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When Plants Attack
by T.J. Tranchell

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Spine-chilling terror from creatures without spines!

Spine-chilling terror from creatures without spines!
Right now I'm watching DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, the 1962 film about alien plant-life bent on devouring all living things on Earth. In many ways, it's a classic low budget flick, better than some, not as good as others. On the other hand, plants aren't scary.

Naturally, I started thinking about other films concerning vegetable vengeance and just what these movies have to say to us in these environmentally-conscious times. Then I started thinking about all the plant movies, like TRIFFIDS that are just ridiculous. Ridiculous outweighs poignant by a bushel, with campy classics like ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES much more revered than THE RUINS.

KILLER TOMATOES and its sequels are prime examples of the chlorophyll carnage cinema. Mutated tomatoes roll through cities, turning people into ketchup. The government intervenes in spectacularly inept fashion, perhaps presaging future federal attempts at defeating entities we do not understand. John Astin and George Clooney appear in sequels. The world is saved and the argument over tomatoes being fruits or vegetables is laid to rest. Maybe.

The KILLER TOMATOES are not, repeat NOT meant to be taken seriously. If you rent any of them and have friends with significant deficiencies in the humor department, they will ruin the experience for everyone else. Plus, those people shouldn't be
Take that, France. We only saved you so we could pretend to destroy you.

Take that, France. We only saved you so we could pretend to destroy you.
your friends anyway.

But when it comes to high camp and pathological plants, the king is still LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. Whether you choose the original 1961 American International version or the 1986 Rick Moranis musical, you can't lose. The original is much grimmer and lacks a traditional Hollywood happy ending, but it does have a very skinny Jack Nicholson in his first film role. It's brief but is a good indicator of what he would become.

This is the part where I admit that I saw the musical version first. I grew up in the 1980s and was still pretty stoked over Moranis' genius turn in GHOSTBUSTERS. Every time I am in a dentist's office or someone I know is going to the dentist I start singing. Just in my head, just in my head.

Oh, no! A triffid attack! Run away from the slow moving Audrey II wanna-bes. They will eat you alive and not even offer any dinner conversation. Screw the rain forests if this is how they are going to act.

Anyway. KILLER TOMATOES and LITTLE SHOP are decidedly on one side of this argument. On the other side are THE RUINS and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS.

Hey, pod-people are plants, too. It's either that or the carrot-creature James Arness turns into at the end of Howard Hawks' THE THING. That is stretching it too much for me. Ambulatory asparagus and plants that look like people
I always wondered, just where are Audrey II's vocal chords?

I always wondered, just where are Audrey II's vocal chords?
are one thing but shape-changing carrots? I just don't buy it.

At this point in our relationship, do I really need to tell you about BODY SNATHCERS? Here's what you do: go over to your grandparents' house and watch it with them. If they start talking about communists and the Red Scare without you saying anything, congratulations. Your grandparents paid attention to the world around them. If, however, they insist that they would have recognized if one of them had turned into a pod-person and the situation never would have gotten out of hand, run. They aren't your grandparents anymore. Get out while you are still you.

If you survive that, then you can watch THE RUINS. It's based on a book, which I didn't know until after I saw it. I left thinking two things. First, how could this plot take up an entire novel? Second, how can I use with to mess with my mom? The first question has yet to be answered because every time I go to a bookstore and remember to look for it, it isn't there and I don't care enough to look harder and track it down. The second question has been much easier to solve.

All I have to do is get close to my mom and start poking her and saying, “The plants are gonna get inside you … the plants are gonna get inside you,” in a very high-pitched voice, not unlike the pseudo-human cried of the vines in
Hey, Bubba, you bring the weed whacker?

Hey, Bubba, you bring the weed whacker?
the movie.

It's hard for me to say anything bad about THE RUINS. True, it is a much more serious film than its premise implies. Yes, it is not that far afield from the campy horror of TRIFFIDS. But I saw it at a second-run theater (yes, with my mom) and only paid $1.25 for the ticket. I got my money's worth. How much did you pay? It has been nine months since I saw THE RUINS and I can still scare my mom with that small gesture and stupid voice. I call that a successful film experience.

DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS is almost over. The hero just figured out he could stop the rampaging rutabaga with an electrical fence, although he doesn't quite have the power to completely defeat them, just hold them at bay. Then, like early man must have discovered when he became sick of salad, our hero starts a fire. Plants, even those bred on alien Miracle Grow, hate fire. Unfortunately, fire is only a temporary solution. To make a salad really good, you need to add salt.

Much like a side salad, few of these films make for a main course when it comes to horror. BODY SNATCHERS aside, plant-attack movies have more in common with junk food. They taste great but you can't live on them alone. In other words, do not become a movie vegetarian. A horror movie should be a steak dinner or at least a really greasy undercooked cheeseburger, not a side salad.

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Take my hand and follow me to the darkest corners of the theater. All your favorite monsters, psychos and masked killers are here, waiting for you to say hello.

Other Columns
Other columns by T.J. Tranchell:

Feeling (Rob) Zombie-fied

Hit the road, Jack

Camcorder Carnage

The scariest movie of all time

Universal's forgotten fiend

All Columns

T.J. Tranchell
Born on Halloween and raised in a single screen theater managed by his grandpa, T.J. now spends more time than should be healthy staying up past midnight reading Stephen King and watching Friday the 13th movies. Part 3 is the best one.

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to T.J. Tranchell by clicking here.

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