The Day of the Triffids (1963)

John Wyndham’s cold war-era ’51 science fiction classic about oil-rich, man-eating plants that become earth’s pinnacle life form after a meteor shower renders mankind blind has been filmed three times.  For my money the best is still the 1963 version starring Howard Keel (the BBC adaptations in 1981 and 2009 are also worth seeing and are more faithful to Wyndham’s novel).  Slated for 2013 release is yet another version helmed by director Sam Raimi where the triffids are genetically engineered. Ho hum. My money will invariably spill out of my pockets into the box office for yet another tepid remake.  However, I’m boycotting the remake of The Creature from the Black Lagoon (that’s where I draw the line).

Triffid:  Triffidus celestus

A newcomer species brought to earth on a meteorite from outer space. The film opens with a magnificent meteor shower over London’s Royal Botanical Garden atrium.  A night watchman arrives.  He sits down for a hard boiled egg snack.  Triffids grow in the garden.  I’ve never quite understood why venomous mobile plants would be exhibited in a public botanical garden, but they are there.  The night watchman hears a plopping noise. The triffids are moving…

Meanwhile, Bill Masen (Howard Keel) sits in a hospital with gauze bandages wrapped around his eyes.  He has had eye surgery and misses a spectacular once in a lifetime meteor shower.  Early the next morning, Masen rings for the nurse. All is quiet in the hospital.  Masen removes his bandages and discovers everyone in the hospital is blind.  He moves outdoors to find mayhem…

Meanwhile, at the botanical garden, the night watchman turns to meet his fate…

A big nasty triffid lashes whips and spiney appendages at the watchman. One effective POV scene uses a greenish filter as the triffid attacks.  This is one film, as with Night of the Demon, where I like seeing the monster right up front.  No CG here folks!  I love the triffid design. It looks like a big gnarly orchid with fat, bulbous, pachyderm-like root feet.

In additional footage added to pad the film, a belligerent alcoholic marine biologist and his wife are held up at a lighthouse in coastal marine waters. They battle a triffid with a harpoon. Actually the biologist does the jabbing and the woman just screams.

Masen befriends school girl Susan (Janina Faye) and they search for other people. A dog barks. A dog yelps.

The Day of the Triffids is a film that generally falls into the love it or hate it camp.  I love it! The later usually criticize the film for Howard Keel’s dry performance (“…that guy was in a bunch of musicals…”) and the plodding movements of the triffids.  How scary can a plant be?  I’ve always found the triffids to be menacing.  Now, if this was a George Lucas film, we would’ve already seen a darting CGI tentacle added (ala the Sarlacc from the *NEW and IMPROVED* Return of the Jedi).  Gag.

The [notoriously unreliable] IMDb lists a fellow named Hugh Skillen as the artist responsible for the triffid effects.  I can’t find any additional information on the man, but his work on TDOTT seemed to me to be ahead of its time (early prosthetic effects). Wally Veevers (Dr. Srangelove, 2001: ASO, Superman The Movie and many others) provided the visual effects photographic shots.

If you get a chance, also look quick for the triffid (designed by artist Frank Dietz) in Joe Dante’s wacky Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003).

And we see the first daylight shot of a ’63 triffid. Will there be more?


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