Tag Plants

Ruins, The (2008)

The Ruins (2008)

Terror has evolved.

A group of friends on holiday in Mexico are invited to a remote archaeological dig in the jungle by a fellow tourist. He wants to go and see his brother who is heading up the dig and thinks a trip into the jungle will be a good laugh. However when they get to the site – an ancient Mayan temple – they are attacked by the local villagers who refuse to let them leave. Stranded on the ruins of the temple, the group soon realise that the villagers and their lack of food and water aren’t the worst of their problems.

 

Apart from The Day of the Triffids, I can’t name too many films which feature killer plants. Maybe there’s a good reason for that – the idea is rather absurd. So with this in mind, The Ruins is a tough one to call. The poster seems to put it over as another generic teen survival horror where a group of tourists fall victim to a bunch of nasty locals. Whilst there is some truth in that plot, The Ruins is actually a more effective psychological horror in which the gore isn’t in abundance, the special effects are kept to a minimum and the situation is handled as mature and believable as possible (but we are dealing with killer plants at the end of the day!). This is a horror film where you need to like the protagonists and get into their heads before the plot starts to force them to make difficult decisions and screwing with their minds. And it does just that.

The first thirty minutes of The Ruins are pretty lacklustre and are simply the generic ‘getting to know the characters’ phase. The characters are well fleshed out during this time and we get to know them all a little deeper than usual. They’re not too far from bordering on stereotypes but each character has a little something extra which allows them to rise above the norm. The Ruins gives the illusion that it is going to be another bland teen horror with lots of footage of the group partying, acting immaturely, getting promiscuous and the rest (at least it gives us the sight of the glorious Laura Ramsay without her top on). The characters all seem too stereotypical and lightweight and a little poorly motivated – if I was lounging in the sun next to a pool and with Laura Ramsay at my beckoned call, why would I want to go hiking in the middle of nowhere and get all hot and blistered?

However once the film feels that we’ve ‘bonded’ with the characters enough to like them, and to be fair to them they’re all decent and likeable, then the rug is pulled away and the proverbial hits the fan. The characters are all put through the grinder at some point with difficult moral decisions, ever-increasing panic and paranoia and the inevitable madness in the face of death. It’s a credit to the group of actors that they all managed to prove me wrong. They’re not just pretty faces with model looks, these young men and women can actually act. The focus of the film is always on these characters and it never strays away with any sub-plots or events that occur elsewhere. So you’re with them every step of the way – with each scream, each reaction, each cut of the skin and each break of bone, we feel their pain and suffering. Most of the film is confined to the one location of the ruins. And not just around the ruins but on top of them. There’s no escape for the characters as the local villagers lay in wait if they leave the ruins. Despite being confined to the same location, the film manages to work the suspense down to a tee.

What may sound like a very ridiculous premise with killer vines actually turns into some horrific as the plants are made out to be a very major and very deadly threat. As they begin to get under the character’s skin (quite literally), little is spared to the imagination as they slowly eat away their victims, keeping them alive as long as possible. The characters must go to extreme lengths if they want to survive this ordeal and end up trying to cut off their skin, eventually resulting in the hacking off of limbs to prevent the vines from eating them alive. The film doesn’t shy away from the gore and its right up there with the realistic excesses of the first Saw film. It’s just the thought of having these things growing under your skin which will make you scratch your arms and legs a few times whilst watching. The film pushes the boundaries for what it can and the unrated version is even more graphic – but you never feel like it’s obligatory but rather essential to the story. Only seeing the full effects of what will happen to all of the characters can you truly appreciate just what must be going through their heads when they are trying to make rational decisions.

I only found out after watching that The Ruins is based upon a novel by Scott Smith. It’s a good job that the film rights were snapped up long before Smith had finished (as the studio based the success upon his last novel which was turned into A Simple Plan) because Stephen King came out and named the novel as the best new horror work of the decade. I may have to check it out sometime soon. Thanks to the source material, The Ruins does come off as original despite the number of Hollywood-isms present. Smith even wrote the screenplay to make sure that as much of his source material was included which would make it a spectacle as sometimes stuff works in books that doesn’t on-screen. Having creative control over this side of the film really helps the material to stand out as something a bit different and fresh.

