Four children, locked away as a dirty secret for years by a greedy, heartless mother and a vindictive grandmother. When Flowers in the Attic came out in 1979, the world went crazy, scrutinizing the book’s sordid tales of betrayal, murder, and incest behind the façade of a wealthy family name.
A film version in 1987 was considered a flop, changing the events from years to months and removing most of the controversial aspects of the novel. Most notorious was a clumsy alternate ending that cheapened the film and most everyone hated.
Now, a new 2014 version has appeared on Lifetime, airing last night, and stuck much more closely to the original book than the 80s film. The incestuous relationship between older siblings Cathy and Chris was returned to the storyline, and the ending (mostly) mirrored the novel.
But, as was the case with Stephen King’s television remake of The Shining, a remake that sticks closer to the original novel does not necessarily stop a movie from being a God-awful piece of garbage.
I watched the new version last night. It has honestly been years since I have seen such lethargic acting on film. Kiernan Shipka (Cathy) and Mason Dye (Chris) walk (or stumble) through their parts, showing almost no real emotion whatsoever. The young actors who portray 5-year-old siblings Carrie and Cory have about 30 seconds of screen time, and still manage to be just terrible.
The worst performance by far, however, is Heather Graham, the actress meant to carry the film, as the children’s mother. Every time she appeared onscreen, I couldn’t help but picture her showing up to the set each morning, rolling her eyes while reading the script, and thinking, “I would much rather be doing anything else in the world than be in this film.”
Guess what, Heather? We would rather you have done anything else, too.
Ellen Burstyn at least made a little bit of effort with her portrayal of the evil grandmother, but her attempts aren’t really successful, as she clumsily makes the character appear flaky and uneven. Louis Fletcher actually did a much better job in the 80s version, presenting a stoic, determined, and hateful demeanor that was at least intimidating. Fletcher created a movie villain; Burstyn just filled a role.
Many people consider the book to be a horror classic rather than melodrama. The attic is presented as a dark, mysterious chamber of secrets, abominations, and things that go bump in the night. It is a character in and of itself. In this new film version, the attic gets almost no attention, and it is seen as a playground for the children, nothing more.
Flowers in the Attic is actually the first in a series of novels by V.C. Andrews throughout the 1970s and 1980s that cover the time stretching from the grandmother’s childhood until Cathy’s death from old age. I always thought the series would have made a great miniseries or at least a series of films. One problem both film versions of Flowers in the Attic have is that they are forced to cram way too many events into a 90-minute period.
The almost unspeakable torment the characters suffer and inflict on one another is based on the fact that they are locked away year after year, abused time and time again. The book has time to explore that claustrophobic, gradual progression; movies do not.
One last thing the movies have working against them: shock value. In 1979, the thought of innocent children being locked away in someone’s attic for years was unthinkable and just had to be some kind horrific fiction. In 2014, we have sadly become jaded to stories of kidnappings and brutal assaults lasting for years. Andrews’ twisted imagination has become an all-to-real occurrence.
As a result, Flowers in the Attic can never be as shocking as it was. But the movie versions can certainly be a lot better than this.