it was announced that Flowers in the Attic was lined up for its UK Blu-ray
debut, it occurred to me that I had no real memory of my one and only dip into
writer-director Jeffrey Bloom’s adaptation of the controversial, best-selling
Virginia (V.C.) Andrews novel – which I guess would have been right back upon
its initial release in 1987. Interest to revisit it duly piqued, my
anticipation was tempered a tad by the sense that being unable to remember it had
surely to be indicative that it wasn’t actually very good. Although it still
amuses me that a guy named Bloom wrote and directed a film with Flowers in the
title, regrettably my reservations proved well founded. It really is rather
awful. There be spoilers ahead!
the death of her husband, Corinne Dollenganger (Victoria Tennant) falls on hard
times and is forced to return, with her four children in tow, to the childhood
home she left in disgrace 17 years earlier. Corinne’s puritanical mother, Fran
(Louise Fletcher), isn’t best pleased to see them and, although she evidently
despises both her own daughter and the grandchildren she’s never met, she
reluctantly allows them to stay, telling them that she’ll give them food and
shelter but never kindness and love. The children (Jeb Stuart Adams, Kristy
Swanson, Ben Ganger and Lindsay Parker) remain upstairs out of sight, whilst
Corinne makes an effort to reconnect with her bedridden, dying father (Marshall
Colt). She tells the siblings that if she’s able to atone for her past
transgressions before he dies, and most importantly convince him that she never
had children, then he’ll write her back into his will and they’ll be well-heeled
for the rest of their lives. But as the days pass it becomes apparent that the
children have become prisoners – visited in their locked room only to be fed –
and Corinne becomes ever more distant, spending less and less time with them.
What can she possibly have done all those years ago that was so terrible? And
what is the purpose of those four child-sized holes being dug in the woods?
sounds rather intriguing, doesn’t it? An adaptation of the first in a quartet
of novels (with a tweaked denouement) it’s certainly a nice set up; once the
family receive a frosty welcome at grandma’s abode all the pieces are in place
for a potentially gripping and increasingly sinister tale. Unfortunately, things
quickly devolve into a bit of a slog, the various plot turns becoming ever more
irksome as the children – who are far from dullards – fail to do what anyone
with half a brain cell trapped in their situation would.
Performances are surprisingly uneven too, from a melt-all-hope-at-ten-paces Fletcher on the top end of the scale to an uncharacteristically weak Tennant at the bottom. The real problem however lays in the writing, with insufficient explanation for actions (or lack thereof) a burgeoning frustration for the viewer. Beyond inexplicable cold-hearted avarice, why does the mother who at the outset clearly adores her children turn into a self-serving harpy? There are vague indications of brainwashing by grandma, but it seems to go beyond that and we’re never really told. Why do the older children dally so long to take control of their own fate? The conviction that their mother wants only the best for them can only carry trust so far, and when they begin to fall sick – the youngest lad to a life-threatening degree – and she more or less tells them to stop whining about it, they still hesitate to take action.
A major bugbear for those who loved the books – which I’ve not read – is the virtual obliteration by Bloom of their core incestuous theme. The reason that Corinne was ostracised by her parents is that she eloped with and married her father’s brother; this is mentioned only fleetingly, whilst the intimacy between the teenage brother and sister – issue of that avunculate union – is non-existent. In recent years Bloom has claimed that such scenes were shot but later removed for two reasons: adverse reaction at test screenings and in order to secure a lower rating. Which begs the question, why purchase the film rights to a highly controversial novel and discard the core taboo that drew most of the bees to the pollen in the first place? Purely to make it accessible to a wider audience? Why not just go make something else instead?
On the up side, Christopher Young’s score is hauntingly melancholic, particularly in the use of its key musical box motif, and there’s a gothic ambience to the sprawling house that at least provides an admirable backdrop to the lukewarm proceedings.
Virginia Andrews herself cameos uncredited in the film but sadly she passed away before it was restructured and released. Where her participation suggests an endorsement of Bloom’s adaptation of her work, it would have been interesting to have on record her reactions to the version that actually reached screens.
Regardless of any questionable merit, Arrow Video has put together a nice little package for Flowers in the Attic’s UK Blu-ray release. The movie itself boasts a sharp, if not remarkably colourful picture and the sound is clean. The feature itself is accompanied by an optional commentary by journalist Kat Ellinger. There are also 45-minutes of interviews – with cinematographer Frank Byers, production designer John Muto, actor Jeb Stuart Adams and composer Christopher Young. An original ending (sourced from a rough cut on a sadly degraded Betamax cassette) is included, and there’s the chance to watch the ending that made the final cut in the company of an audio interview with Tony Kayden, who wrote and directed the revision following less-than-enthused reaction from audiences at test screenings. (Conspicuously absent are the other alleged trims resulting from said screenings). Finally, there’s an extensive gallery of production art, storyboards and stills, plus the original theatrical trailer. A reversible sleeve and souvenir booklet are now par for the course.