OMG STRAIGHT UP THIS IS NOT GIFTED OR A PAID REVIEW – I’M JUST OBSESSED WITH THIS SHIT
**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.
MOVE ALONG, NOW…. NOTHING TO SEE HERE, MUM!
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.
(and 1 black hole where all the good things in the book go to die)
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.