10: The Ruins (2008)“It has something to do with the ruins. They won’t come up here, and now that we’re here they won’t let us leave.” A rather more visceral and aggressive strain of omnivorous vine than Killer Plant No. 4 (see below) is found in one of this year’s multitudinous holiday slashers, wherein a bunch of hapless Americans follow the formula of going to a strange country to take photos and smoke dope, and failing to get past the classic Col. Kurtz firewall of nasty natives. In such films the protagonists die in a goregasm of middle-Eastern metaphor for sticking their arrogant noses over the cultural fence. In Ruins, it’s the turn of the Mayan people to be the Unfriendly Natives, though they’re not half as hostile as the man-eating vines that make entry to a ruined Mayan temple a one-way ticket…
9: The Guardian (1990) Since trees are so strongly associated with Wiccan lore and paganism, it’s no great surprise that they occasionally crop up in horror movies. In Exorcist director William Friedkin’s opus about a druidic tree and the secrets it protects, we find a particularly energetic and even erotic example of the species. A similarly psychotic tree is also to be found in Kingsley Amis’s novel ‘The Green Man’, an adaptation of which was put out by the BBC in the same year as The Guardian. Violent trees also feature in Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1982) and the comic strip Vampirella. In real life, trees generally have to be fashioned into baseball bats before doing any harm to humans.
8: The Seeds Of Doom (Doctor Who, UK TV, 1976)”If we don’t find that pod before it germinates, it’ll be the end of everything. Everything, do you understand? Even your pension!” In season 13 of the original Doctor Who, Tom Baker’s Doctor comes up against a vociferous form of alien plant life in the form of the Krynoids, a naughty weed that threatens to proliferate worldwide and is ultimately killed by stock footage from the RAF. The Doctor himself is no stranger to xenobotany, and uses a particularly hilarious overblown Venus flytrap in the rarely-seen Tardis conservatory to trap an unfriendly Sontaran in The Invasion Of Time.
7: Creepshow (1982)“That’s a meteor. I’ll be dipped in shit if that ain’t a meteor!” Mega rich, planet-owning novelist Stephen King likes to get thespian now and again, and made his deepest mark on cult film in this respect playing backwoods hick Jordy Verrill in George Romero’s hugely popular hymn to the gory splendour of EC comics. Verrill gets infected by alien spores from a fallen meteorite that he comes across in his farmland, and ends up forming a nasty green rash that proves intelligent…and extremely invasive. Part of the make-up involved a full tongue prosthesis to show how deeply the character had been infected by the alien plant-life, and King delighted for many years recounting how he scared the wits out of a local convenience-store worker with it.
6: The Thing From Another World (1951)”An intellectual carrot. The mind boggles.”We need not include here John Carpenter’s rather more faithful adaptation of the very creepy John W. Campbell Jr. short story, as only Christian Nyby’s compelling 1951 adaptation features a ‘thing’ that is based on vegetable matter, and has the ability to grow back limbs and regenerate. There was no way that movie SFX of the early 1950s could have done any real justice to the startling and creepy transformations in Campbell’s piece, and no way the film could have been released if it had. Nyby and ‘secret director’ Howard Hawks obviated this ingeniously by positing the alien creature besieging the arctic base as a ‘walking carrot’. Ultimately it’s just James Arness with a Frankenstein-type headpiece, but the scientific speculation on the nature of extraterrestrial life remains fascinating. There are no known plants that look like James Arness.
5: Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956, 1978, 2007)“Listen to me! Please listen! If you don’t, if you won’t, if you fail to understand, then the same incredible terror that’s menacing me WILL STRIKE AT YOU!” I’ve already discussed the various merits of the original source novel by Jack Finney and the three filmed versions to date here. Suffice then to say that the aliens invading Earth in Finney’s book are xenobotanical in nature, creating plant versions of host humans to which they attach themselves and discarding the original like a husk. There are no known plants that look like Donald Sutherland. Yet.
