The 5 Most Fucked-Up Moments in ‘Flowers in the Attic’


**trigger warnings (physical and sexual abuse/incest) and language warnings on this one – the subject matter is very dark**

I first read “Flowers in the Attic” when I was 12 years old. I vividly remember talking my mother into buying it for me at the supermarket, and it is testament to the benign neglect of my latch-key childhood that she purchased it on the spot without even once perusing the content.

Incest. Rape. Violence. Murder.


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It kick-started what would become a lifelong obsession with the gothic genius of Virginia Andrews, and it was with great anticipation that I tore through the shrinkwrap on the Flowers in the Attic Anthology DVD Set, twenty six years after that initial mind-fuck. If you aren’t familiar with the story – SHAME ON YOU – go and Wiki that shit right now.

(Or – even better – head down to your local op shop and pick up a copy of the book for 50 cents. You won’t regret it).

Anyway, here is my review of the recent movie:

Frankly, the Lifetime adaptation of “Flowers in the Attic” can go eat a big barrel of syphillitic dicks.

0 stars

(and 1 black hole where all the good things in the book go to die)

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It sucked for one major reason: the pants-pissing cowardice of producers who sucked everything edgy out of the story to make it palatable to middle-class schlubs who like adult contemporary music, soy wax candles and a nice glass of medium-priced shiraz with dinner.

The adaptation sanitised everything that made the original story so compelling. It shied away from the dark moments and deleted key events from the book, like the infamous rape scene where Chris takes his sister’s virginity in a jealous rage. Or the scene where he gets his younger brother to drink blood from his veins when the grandmother starves them.

The casting was beyond dreadful as well, with the exception of the magnificent Ellen Burstyn as the wicked grandmother. Heather Graham clearly comes from the “Eyes wide open means I haz emotion” school of method acting and the young man who plays Chris had all the verve and charisma of a burgundy-hued bed valance.

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Kiernan Shipka plays Cathy Dollanganger, and if that name sounds familiar it’s because she also stars in the well-known series Mad Men. Kiernan completely made the role her own. And by that, I mean she completely turned it into Sally Draper.

The similarities were so eerie that at several points I could have sworn that Don himself was going to swan into the room and pour himself a whiskey before checking the latest proofs and yelling something pseudo-profound about the zeitgeist to Peggy. I kid you not. I actually renamed it Sally Draper in the Attic.

Shipka’s drawling Sally Draper-lite was all wrong for Cathy, a character who is outspoken, feisty and prone to histrionic flights of melodrama that make you want to shake her so bad YOU JUST WANT TO SHAKE HER!! Even the hair was wrong. Cathy has the kind of long, milky tresses that bring all the boys to the yard – not preppy shoulder length hair in sensible headbands.

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What I’d really love is for HBO take a crack at this series. Sure, they’d probably throw in a totally gratuitous BDSM threesome between Corrine, the grandmother and John the Butler (finally a good use for that whip), but at least they’d embrace the depraved masterwork in its delicious entirety (albeit, with more boobs and probably even more incest).

HBO would totally nail the five most fucked-up moments in Flowers in the Attic:

  1. The weird incest vibe between most of the main characters

One striking thing about the books is the creepy incestual undertone to the relationships between the main characters. Flowers in the Attic features a weird incestual vibe between Cathy and her father, Corrine and her son Chris, Corrine and her father and of couse there were the actual instances of recorded incest: Corrine marries her half-uncle and Cathy and Chris are full genetic siblings who engage in a long-term sexual relationship.

  1. Grandmother pours tar on Cathy’s hair because Chris was staring at her naked body

The Grandmother is convinced that the older siblings are incestuous devil’s spawn like their parents, and before you can say “self-fulfilling prophecy” she walks in on a sexually-frustrated Chris staring at Cathy naked. She insists that he cuts off her hair as punishment, and when he refuses she pours tar on Cathy’s hair and starves them. Chris is supposed to be some sort of boy-genius but he tells Cathy to wee in the bath to dissolve the tar which – unsurprisingly – would not work unless she was pissing paint thinner or pure kerosene.

