I see from Twitter that this is an auspicious occasion for fans of campy acting choices:
Where secrets are kept, a dark legacy awaits.. NEVER cross a grandmother 👵!— ArrowFilmsVideo (@ArrowFilmsVideo) November 20, 2020
On this day in 1987, FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC 🌸 broke out in 🇺🇸 theaters! pic.twitter.com/CbyF2QgU63
And if there's one film full of performances that cry out to be boned, pressed, and packed in water like Danish ham, it's this adaptation of the V.C. Andrews novel. So for those who may have missed it, here's Bill S.'s gentle but thorough colonoscopic survey.
Last week, in celebration of Mother's Day, I offered up my annual list of Bad Movie Moms. There are some movie depictions of bad motherhood that need more than just a paragraph or two, but require a column all to themselves. In compiling my list this year, I came across two such films, Flowers In the Attic (1987) and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot! (1992). After careful consideration, I determined that if I were to sit through the latter a second time, I'd probably want to shoot myself (I might -- repeat, might -- consider it next year), so I opted for the former. I have to confess I hadn't watched it in over 20 years, but I recalled it featuring not one, but two awful moms, and that I gave it a one-star rating after viewing it. (I should explain: back in the '80's when our family had HBO, I used to watch as many movies as I could, then keep track of them in a notebook, assigning star ratings to them. I'm aware of how geeky that is, which is why I no longer do it.)
So I viewed it again, and it all came back to me, much like a bad lunch coming back up. This picture's not so much creepy as it is "cringy." It's based on a book, the first in a series following the same characters, by V.C. Andrews. I've never read it, or any of her work. Perhaps someone who has can tell me how best to rate the quality of her writing: A-Passable, B-Mediocre, C-Terrible or D-"Sweet Lordy Gordy, How Did the Editors Refrain From Gouging Out Their Eyes After the First Three Pages?" Ms. Andrews passed away before the movie was released into theaters, but was on the set during production, and even makes a cameo appearance as a servant washing an upstairs window. She was reportedly pleased with the script and the casting of Kristy Swanson* in the lead role, both of which makes me think whatever illness she succumbed to impaired her mental judgement.
Cathy is especially close to her father, who considers her his favorite, and, away from the other kids, gives her a Very Special Gift, a ceramic ballerina. We in the audience begin taking bets as to who's going to the smash the thing. Since we see Corinne peering in with envy, she's our first candidate.
The family packs up and hops on a bus. Corinne informs them they're going to her parents' home, a stately mansion known as Foxworth Hall. We learn that she comes from a wealthy family, but is estranged from her parents, because, she explains, many years ago, she did something that displeased her father, and was disinherited. But on the bright side, he's now so old and decrepit, he's likely to kick the bucket, and her plan is to win back his love and put her back in the will before he croaks. I can see no flaw in this plan. No, none at all.
Meanwhile, upstairs, the director takes advantage of the fact that he's got an 18-year-old playing a 14-year-old by lingering on Kristy Swanson's body while she takes a bubble bath.
Christopher removes the hinges from the door, and pushes it open, giving him and Cathy just enough room to squeeze out (Is this even possible? And how would they get back in?) They sneak downstairs and investigate the house like they're Mystery Incorporated (you'd think they'd look for food, but no), and discover their mother's room, which looks nauseatingly opulent. They then find their grandfather's room. They approach the bed, and lean in closer. The grandfather wakes, and grabs Cathy, saying "I always loved you the best, Corinne!" Needless to say, they're freaked out by this and race back upstairs, narrowly avoiding detection from the butler. They're also too freaked to to ponder the grandfather's words, which implied Corinne has siblings. (This is either a giant plot hole, or just crappy writing. Or both.)
They make plans to escape.
They decide to slip out of the house, steal one of the cars belonging to a wedding guest, drive to the police station and report the abuse and murder of the brother, handing in the evidence of the poisoned cookie. OH, WAIT, no, they don't do the most sensible thing possible. What I meant to say is, they decide to crash the wedding and make a scene. Corinne pretends she doesn't even recognize them, which leads to...the best part of this entire movie, and it's only 48 seconds long.
Aaaaaand with that, the kids just walk out of the house, arm in arm, to parts unknown, while the Grandmother watches them from an upstairs window. In a voiceover narration, Cathy reveals that she became a dancer, Christopher became a doctor, and Carrie grew up "but was never completely healthy", which is the strangest way to say "scarred for life" ever. She then adds, "I sometimes wonder if Grandmother is alive, still presiding over Foxworth Hall, waiting for my return." Um, why the hell would she be wondering about that? Wasn't there an entire roomful of people who witnessed a freak accident and a claim that a five year old boy was murdered? Did the director totally forget that? Actually, I'm not sure he was paying attention to anything, except Kristy Swanson's legs. (He certainly wasn't paying attention to her line readings).
There was to be a sequel to this -- Louise Fletcher and Kristy Swanson received copies of the script. According Swanson, it was a "sexfest" that even included Cathy and Christopher hooking up. I can't imagine why the studio passed on that.
*Kristy Swanson makes Kristen Stewart seem like Julie Christie. Yet somehow this mopey drip won a "Young Artist Award" for this role. If I'm not mistaken, that's the same accolade given to Kirk Cameron for Like Father, Like Son. She won in the category "Best Actress In a Horror or Mystery Motion Picture", and her competition included Jennifer Banks in Friday the 13th, Part VII, Paula Irvine for Phantasm II, Marie Leeds for Near Dark, Ebonie Smith for Lethal Weapon, Shawnee Smith (no relation to Ebonie) for The Blob and Brooke Theiss for Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master.
** Or, as Kristy pronounces it, "CHRIS-tuh-ffferr!"
***Still, I was hoping Olivia would be played by Inga Swenson, and that she'd greet her daughter by saying, "Corinne, Corinne, Corinne!" in a Swedish accent. Lord knows I was doing it every time I saw Corinne.
****Yes, Cory's death was caused by "a cookiefull of arsenic," and I tried, I really, really tried, to find a clever way to work in a reference to The Sweet Smell of Success. But I couldn't. I apologize for this failing.