4: Minority Report (2002)“Soon you won’t be abIe to swallow, and then you’ll be totally buggered.” When fugitive murderer-to-be John Anderton (Tom Cruise) decides to pay an impromptu visit to a retired Precrime scientist and botanist called – ho ho – Dr. Iris Hineman (the formidable Lois Smith), he is nearly entrapped by an unexpectedly mobile ‘baneberry’ vine, which scratches him. Hineman decides that he is probably not a threat, and administers the antidote tea that will stop the poisonous scratch killing him within minutes. A real-life baneberry plant is of the Actaea genus, a close relative of genus Aconitum, which includes wolfbane, and is indeed fatally poisonous. However, it’s not a vine, and not likely to make an energetic grab for you either.
3: The Happening (2008)“I Can’t believe you like The Happening…” Yes, I like The Happening. If you’re going to use a director’s best work to flog him for the enjoyable pot-boilers he may later elect to make, you’re strictly plant food. Admittedly Mark Wahlberg’s performance takes a lot of forgiving in Happening, but then that’s true of every single film he makes (yes, including Boogie Nights). Here Wooden Wahlberg takes flight with wayward wifey Zooey Deschanel to flee a spontaneous attempt by Earth’s native plant-life to rid the planet of pesky mankind by pumping out suicide-inducing spores. The fact it all starts in Central Park is a fairly good clue that it’s not the terrorists this time. The microscopic villains in M. Knight Shyamalan’s creepy thriller could be a species of Mycotoxin, airborne fungal spores whose various injuring properties can include hallucinations.
2: Little Shop Of Horrors (1960/86)“Feeeeeeeed me!” Unquestionably the most famous carnivorous plant, Audrey II was memorably voiced by Levi Stubbs in Muppet-man Frank Oz’s 1986 remake of the zany Roger Corman horror comedy. ‘Audrey II’ (‘Audrey Jr.’ in the original) is an apparently alien plant-form found by Rick Moranis’s hapless plant-store worker and named after his girlfriend. When Moranis saves the ailing plant by accidentally donating some of his blood, it’s clear that this is no shrinking violet. Audrey II grows at an almost exponential rate and is soon chomping away at the local populace and blackmailing Moranis for his complicity in these nocturnal feeds. A very expensive ‘Ghostbusters’-style ending was shot where Audrey II has grown to phenomenal size and eats the principal characters, but it was abandoned after screenings for the ending proved negative. Of course Audrey is based on a Venus Flytrap, the most famous of the carnivorous (or insectivorous) plants. However that style of carnivorous plant is not the most voracious of the five plant-eating genera, which honour remains with the ‘borderline carnivores’ such as Brocchinia reducta.
1: Day Of The Triffids US (1962/UK TV 1981)“Most plants thrive on animal waste, but I’m afraid this mutation possesses an appetite for the animal itself.”John Wyndham’s dazzling tale of British-based apocalypse, wherein humanity is blinded by a meteor shower and thereafter subject to the deadly stings of the walking ‘Triffid’ plants that it has cultivated and patently failed to domesticate, was the transparent template for Danny Boyle’s 2002 semi-zombie pic 28 Days Later. The opening scene – in the novel one of the best examples of British science-fiction prose ever rendered – is outrageously cloned for the opening scene of 28 Days. Sadly, Boyle’s epic is the only ‘unofficial’ movie adaptation of Wyndham’s work that is any good, as the 1962 Howard Keel version is faithless to the novel and a bit of a bore. BBC television did a pretty good adaptation of DoTT in 1981 with John Duttine and Emma Relph, but it lacked the budget to convey the destruction of a society. There are no real ‘walking plants’ – the notion that banana trees can walk is apocryphal; they’re not even trees, but herbs with very deep roots called a pseudostem – the visible or ‘walking’ part can move several metres over time, but the pseudostem remains stationary.
Honourable mention: Dr. Terror’s House Of Horrors (1965); Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes (1978);