When Plants Attack!

Associate Editor, Features; Rotterdam, The Netherlands (@ardvark23)
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When Plants Attack!

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Recently we got a nice mainstream genre (yes, they exist!) surprise in the cinemas with the horror movie "The Ruins".

Doesn't automatically sound like the best of movies, does it: obnoxious American students on holiday in Mexico visit an uncharted archaeological dig and encounter something which starts to pick them off one by one.
A rather lame set of trailers didn't exactly help...

But what made it actually a nice surprise was the amount of detail lavished upon characterization, acting and the general portrayal of how a small group of people (might) react in an extremely stressful situation.

All these things were fleshed out to the extent that, in general, people were shocked to discover that this wasn't just a funny B-movie but a pretty serious drama.

It might even have been one of my all-time favorites if not for some big issues I had with the "monster", but I digress.

Anyway, I don't think it's a big spoiler when I tell you the big threat in the movie is (beside human nature) a big flesh-eating member of the "flora", instead of the traditionally popular "fauna".

Which brings me to my top 5 movies featuring extremely aggressive plants.
Read on!

So here are some weeds you need to heed when discovered anywhere near you:

5/. Poltergeist.

Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg made this nice little rollercoaster ride of a "haunted house" movie in the early eighties, and it's flashy fun but not at all scary.

Except for some bits. One of them featured a guy eating a rotten steak and tearing his own face to shreds afterwards. Brrr...

Another fairly scary scene (if you are eleven years old) is when the ancient tree outside the bedroom window comes alive during a storm, and tries to eat the children. Scare your kids by saying: "They sometimes really do that, you know..."

4/. The Little Shop of Horrors.

Roger Corman's little no-budget comedy thriller of the early sixties became a big cult hit, spawning a Broadway musical, no less!

Although the biggest horror in the movie might actually be the sadistic dentist (complete with a masochistic patient played by a VERY young Jack Nicholson), the main baddie of the movie is a giant plant which feeds on human flesh and blood...

3/. The Thing From Another World.

A group of scientists and soldiers stuck on a base in Antarctica encounter a frozen extraterrestrial monster in a block of ice. When the ice melts, the monster goes on a killing rampage.

This 1951 sci-fi horror film is a far cry from John Carpenter's effects-laden grossfest 30 years later, but even though the monster is obviously a man-in-suit (played by towering actor James Arness before he got famous) it actually gets mentioned in the narrative to be a large alien vegetable!

2/. Day of the Triffids.

In this early sixties movie, 99% of the worlds population goes blind after watching an astronomical event. Bad enough in itself, but an earlier meteor shower brought spores of the Triffids: an extremely aggressive, mobile flesh-eating plant species which has now found a world with lots of easy prey...

Every title in this list has either been remade or had sequels of it released, and "Day of the Triffids" is no different. An eighties television series exists which follows (brilliant writer) John Wyndham's story closely, with the Triffids being plants created by humans for economic purposes.

To make that concept a bit more exciting, Triffids can walk and even communicate with each other. Their abilities thankfully do not include mimicking people or telepathy, but with poisoned tentacles going every which way they sure are dangerous enough. Meanwhile, the humans are of course far more busy trying to avoid a total collapse of society, taking care of blind friends left and right. Even though the focus of the story is on the human part, the movie takes the monster movie approach (complete with humans finding the Triffids' Achilles' Heel).

But what's in an origin story?
At least here we have a movie of a total war between plants and humans!

1/. Evil Dead.

To clarify the screenshot here: a girl's legs are being pried apart by a plant. A few seconds later she is raped by it, in a sequence director Sam Raimi still feels uncomfortable with. He's not the only one: it had to be cut in many countries.

We have a winner!

The living forest in "Evil Dead" has to be the most malicious bastard plant in movies, ever. Just eating people isn't quite bad enough for this one: it violates you, then turns you over to the legions of hell!

Did I miss any?

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SwarezMay 8, 2008 5:30 AM

Well the musical version of The Little Shop of Horrors has to be my favorite man eating plant film. The alternative ending showed the plant multiplying and go nuts Godzilla style. Fantastic ending and it's a shame that it wasn't used.

sarkoffagusMay 8, 2008 7:44 PM

There's man-eating seaweed in THE LOST CONTINENT (1968).

Kurt HalfyardMay 8, 2008 9:11 PM

The Guardian, that 1990 William Friedkin Druid flick with all the nakedness?

Ard VijnMay 8, 2008 10:20 PM

All valid Kurt, and I should have remembered that Stephen King short, but as for the others...

... I fear to say I still need to see those.

The Woods and The Guardian are on my to-see list, albeit not very high.
The Fountain wasn't released in cinemas over here except for the festivals, and I missed it.

Still waiting for a good DVD release, everyone keeps saying the current ones are decent but a Special Edition is sorely needed!

Simon AbramsMay 8, 2008 11:28 PM

What about Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers? They're alien plant pods, I admit, but so are the aliens in The Thing From Another World.

Oh and once again, I must say shame on you for not remembering The Super Mario Bros. movie.

Why, you ask? Does it feature some marauding plants? No, but well.....um....hm, why did I bring that yet again? Dunno.

DrewbaccaMay 9, 2008 1:29 AM

All I can think of are trees. LotR had a bunch of walking trees that looked like John Kerry (or he looked like them) and trounced villages and ransacked homes.

Also the relatively harmless, but apple-throwing trees in The Wizard of Oz. I wonder what would've happened had they actually gotten their fingered branches on Dorothy - or better yet, that little dog.

Nice call with the Evil Dead though. Actually, great article all around.

Collin ArmstrongMay 9, 2008 1:54 AM

I absolutely loved THE RUINS. Shame how it was treated pre-release - very little publicity for an original, intelligent horror film. Go figure.

It's implied in LONG WEEKEND that plants, in addition to animals, have it in for man (though we never get anything as explicit as in, say, EVIL DEAD).

I'm partial to the '80s MFTV DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS - good stuff there.

Also have to mention a decent below-the-radar sci-fi / splatter film from the late '90s, HABITAT, which features much-o sentient foliage.

The indefatigable Joe D'Amato directed a (really, really bad) sequel in name only to TROLL about killer tree roots - known more commonly as THE CRAWLERS.

When the opportunity to squeeze in a mention of personal fave (for all the wrong reasons) grade-f series TROLL arises, I can't help myself.

Nilbog means "goblin," you know.

WirehedMay 9, 2008 5:00 AM

Habitat (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119243/) is probably one of the best examples of "aggresive plant" movies. While it's fairly low budget, it's actually a decent movie.

Kurt HalfyardJuly 15, 2008 7:50 AM

Just watched THE RUINS. It was a fabulous film.