Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Review #1,323: 'Flowers in the Attic' (1987)

The Dollanganger children - the elder Cathy (Kristy Swanson) and Chris (Jeb Stuart Adams), and young twins Cory (Ben Ryan Ganger) and Carrie (Lindsay Parker) - live an idyllic life with their photogenic mother (Victoria Tennant) and caring, successful father (Marshall Colt). That is until the day of their father's birthday brings the devastating news that he has been killed in a car accident, leaving the four kids without a father figure and their mother with dwindling savings. When their money runs dry, Mother takes them to their grandparents' mansion in the country, where she hopes to reconnect with her dying father in the hope of being written back into his will. When they arrive, they are met with disdain by Grandmother (Louise Fletcher), who has long felt that her daughter's marriage and family was an abomination. As Mother attempts to crawl back into her parents' good books, the children must be locked away unseen in the attic to be told over time by their only remaining parent to endure the isolation just a little while longer.

V. C. Andrews' novel Flowers in the Attic was incredibly successful when it was released in 1979, selling over 40 million copies worldwide, gathering a huge following of young readers, and spawning no fewer than three sequels. The author wisely insisted on script approval when selling the rights for a film adaptation, turning down a number of screenplays before settling with Jeffrey Bloom's version. The producers had already turned down Wes Craven's violent and disturbing vision, deeming it too disturbing for a mainstream audience, despite the director's recent success with A Night on Elm Street. Bloom's script stayed true the novel's controversial themes of incest, but the final product, also directed by Bloom, did not play well with test audiences, who were freaked out by the sexual activity between the two oldest siblings, and unsatisfied with the climax.

The production was a notoriously troubled one. When the producers got nervous after the test screenings and insisted on re-shooting the ending, Bloom stepped away, and an unknown replacement was brought in to helm the new scenes. The result has one salivating at the thought of a juicier, more harrowing version with Craven behind the camera, as Flowers in the Attic is a tame, frustrating and ultimately boring affair. It is a film completely disinterested in detail, choosing instead to force us into accepting the children's predicament with no real understanding of how they took so long to figure it all out, and why don't simply make a run for it. Cathy and Chris come across as idiotic, irresponsible and weak, despite the best efforts of Swanson and Adams. Fletcher, evoking her intimidating presence from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, gives it her very best, but she can't save this damp squib from instantly fading from memory.

Directed by: Jeffrey Bloom
Starring: Louise Fletcher, Victoria Tennant, Kristy Swanson, Jeb Stuart Adams
Country: USA

Rating: **

Tom Gillespie

Flowers in the Attic (1987) on IMDb

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