again (last time, I promise)

This is the last part of my DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS retrospective. My look back at the original novel can be found here, the film version here, and the 1981 BBC TV adaptation here.

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):

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Falling Down

The JoBlo movie network website always has stacks of great content. One of the sections I enjoy most is the snappily titled “The Best Movie You Never Saw”, and this week it featured one of my favourite films. A quick glance at my RECOMMENDATIONS page revealed that I’d never written about it for this site, so I thought I should put that right post haste! This weekend’s film recommendation is Joel Schumacher’s startling 1993 movie, FALLING DOWN.

Freeways are clogged. Terror stalks our cities. At shops and restaurants, the customer is seldom right. Pressures of big-city life can anger anyone. But Bill Foster is more than angry. He’s about to get even.

 Foster abandons his gridlocked car on the hottest day of the year and walks straight into an urban nightmare both absurdly funny and shatteringly violent. Michael Douglas is Foster, an ordinary guy at war with the frustrations of daily life. Robert Duvall is the savvy cop obsessed with stopping Foster’s citywide rampage.

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Await Further Instructions

Families can be funny things. It’s no surprise when you think about it: we chose our friends and our lovers, but not our parents or our siblings. Why should we be expected to get on with them when all we share is genetics and a house? Don’t read anything into this intro, by the way, I’m not about to give you the potted history of the family Moody. I’m actually just going to recommend a cracking little film to you: AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS.

A family’s tense reunion turns terrifying when they get trapped in their home by an unknown force, and sinister commands begin appearing on their TV.

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The Day of the Triffids (part 3)

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!

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The Day of the Triffids (part 2)

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.

The Day of the Triffids (1963) movie poster

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.

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The Cured

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.

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Bird Box

Here’s one which doesn’t need any recommendation from me, but I wanted to comment on it anyway. I first read Josh Malerman’s BIRD 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.

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Aftermath

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.

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I don’t care How It Ends, as long as it ends

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.

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Welcome to Essex

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.

WELCOME TO ESSEX. Buy it. Watch it.