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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Time and time again, when I’ve been asked in interviews to name my favourite book, I always plump for John Wyndham’s 1951 classic, THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS. As I started typing this piece, I’d literally just put the novel down after reading it for the first time in ten years or so, and it seemed that now would be an ideal time to write about it in more detail and explain why it’s been such an influence on me and my work. Similar to what I did with Richard Matheson’s I AM LEGEND a couple of years back, I also plan to re-watch and write about each of the film/TV adaptations of the story. I’ve always found this a really interesting thing to do – each adaptation has pluses and minuses (some many more minuses than pluses) and by analysing them it helps me appreciate the strengths of the source material even more.
So, what’s it about? I’m sure you know by now, but here’s a brief synopsis. A new breed of plant is discovered – the Triffid. It has some remarkable qualities. Not only are Triffids a rich source of a natural oil, they’re also incredibly dangerous: they’re mobile and are able to drag themselves around, they possess poisonous, whip-like stings which they deploy with deadly accuracy, allowing them to kill and feed off the remains. And they can communicate with each other. Great herds of them roam the countryside together, given half a chance.
Typically, the potential for profit outweighs risk, and soon huge numbers of Triffids are being farmed commercially. Bill Masen is a Triffid farmer. When the book begins he’s in hospital, recovering from a sting which has almost rendered him blind. His eyes are covered, which is particularly frustrating because the Earth is scheduled to pass through a cloud of comet debris, and the skies around the world will be lit up in a display of unparalleled magnificence.
Next morning, everyone who watched the comet display discovers they’ve been blinded, and the world descends into utter chaos.
It’s the synchronicity of this story that gets me every time. Two events – the arrival of the Triffids and the comet debris – are apparently unconnected (though there’s some question as to whether that actually is the case), but their combined impact is devastating. By stripping the vast majority of the human population of their sight, Wyndham skews the odds in favour of the Triffids.
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.
Here’s one which doesn’t need any recommendation from me, but I wanted to comment on it anyway. I first read Josh Malerman’sBIRD 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.
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.
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.
My friend CRAIG DILOUIE released a new book earlier this month. Craig and I go a long way back and I consider him one of the most interesting voices in genre fiction. You can read my thoughts on his earlier releases TOOTH AND NAIL and SUFFER THE CHILDREN in the archives of this site. What I love about his work is the way he’ll take an extraordinary premise and write about it in a detached yet personal way which pulls no punches. He takes world-changing events like the military response to a fast moving zombie infection or a virulent strain of vampirism which affects only children, and looks at them in a whole new light, often making them feel uncomfortably plausible. His latest release ONE OF US (out now from Orbit) is no exception. It takes the well-used set-up of mutant kids born with special powers, but instead of going down the tired and cliched X-Men superhero route, he instead tells a much darker and altogether more disturbing story of neglect, distrust and hatred.
THEY CALL IT THE PLAGUE – A generation of children born with extreme genetic mutations
THEY CALL IT A HOME – But it’s a place of neglect and forced labour
THEY CALL HIM A FREAK – But Dog is just a boy who wants to be treated as normal
THEY CALL THEM DANGEROUS – They might be right
The story of a lost generation, and a boy who just wants to be one of us.
I thoroughly enjoyed ONE OF US. Set in Georgia in an alternate 1984, it’s a fascinating read. As you’d expect, the grotesques aren’t the real monsters here, rather it’s DiLouie’s cast of prejudiced, cruel, moralistic non-mutants. For me, what sets this story apart is the masterstroke of having the deformed and mutated kids being born as the result of a new strain of sexually transmitted disease. Because this is a generational shift, it allows DiLouie to present us with a cast of ‘special’ kids who grow up together and who therefore both lose their innocence and mature/gain their powers at the same time. This effectively amplifies the problem facing the backward facing society from which the children have been ostracised, and you get the sense from the very beginning of the book that once these kids are fully in control of their destinies, things will never be the same again. Highly recommended.
But ONE OF US isn’t the only Craig DiLouie release I want to tell you about. I’m also very excited to announce that his entry in THE FRONT series – following SCREAMING EAGLES by Tim Long and my novel RED DEVILS – will be released on 31 August. I’ve had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of the book and it definitely doesn’t disappoint. BERLIN OR BUST is a cracking tale which takes us right into the rotting black heart of the undead Nazi war machine. You can pre-order it now.