Mind Control Double Feature #91: Killer Plants!

They’re everywhere. Waiting. Watching. Rustling in the breeze. Flowering, some of them, the dirty bastards. Plants. Shrubs, trees, perennials, grass. Everywhere you look. Biding their sweet time. Shrug off the threat at your own peril. Laugh if you must. But don’t come crying to me when that fern pulls a knife.

Meat-eating plant discovered

Aw, a cute litte mousebed—ahhh! The pain! It’s eating me!!

If movies have taught us anything, it’s that we’d be fools to fear nothing but humans. What about sharks? Birds? Dogs? Rabbits? Leeches? Bees? Spiders? Crickets? Frogs? Robots? Monsters? Each and every one is liable to bite our heads off given the slightest provocation.

It should hardly come as a surprise that plantlife is just as deadly. You saw Poltergeist, didn’t you? The scene where the tree eats the kid is based on fact, on a rare Brazilian palm known for trapping the unwary and swallowing them over the course of a week.

Plants have learned to hate humans. We hack them to pieces, pluck them, mow them down with impunity. How many have you killed? Brought into your home as pets—then forgot to water? Watched them die, and replaced them with a cactus?

In this week’s Mind Control Double Feature we look deep into the green, leafy fate that awaits us all.

The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

the-little-shop-of-horrors poster

One of low-budget impressario Roger Corman’s best and weirdest movies, about a carnivorous talking plant, Audrey Jr., named by Seymour Krelboyne, feckless flower shop employee, in honor of his secret crush, co-employee Audrey Fulquard. They work for Gravis Mushnick, a rotten boss if ever there was one, in his skid-row shop, where the only customers are weirdos like Burson Fouch (the great Dick Miller), who eats everything he buys.

Seymour’s on his way out, fired for being no good, which everyone everywhere assures him he is, when he suggests bringing in a new crossbred plant he created, one that will attract customers. Mushnick gives him a shot.

The plant’s a feeble thing, until Seymour accidently cuts his finger and a drop of blood lands on it.

Mmm, delicious hand...

Mmm, delicious hand…

Turns out the plant feeds on blood. Lots and lots of blood. It’s not long before people wind up dead and eaten. Best of all, once Audrey Jr. grows large enough, it starts talking, mostly to the purpose of demanding more food. Audrey Jr. is one lippy plant.

This is by no means a movie so bad it’s good. It’s a good movie so insane it’s great. It’s very purposefully absurd in the extreme, full of great one-liners and nutty characters, most famously the pain-loving dental patient, Wilbur Force, played by a very young Jack Nicholson in one of his first film appearances.

Jack shows up and gets weird

Jack shows up and gets weird

And how about those incredible character names? Some other choice examples: Phoebus Farb, Frank Stoolie, Joe Fink, and my favorite, Hortense Fishtwanger. How can you not watch a movie with names like these?

Always the cost-cutter, Corman shot the movie in two days (!) on the not-yet-torn-down sets of a previous movie. It was written by Charles B. Griffith, who for years was Corman’s go-to writer. He also supplies the voice of Audrey Jr.

Despite its no-budget nature, despite Corman letting the copyright lapse (because who would ever remember a movie like this?), Little Shop stayed in the public consciousness long enough for it to be resurrected in the early ‘80s as a Broadway musical, which was itself adapted into a musical movie directed by Yoda—er, Frank Oz. Which was entertaining. But not as entertaining as the much weirder original.

Why, it's just a harmless little plant

Why, it’s just a harmless little plant

The one drawback of The Little Shop of Horrors is that you may come away from it afraid only of Audrey Jr. You’ll think it was a one-time thing, a freak occurrence. You’ll go back to a life of rose smelling and tree climbing, unaware of the horrors about to engulf you. I hope this next film disabuses you such wanton carelessness.

The Day Of The Triffids (1962)

the day of the triffids posterIn which you’ll really get hot when you see Janette Scott fight a triffid that spits poison and kills. Triffids being large, walking plants that take over the world. Is there anything scarier than a seven foot tall walking plant that spits poison? Maybe. But not in this movie, by gosh.

The Day of The Triffids is based on the novel of the same name by John Wyndham, which if you haven’t read, it should be next on your list. A science fiction great. The movie, on the other hand, is not exactly a science fiction “great,” so to speak, but it is a classic. Of sorts. Okay, I admit it, this is not a piece of genius filmmaking, but it’s plenty fun for a trashy ‘60s sci-fi flick.

The hero is Bill Mason (Howard Keel). He wakes up in a hospital one morning to find most everyone has gone blind. They were up all night watching a meteor shower. Bill was in for an eye injury. With his eyes bandaged, he didn’t see the meteors. The only sighted people left are those that also didn’t watch the shower. (José Saramago’s novel Blindness (and subsequent movie adaptation) steals this concept and does far less with it than Wyndham did. And the zombie movie 28 Days Later and the zombie comic/TV show The Walking Dead borrows the ‘hero wakes up in a hospital having missed the disaster’ opening).

Triffids on the march

Triffids on the march

So Bill finds himself in a London full of blind people trying to survive, hard enough without intelligent killer plants finding their only predator—humans—no longer a threat. He hooks up with a girl, Susan, and they flee to France, all the while fighting off less than savory sighted survivors and carnivorous plants.

Meanwhile, in a lighthouse on an island off the coast, another couple, Tom (Kieron Moore) and Karen (Janette Scott), battle triffids while trying to find a clever scientific means of destroying them.

The end of the movie is not at all the ending to the book. It’s overly inspired by The War of The Worlds and is mostly a cop-out one comes to expect from dopey sci-fi movies. But no matter! You’re still going to have to watch every minute of this terrifying descent into killer-plant madness.

There she is. Are you hot yet?

There she is. Are you hot yet?

The Little Shop of Horrors and The Day of The Triffids. Two movies destined to populate your nightmares with deadly killer plants. Or at any rate, with extremely low-budget plant-like special effects. An even scarier prospect.

2 responses on “Mind Control Double Feature #91: Killer Plants!

  1. These two relics are perfectly down my alley on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Loved The Little Shop of Horror. Curiously that alian plant that was once meant to scare the bejesus out of everyone made me wish to have it for a pet, it was just the cutest thing … Day of the Triffids was battling low budget as well I guess, but somehow worked for me. I believe it is that lost naiveté of mankind which becomes very apparent in cinema matters, which I am looking for and that I find in some of these SF B movies. The capacity to imagine things and to want to believe a story and thus making it work even if the effects are not of the quality of nowadays’ SFX.

    • ‘Tis true. If one’s story is compelling, the money spent on effects is beside the point. So often forgotten in modern movies.

Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.