 

The Ruins is a decent effort. A lot of the story is par for the course and has been played out many times in the past whenever a group of tourists end up in the wrong place. Whilst the end result is usually the same, it’s the journey there that matters and The Ruins takes you through the ringer from the moment the friends arrive at the temple. Do you know what the best thing is about this? It’s not a remake, a sequel or based on a Japanese horror film! A truly original horror film which deserves at least a whole star solely for that mantle!

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

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.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Navy Vs The Night Monsters, The (1966)

The Navy Vs The Night Monsters (1966)

All-Devouring Carnivorous Trees That Move On Their Own Roots!

A scientific expedition to the deep Antarctic discovers unusual tree specimens and they are to be shipped back for further study. But the plane carrying them is involved in a mysterious crash on Gow Island, home to a small US naval weather station, and the trees are accidentally introduced to the soil there. The ‘trees’ soon reveal themselves to be acid-spewing monsters that live by night and soon the garrison on the island find themselves under attack.

 

A weird cross between The Thing from Another World and Day of the Triffids, Navy Vs The Night Monsters has rightfully been heralded as laughable camp but taken into consideration the troubled shoot that it endured, the end product isn’t as outright terrible as it should have been. Co-writer and director Michael A. Hoey got into disagreements with the producer during filming and extra scenes were shot and added by other directors as a result, leading to a jarring juxtaposition of tones and themes. In some instances, Navy Vs The Night Monsters plays the laughs for all it can with some ill-thought out comic relief. At other times, the film tries to be deadly serious with its gory content. You can tell that this was a film with more than one director as the film is all over the shop.

Part of the problem with Navy Vs The Night Monsters are the overly colourful sets and costumes which turn the film into a constant visual eyesore. The island (some unconvincingly small sets) is very garish and bright, adding an unnecessary level of loudness which makes it all the more cheerful and happy even when people are being killed. Hark back to some of the cheesier 50s sci-fi flicks like The Monster That Challenged the World and Tarantula which were all filmed in black and white and you get the impression that this may have worked better by ditching the colour to keep it serious.

Who am I kidding? This wouldn’t have worked in black and white either. The script is terrible, the film is slower than the walking foliage and the acting is more wooden than the trees. The cast of characters assembled are just bland military types whose names you’re likely to get mixed up, science guys who are there to provide the token explanations and a huge-chested nurse (the voluptuous Mamie Van Doren) to add some sex factor to the film as well as the requisite love triangle with two suitors vying for her affection (like they had anything else but her chest on their minds). It’s dull exposition but when you’ve got a low budget, you need to pad it out as long as possible before your money gets sucked out by special effects.

Killer plants aren’t exactly top of anyone’s ‘most feared’ lists but they’re an underrepresented enemy in the horror and science fiction genre and can be quite effective if used properly. You get the feeling that there was potential here but with the film only being shot in ten days, it was always going to be up against it. The acid-spewing plants like to dissolve their victims so there are plenty of scenes of corpses with melted skin and in the finale, one unlucky chap is melted away by wrestling with one.

Keeping the trees confined to attacking at night was a smart move too simply because they’re only men in tree suits and look every bit as silly as they sound. But, in one of the most brutal things I’ve seen for the era, the plants do get to rip one unlucky soldier’s arm right from out of his socket. The special effect is pretty pathetic but it’s the intent which is the shocking thing – I didn’t think these old school films showed that level of brutality! Plus the trees make this eerie whistling noise when they are nearby, adding a little bit more suspense to some of the scenes of the characters walking through the jungle.

 

Made ten years earlier, Navy Vs The Night Monsters might have gotten a pass by fitting in with the other 50s sci-fi monster movies. But this is one of those films where you’ll sit and keep watching in the hope that something good happens. Apart from the odd moment of brutal inspiration, nothing good happens. For 1966, this is too daft, incompetent and above all, dull, for it to work.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