BARRY McCANN looks at classic horror sci-fi Day of the Triffids (1962)
TITLE: The Day of the Triffids
YEAR RELEASED: 1962
DIRECTOR: Steve Sekely
CAST: Nicole Maurey, Howard Keel and Janette Scott
Directed by Steve Sekely, the film opens in a London hospital where Bill Masen’s bandaged eyes miss out on a spectacular meteor storm.
Similarly, Tom and Karen Goodwin, a couple living in remote lighthouse, are too busy arguing to watch.
However, small plants called triffids which had begun appearing in recent years, respond to the flashes of lights and start growing.
Masen wakes up to a hospital abandoned apart from a blind doctor who tells him the meteorites have blinded everyone, while the Goodwins hear the news on their radio and that triffids were now attacking people.
Amidst the streets of blinded people, Masen rescues a sighted schoolgirl, Susan, and the pair set off in an abandoned car while narrowly avoiding becoming triffid meat.
Taking a boat across the Channel, they head for France after hearing about a meeting in Paris on the radio.
A triffid has appeared on the Goodwins’ island, but Tom finally manages to kill it. They then hear on the radio that the Paris meeting has been cancelled.
Finding Paris empty, Bill and Susan come across a sighted woman, Christine Durrant, who takes them to a chateau where she, her sister and Mr Cocker are looking after blind people while triffids are massing in the area.
Masen and Crocker investigate a nearby plane crash where the dying pilot mentions a naval base at Toulon. Coker is then killed in a triffid attack.
Bill returns to the chateau to find it taken over by escaped convicts who party with the blind women. He rescues Susan and Miss Durrant, and they flee as the triffids attack the building. Reaching Toulon they find it destroyed.
Arriving in Spain, the trio commandeer an ice cream van and find a blind couple sheltering in a building, one of them pregnant. On the radio they hear that a submarine is on its way to Alicante to pick up survivors.
With the woman is in labour, Masen constructs an electric fence around the building which is soon surrounded by triffids. An improvised flame thrower fails to stop them but he realises they are attracted by sound and uses the ice cream van’s chimes to draw them away as the others escape to Alicante.
Back on the besieged island, triffids manage to break into lighthouse and, during the fight, the Goodwins discover that sea water destroys them. The film closes with survivors attending church to give thanks for this new hope… And the unanswered question as to how triffids so easily destroyed by seawater had no problem growing on the island’s sea drenched rocks.
Released in 1962, the film heralded a cycle of British dramas surrounding survivors of alien invasions, including The Earth Dies Screaming (1964) and Dalek Invasion Earth 2150 (1966). And for fans of British fantasy genre, it is noted for the appearances of Hammer child actress Janina Faye and a pre Doctor Who Carol Ann Ford.
However, in adapting the original John Wyndham novel, the screenplay made many deviations.
10 differences – Day of the Triffids novel and film
- The triffids were originally bioengineered in the USSR and accidentally released into the wild. In the film, they are small plants who began appearing some years earlier before the meteor shower stirs them to life. Coincidence, or are the two linked?
- Bill Masen is changed from a British triffidologist to an American seaman, so they could cast Howard Keel and ensure U.S. distribution.
- The character of Josella Playton, who becomes Masen’s girlfriend, is eliminated altogether, as is his quest to find her after they are separated.
- The pair were separated when kidnapped by Wilfred Coker and forced to lead squadrons of blind people scavenging for food. In the film Coker is an English tourist in France and an immediate ally to Masen.
- It is much later in the novel that Masen comes across the young girl Susan while still searching for Josella. For the film, her debut is brought forward and she fulfils Josella’s function as companion.
- The novel takes place entirely in England, while the film extends to France and Spain.
- Similarly, the originally English Miss Durrant becomes French so that they could cast Nicole Maurey. So is also assigned much of the role Josella plays in the novel.
- The French convicts are a reinterpretation of the novel’s self-appointed government militia who invade Masen’s community with the intention of enslaving them. Masen encourages them to get drunk while his party escapes. The French convicts need no such encouragement.
- The novel finishes open ended with Masen’s party making their way to a triffid free Isle of Wight. The film is more conclusive with the revelation that sea water destroys the creatures.
- The discovery of this weapon results from the lighthouse based sub plot which is not in the novel. With the film’s original cut running under an hour, second unit director Freddie Francis set it up to both pad out the running time and finish with a more optimistic ending. Like the book, the film originally ended with the protagonists heading off to a promised sanctuary with no resolution to the triffid situation at all.
In conclusion it can be said the film is best enjoyed on its own terms and works as such, despite some inconsistencies in the script. Yes, the triffid props do look unconvincing in some scenes. In others they look downright frightening.
Still, the film found a new lease of life during the 1970s when BBC screenings gave the Saturday evening schedules a ratings hit… And planted the seed of an idea at the Beeb’s drama department.
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