by Mel Valentin
"The Day of the Triffids," a post-apocalyptic, science fiction/horror film involving man-eating, ambulatory plants (the “Triffids” of the title) and based on a novel by John Wyndham ("The Midwich Cuckoos," "Chrysalis"), was, once, long ago, a Saturday morning or Saturday evening programming staple. Adapted by a blacklisted Bernard Gordon (producer Philip Yordan received credit for the screenplay), directed by little-known Steve Sekely and an uncredited Freddie Francis, and released in 1963 in the United States, "The Day of the Triffids" is deeply, maybe even irredeemably flawed, but nonetheless oddly entertaining, especially if you happen to feel nostalgic for early 60s' science-fiction/horror.Here's the backstory for The Day of the Triffids: some unspecified amount of time after spores land from outer space and take root on earth as man- and woman-eating Triffids, a colorful meteor shower blinds anyone who looked at it (i.e., most of the world's population, apparently). The “lucky” survivors who didn't lose their sight find themselves in a post-apocalyptic nightmare. One such survivor, Bill Masen (Howard Keel), an American seaman recovering from an eye operation in a British hospital, awakens the morning after the meteor shower to a desolate ransacked, hospital. After removing the bandages covering his eyes, Masen heads for his ship, only to discover blind, lost Londoners. At a train station, he meets another sighted survivor, Susan (Janina Faye), a young orphan girl running away from a boarding school. After hearing a radio broadcast promising a safe haven in a French army base, they decide to head for France.
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In France, they discover more of the same: civilization at a complete standstill, the blind literally leading the blind, and the Triffids preying on the blind for food. At a chateau, Masen and Susan meet three other sighted survivors, Christine Durrant (Nicole Maurey) and Mr. and Miss Coker (Mervyn Johns and Alison Leggatt). Christine and the Cokers keep the chateau running as a sanctuary for the blind. Susan befriends a blind woman, Bettina (Carole Ann Ford). More a pragmatist than an idealist, Masen suggests that he, Susan, Christine, and the Cokers leave the chateau and France for Spain, where, perhaps, rescue awaits. Christine balks, refusing to leave her friends and acquaintances behind, but the arrival of a van full of well-armed convicts and an army of hungry Triffids, convinces Christine to change her mind.
The Triffids, like the hordes of the undead found in George A. Romero’s Living Dead series, are less a threat to the survivors than the survivors are to each other. Both Wyndham and Romero (who was likely influenced by The Day of the Triffids) were more interested in how world-changing events, in turn, change the survivors and in what a new society would look like under radically different social arrangements. Unfortunately, the screenwriter, Bernard Gordon seems to have had little interest in exploring these ideas. Realizing as much (and hoping to pad out the running time), producer Philip Yordan hired Freddie Francis, to direct an entirely new subplot involving Tom Goodwin (Kieron Moore), a marine biologist and his wife, Karen (Janette Scott), stranded in a lighthouse while the Triffids grow and reproduce outside their doors.Nostalgia aside, "The Day of the Triffids" doesn’t really work as a standalone film (the faithful BBC adaptation made in 1981 fares better). In fitful parts, though, it does, particularly in the early scene of a strangely empty London (echoed, years later, in "28 Days Later"), a later scene involving train station crowded with the newly blind, a disturbing scene set aboard an airplane where even the pilots have been blinded, and a later scene of Triffids surrounding a country estate on every side. The visual effects, such as they are, aren’t particularly impressive, not by today’s standards (they probably weren’t back in 1962 either). The Triffids aren’t scary, at least not on film, especially considering how clumsily they move. When you place yourself in the position of the blind characters, however, they’re terrifying. If that sounds like "The Day of the Triffids" is ripe for a remake, it’s because it is (or should be). The only real question is whether whomever remakes "The Day of the Triffids" can give the remake contemporary resonance without diluting Wyndham’s thematic preoccupations.
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originally posted: 07/31/08 05:59:54