  1. Chris feeds Cory his blood to save him from starvation

In a genius bid to make all of her haemophobic readers faint, Virginia Andrews spices up her account of the children’s starvation with a jaunty blood-drinking anecdote to cheer us all up. Ever the hero, Chris slices through a vein in his wrist in order to let his ailing twin siblings drink his blood, which they accept with doe-eyed lethargy. Much later, boy-genius is about to butcher an attic rat for dessert when he goes downstairs to discover a new picnic basket, with the surprise addition of four sugared donuts. 

  1. Corrine poisons her children with arsenic-laced donuts

*spoiler alert but really dude this book was published in 1979*

Corrine slowly poisons her four children with arsenic-laced donuts so she is free to enjoy her inheritance, safe in the knowledge there will be no Maury Povich-style revelation that she IS in fact the mother of those devil spawn children.

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  1. Chris rapes his sister in a jealous rage 

One of the most visceral scenes in the book involves Chris forcing himself on Cathy in a jealous rage after she kisses her mother’s new husband. Neither one of the movie adaptations had the balls to touch this element of the plot: the 1987 movie writes the sex completely out and Sally Draper in the Attic erases the rape by whitewashing it as a consensual encounter. The screenwriter made a whole bunch of mealy-mouthed excuses for that but it essentially goes against everything that Virginia Andrews stands for: fucked-up people doing fucked-up intergenerational shit.

We need the HBO re-boot of this entire franchise – immediately if not sooner.

72 thoughts on “The 5 Most Fucked-Up Moments in ‘Flowers in the Attic’

  1. I remember reading one of the books – the one where Corrine and Chris (her uncle/half brother) get together, the prequel to Flowers in the Attic. That was more than enough for me – there is no way I would go and read any more of them or watch any of the movies. I can’t believe we were all allowed to read them at that age…

  2. My cousin got me hooked on Virginia Andrews books when I was about 12. I still have them all somewhere in a box at my parents never to be read by my daughter until she is well into her 30’s or maybe 40’s. Thankfully my mum never thought to read one of those books I was so into!

    • “Never to be read by my daughter….” BAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHHA!! So, so true! I’m pretty sure my mum might have read it years later but we never really talked about it. I must actually ask her…

  3. Wow, I don’t know if I want to watch it or not! It sounds like a whole new kind of horror. The arsenic donuts just brings back so many memories. I can’t believe I wasn’t seriously scarred by reading these books. I wish I could remember what 12 year old me was thinking when she read them. I know I thought they were ‘weird’ but not horrific – which is what I’m thinking right now! You really have to stop and think before you go accusing video games and rap music of corrupting the youth-of-today eh?

  4. Oh my God! I’m so disappointed to hear the movie is a total flop. Why try to make a movie and take out all of the good parts. I read Flowers in the Attic around the same time as you. My Aunt told my mum that I was too young to read it, but there was no holding me back from that shit! Talk about intense. That grandmother was evil. Man, I’m so disappointed about that movie.

  5. The movie is never as good as the book. I devoured the flowers in the attic series in my early teens. So many memories from it are flooding back now!

    • Hahahha I know right! All I’ve been wanting to do for the last week is put the world on hold while I binge-read the entire series again. And that orginal artwork is THE BEST. I remember staring at Cathy for ages.

  6. I did a book report on “Flowers in the Attic” in Year 8 which was pure gold. I got a C because it was supposed to be on a non-fictional text. Can you believe that?? It CLEARLY says “Based on a true story” on my copy. I even took the book in to show her. Let’s take this shit to HBO- I’m tired of Virginia Andrews’ genius being ignored because she writes the truth!!!

