Day of the Triffids, The (1962)

The Day of the Triffids (1962)

Man eating plants! Spine chilling terror!

A once in a lifetime meteor shower illuminates the skies across the world which is unfortunate for Bill Masen, a sailor who is in hospital with his eyes bandaged after an operation. When he wakes up the next morning, Bill removes his bandages to find out that everyone who witnessed the meteor shower is now blind and London is in total chaos. What’s worse is that the meteorites brought with them triffids – giant, carnivorous plants which now prey upon the helpless population. Gathering together a group of survivors who can still see, Bill heads off across Europe to rebuild civilisation and fight off the triffid menace.

 

Although apparently a demolition job of the book by John Wyndham upon which this is based, I can only judge a film on its merits and I’ve got to say that The Day of the Triffids comes up a little short of being an outright sci-fi classic. It’s sinister in parts, dull in others and there’s a general sense that too many people had input into the final version of the film. But it’s still a celebrated dose of early 60s British sci-fi from an era fuelled by paranoia about the Cold War and does a fair job of spelling out the end of the world, even if it all feels very low scale.

Forget the idea of the killer plants for the time being. Day of the Triffids works best when it’s not churning out monster movie clichés. The strongest part of the film is its first half when you’re not entirely sure what is going on, in particular the scenes of total chaos in London: trains de-rail in stations, planes fall out of the sky and ships crash into docks with their pilots, crews and passengers all blind and unable to do anything to prevent their deaths. The shots of Masen walking throughout the deserted streets of London will be familiar to anyone who has seen 28 Days Later, Danny Boyle clearly borrowing from this startling introduction with his similar post-apocalyptic opening salvo.

At first Masen’s selfishness and reluctance to help any blind person he comes across seems brutally cold-hearted but the realisation that he’s one of only 1% of the world’s population who can still see puts this into context – he literally can’t save everyone. The blindness itself is chillingly introduced into the story, with Masen testing his doctor’s vision for him before the poor chap makes a suicidal leap out of a window, unable to cope with his new situation. It’s a bleak scenario and the film does a great job of conveying this post-apocalyptic feel with its minor budget.

But then the novelty value of this scenario soon wears thin when the film runs out of ideas and simply begins to repeat itself. Once Masen and his new-found schoolgirl friend, Susan, head across the channel to France, the film begins to struggle as they go from situation to situation involving blind survivors and triffids. Speaking of which, the killer plants are arguably the weakest part of the film. I guess the notion of killer plants isn’t a particularly easy sell but the special effects do them no favours at all. They’re a classic case of Papier-mâché monsters being pulled along by wires. Their design is pretty unique and their appearance is sinister as long as they aren’t moving.

The triffids are introduced in London during a pair of well-handled sequences involving a dog that gets too close for its own good in the first instance and that age old chestnut sequence of a “car stuck in the mud whilst monster is closing in” comprising the second. But once in mainland Europe, the triffids don’t do an awful lot, save for a decent mansion assault scene, and are generally relegated to background duty for the rest of the film. It’s a real shame because, as ridiculous as the triffids look, they at least manage to convey an element of danger and the scenes involving them stalking and attacking their prey are at least tense and effective. Without hungry vegetation clogging up the screen, there’s little else to hold your interest levels. Characters are poorly-written and there’s not that many of them either – only Masen and Susan connect with the audience in any way.

After initial filming had finished, the running time ended up being woefully short of hitting that of a full length feature film so horror director Freddie Francis was drafted in to film extra scenes for a simultaneous story about two survivors being menaced by triffids whilst stranded in a lighthouse. This gives the illusion that there two different films battling for supremacy and neither one wins. The two stories never gel together well and are virtually unrelated save for a token scene at the end when they merge. The eventual resolution to the triffid menace seems contrite and ridiculously tacked on to give audiences some feeling of hope – despite the blatantly obvious fact that the majority of the people in the world are still blind.

 

Day of the Triffids might be considered a classic but it falls well off the mark in trying to accomplish that feat. It’s too talky, too muddled and too low scale to do justice to the post-apocalyptic scenario that is desperately trying to break free. You do get subtle hints of what may have been and there is still enough action and suspense to appeal to fans of old school sci-fi.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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