Day of the Triffids

Day of the Triffids. Security Pictures 1963.

Before watching the movie:

The Triffids are an iconic piece of science fiction. Any locomoting plants in sci-fi stories will inevitably be compared with them.

The full-color alien invasion horror movie aspect makes me think about Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but there doesn’t really seem to be much in common between “anyone near you could have been replaced by an alien” and “run from that twenty-foot tall walking plant”. If there’s an allegory for something in the public consciousness in the 60s here, I’m not sure what it would be.

After watching the movie:

While an unusual meteor shower has the world looking up, Bill Masen is in a hospital bed with bandages on his eyes, near the end of his recovery period. The day the bandages are supposed to come off, nobody comes to help him, and Bill opens his eyes to find a crumbling society where he’s one of the last humans not blinded by the meteors. While looking for emergency relief, Bill assumes protection of an orphaned schoolgirl named Susan. With Britain in shambles, they move across Europe hoping to find help there. Also, while everyone has been thrown into chaos, walking plants have invaded the planet, and scientist Tom Goodwin and his wife are besieged in a Cornish lighthouse by them.

The Triffids themselves are highly incidental to the story. The driving action is that most people went blind overnight and all order is breaking down, but it just happens that while everyone is dealing with this, there’s also monsters out there that are eating people. I thought at least it would be more about the sighted people being much more capable of fighting off the aliens, which would seem to be the case with how slowly the Triffids move, but they’re an overwhelming force against those who can see, too. Bill and Susan don’t even learn about the Triffids until just before they leave France for Spain at the end of the second act.

I thought that the eventual solution to the Triffid problem being changed from the book to something trying to be as simple as War of the Worlds but in actuality almost as silly as Signs was an indication of how little the movie cared about the Triffids themselves, but glancing over the book, it seems that there wasn’t a solution to adapt. The whole reason the movie provides any answer for them is because it needs a happy ending where there’s hope for rebuilding.

I was surprised that the Goodwins’ story is kept entirely separate from Bill and Susan. Usually a B-plot about a scientist trying to find a way to kill the monsters will eventually meet up with the hero trying to survive and keep others safe’s A-plot, but this married couple surviving alone are entirely there for their own sake and for the rushed ending. The Triffids are so inconsequential to Bill’s story that we never see him learn about what Tom discovered and implement it himself.

Like a lot of puppet monsters, the Triffids are at their best in close quarters where you can only see brief flashes of the tentacles or the mouth. There are some long shots where groups of Triffids are walking and that effect wasn’t done very convincingly, but a mass of tentacles menacing people are very threatening.

I was expecting monster horror, but this is actually much more compelling as a disaster/postapocalyptic movie. It would’ve been more interesting to explore the destruction and rebuilding of society even more than was done here, but there had to still be time to fight monsters.

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