Hello, all! Yesterday I had a weird desire to watch not one, but two versions of V.C Andrew’s teen classic Flowers in the Attic. They were the trashiest, funniest movies I’ve seen in quite a while, so I think it was three hours very well spent.
Version One: Flowers in the Attic (1987)- Directed by Jeffrey Bloom
A fan-made trailer
Synopsis: Cathy, Chris, Cory, and Carrie are four children living perfect lives with their mother Corinne, and their father, Christopher Sr. If you’re already tired of the alliteration, best stop reading now. They’re such a beautiful blond family that neighbors call them Dresden dolls, which, funny enough, is a reference to their last name (Dollanganger).
As they’re preparing for their father’s 36th birthday party, they receive news that he’s been killed in a car crash. And thus, they become immediately destitute and lose their house, their savings, and their entire lives. They go to live with their grandmother and grandfather at Foxworth House, but instead of mingling with the fam, they’re sent to live in a single room and cannot be seen or heard. Their grandmother is tyrannical and suspects them of sinning at every turn. Her hatred derives from the fact that Corinne and Christopher Sr. committed a sin against God when marrying, as Christopher Sr. was Corinne’s half-uncle. As offspring of that shameful marriage, the children are basically the devil’s spawn.
She punishes them with whippings, starvation, symbolic hair cutting (oh the shame!), and stinging insults. Their mother, once so attentive and loving, stops visiting them. They find solace in the attic, where they build a garden and hang flowers (flowers in the attic). Cathy practices her dancing, Christopher practices his medicine (he’s a doctor!), and the twins practice being hellish.
But things take a turn for the worst. Cory becomes ill and dies (poisoned by arsenic in the cookies). Their mother re-marries to a rich attorney and has no plans of reuniting her two families. And worst of all, they discover that their grandfather, who their mother was expected to inherit millions from, died months ago, meaning that their imprisonment will never end. In the end, Christopher bludgeons the grandmother with a bed-post and they crash their mother’s wedding. She refuses to acknowledge them as her children (knowing that she’ll lose everything if she does), so Chris shows the wedding party a dead rat that ate the same poisoned cookies as Cory. Cathy forces her mother to eat the cookie, but she runs to the balcony and tumbles to her death. Cathy and Chris leave the mansion with Carrie and learn to live on their own. Happily ever After.
My take: I thought this movie was glorious. It takes itself incredibly seriously, even when bat-shit crazy events are taking place. At one point, the children are so hungry that Christopher feeds them his own blood. And he’s supposed to be the smart one. There’s also two or three scenes where Chris washes Cathy in the bath. If you’re unfamiliar with the source material, you might be thinking “that’s a bit odd, isn’t it?” And you’d be right!
The 1987 version cut out the incestuous relationship between Cathy and Chris because the early viewers found it too repulsive and distracting from the main story. But they didn’t do a very precise job of editing out everything, as they’re still the bath scenes (!) and a few scenes where Chris gives Cathy some suggestive looks. I bet readers were disappointed that they edited out that story, as that was the part of the plot that made Flowers in the Attic such a guilty pleasure.
I liked the casting choices, especially Victoria Tennant as Corinne. She perfectly portrayed Corinne’s transformation from a vacant-eyed, slightly neglectful mother to a harsh abuser. Louise Fletcher as the Grandmother was an effectively frightening tyrant (the fact that she played Nurse Ratchet makes her even scarier). Chris, played by Jeb Stuart Adams (no I did NOT make his name up), was convincing as the know-it-all, responsible older brother, though some of his decisions were questionable (like the blood!), and Cathy, played by Kristy Swanson, is a little spitfire. The only issue was that the characters are supposed to be 12 and 14, but in the movie they look like they’re almost 20.
Cathy: Mother should have prepared us for something like this.
Chris: What do you mean?
Cathy: She never allowed us to have a… dog, or a kitten.
Chris: What’s that got to do with anything?
Cathy: Because pets die, Christopher. And if we had had a pet and it had died, then we would have learned something about that.
Chris: About what? About death?
Cathy: Yes, death! Death! She should have told us. Somebody should have told us that fathers die too. They die, Christopher. Even if they’re young, and they’re handsome, and we need them.
Overall, this version is less salacious than the book (no incest, less time spent in the attic, less punishment) and has a happier ending, probably since they had no plans of making any sequels. The washed-out 80s cinematography does it perfect justice, as does the high level of campiness. Rating: 3/5 Attic Flowers
Version Two: Flowers in the Attic (2014)- directed by Deborah Chow
A very different trailer
Synopsis: The same basic plot as the first except…with incest! Of course Lifetime wouldn’t shy away from that aspect; it’s their main selling-point. The timeline is longer in this version–the movie covers all three years that the children are imprisoned. It also shows the development of Chris and Cathy’s relationship…so at least the Grandmother’s warnings against sin make sense. Grandmother is far more humane than in the 1987 version (she even smiles!) and the relationship between the children and Corrine is given more room to breathe (she visits them more often than in the 1987 version and her transformation is less abrupt). The ending is also different and truer to the book: instead of crashing their mother’s wedding, they find out that she has left them forever. They escape the house and a board a train to Florida, where they will try to start a new life. And try to hold off their feelings for another three books.
My take: I like this version better because it’s more interesting to watch and more visually appealing. The costuming and the set represent a distinct era, while the 1987 version is too lost in weird gypsy eighties robes. The modern version is far more outrageous, but it still leaves out the most disturbing aspects of the book because even though Lifetime might try to forget, they’re still on cable television and there are things you just can’t show. If you’re curious what I mean, read the plot synopsis for the original novel.
The casting succeeds in some aspects and fails in others. Kiernan Shipka’s facial expressions alone have distinguished her as a paragon of the angsty teen, so she’s a perfect Cathy. She has a young enough face to be 12, but enough maturity to play fifteen. Mason Dye, on the other hand, looks way too old to be 14. The incest is creepy enough as it is, but it’s even creepier (to me at least) because Shipka is 16 to Dye’s 21. I think it would have been truer to the character to cast Christopher as someone younger than 18, or at least more age appropriate to Shipka.
The main fault lies with Heather Graham. Her tone is constantly surprised and hesitant, as if she’s reading the script for the very first time. She’s not wicked enough to become Corinne 2.0 and she’s too ditzy to be Corinne 1.0. All of her interactions seem forced. How has this woman survived as an actor all these years?
[music crackles on and Cathy and Christopher come upon a cloth-lined adult mannequin, which they stare at next to each other]
Christopher: Better hope you inherit from this half of the gene pool.
Cathy: [scoffs, somewhat annoyed] Like you know anything!
Overall, I prefer the second version over the first because it keeps the original bat-shit craziness of the book intact and is still pretty to look at. And of course, it’s a Lifetime movie, a veritable cinematic gem. Rating: 4.5/ 5 Shipka Sass-Faces
If you’re bored doing whatever the hell you’re doing right now (besides reading my blog) check out these really entertaining videos. I find that great dancing is always a wonderful mood booster.