  7. I remember reading this sneakily behind my mum’s back. I can’t remember how old I was, must have been around 10ish. I remember being so engrossed by it, but really having no idea what it all meant!!! Needless to say I revisited it later on and OMG! But still engrossing. Ew! I know right?

  8. I now understand why this was never allowed in my house. I think my sister read it, and my mum was appalled, and the name was whispered in hushed tones after that. I’ll admit I’m a little relieved. I don’t think I need that story in my life.

  9. Oh geez, I can’t believe you were allowed to read them! My Mum had all Virgina Andrews books, and then the VC Andrews ones too and I was under strict instructions not to touch them, never mind the fact that all my friends were reading them! I may have chaffed at her strictness when it came to books and movies when I was a kid, but now that I’m a Mum I can totally see where she was coming from. I’ve always wanted to read this, because it was so forbidden to me, but after reading this I don’t know if I could stomach it, and I’ve read all of the A Song of Ice & Fire books!

    • Hahahahhaha I am so lucky she didn’t bother to actually vet the content. If it were me, I’d be helicoptering all over that shit! No way my kids are going to get away with this stuff if I can possibly avoid it.

  10. Oh you are so right with the benign neglect, clearly our parents had no idea what we were reading. I’m such a scaredicat now when it comes to things like that but was all over that book series – perhaps those books are the reason why I hate anything that gives me nightmares now!

    • Yeah, it’s funny how widespread this is, when you talk to women of a certain age. It’s like a rite of passage. But the weird thing is that I can’t even remember how I came to want that book. I never read about it in magazines. I never saw it advertised. I think it just spread amongst teens like wildfire through word of mouth.

  11. Hmmm as for parents neglecting to censor our reading, I read “Valley of the Dolls” by Jacqueline Sussan at age 11 or 12 because I thought it was about dolls … it was actually about drugs, sex, rock and roll, Hollywood so was a bit of an eye opener for me! I devoured the Flowers in the Attic books when I was about 13, the scene that probably stays with me the most is how Corey’s body was locked away in a room, after his own mother killed him (with the arsenic donuts) … though there were plenty of other memorable moments …

  12. 1. What’s wrong with burgundy-hued valances????
    2. I don’t think you should have been allowed to read this book at twelve. It’s clearly what sent you over the edge.
    I read all the rude books at ten years of age cos my mother had them lying around the house and there was no daytime television back then. My only memory of FITA was that they were pale because of the arsenic and being locked inside. I had an obsession with pale people back then.

  13. Well this may be the most fucked up thing I’ve read on the internet all day {and that’s saying a lot}. Of course I wiki’d it and now want to read it. I haven’t read the book, but already I totally can’t see Sally Draper as Cathy, it makes no sense.

  14. Definitely HBO material. Ever wondered if Game of Thrones was a bit VC inspired? With all the incest and such. Thankfully I have boys who are quite unlikely to be interested in reading the books.

  15. I read so many of the most shockingly inappropriate books at a disturbingly young age – this and the Heaven series, Lace, Endless Love (which has possibly the most graphic period sex scene EVER), Jackie Collins by the truckload… it’s a wonder I’m not a completely twisted individual. Oh, hang on…

    • OMG I LOVED the Heaven series and I also had a serious obsession with Jackie Collins books. I think that was pretty much where all my sex ed came from. Jackie Collins and Dolly magazine.

  16. Yep, I read all the Flowers books when I was about the same age, and Jackie Collins, and my mum never even queried it!
    Bell’s 12 now, and I can’t even imagine her reading them… way!
    HBO is the only way for these.

  17. I have come to many conclusions:
    1. I need to go find this book and demand I pay 50 cents for it.
    2. I am going to also fly to HBO capitol and start riots in the already chaotic streets until the big cahoonas at HBO see the light and make this a mini series. Because damn that would be intense.
    3. I may also need to bury this book once I read it and take a shower because I have a hunch it will make me feel dirty.

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