Films like The Day of the Triffids, of that immediately - post - apocalyptic sort, are often great fun as a daydream exercise in disaster survival. You can mentally put yourself in the same circumstances and compare your own imagined behavior with that of the characters on screen, and more likely than not you'll roll your eyes and think to yourself "Man, I never woulda done that!"
Zombie films are the most common examples of these pictures shambling across the motion picture landscape today, though sadly most are more concerned with gore effects than with survival stories. One of the better flicks in that sub-genre, 28 Days Later, starts off with a scene very reminiscent of an incident early in Day of the Triffids. Our hero wakes up in a London hospital, the unhappy victim of an accident that has made him one of the few survivors of the greater calamity to follow.
Bill Masen (musical heartthrob Howard Keel), temporarily robbed of his eyesight in an accident, did not see the "once in a lifetime spectacle" of a meteor shower that blinded anyone who witnessed it. When his bandages come off, he is the proverbial one-eyed king in the land of the blind, though it is not a kingdom one necessarily would want to rule. Masen makes his way across England and later France looking for "help," though he mostly ends up being the one doing the helping. Masen picks up a number of sighted companions -- discarding the blind with a ruthless practicality -- and fights his way towards civilization through panicked mobs, unscrupulous sighted men who look to exploit society's downfall, and finally a horde of mobile, carnivorous plants -- the Triffids.
"And that's what happens when
Manchester United wins the
If our mention of the titular creatures seems like an afterthought, that's because it felt that way in the movie too. The Triffids are theoretically the main threat to humanity, having arrived on the same meteorites that blinded the world, but the more natural consequences of humanity losing its sight seem more dire. The movie could have been written without the Triffids and not lost much of its urgency. In the end, the critters are not much different from zombies - slow, stupid, and easily disposed of. (It's remarkable that it took eighty minutes for Masen to think of a flamethrower, but there you have it.)
Given the picture's status as a legendary star in the b-movie firmament, one might expect a bit more than the obvious hand puppets and staid drama that makes up most of Day of the Triffids. Given the technology of the time, the film's only technical shortcoming is its effects budget and the too-obvious puppet nature of the Triffids themselves. There's a particularly dismaying scene in which a reanimated Triffid climbs a set of stairs, though one can plainly see that the Triffid's "tentacle" is a stuntman's arm wrapped in a green foam rubber that doesn't match the rest of the Triffid prop work.
"It's all right, dear I'm sure one day
you'll get your whites their whitest."
Still, there are a few choice moments that make The Day of the Triffids required viewing for b-fans. In a secondary plot that takes place completely independently of the Bill Masen story, a husband-wife science team fends off a Triffid attack on their lighthouse island home. The wife is played by Janette Scott (yes, the one mentioned in the Rocky Horror lyric) and her hysterical reaction to the vegetative onslaught is sure to set modern women to groaning or giggling or both. Scott's character is the sort of woman scientist who, were she stationed on a spaceship, would be offering coffee to the other astronauts in between her experiments. Regardless of her character's position in the feminist sociolgical spectrum, however, Janette Scott has one serious set of lungs. If there's a better scream queen out there, we haven't heard her.
Also worth noting is the dialogue, which can be surprisingly affecting. One tender scene between Susan (a sighted orphan who latches on to Masen in London) and the fetching blind Bettina (Doctor Who's Carol Ann Ford) reveals a level of writing and acting that is rarely seen in genre fare such as this. That such a poignant bit of drama appears here is likely due to the fact that the screenwriter was the talented but blacklisted Bernard Gordon, writing through a frontman during the tumultuous second Red Scare.
"We want -- a shrubbery!"
Another favorite line comes when one of Masen's companions asks his opinion of the situation.
"Do you think we have a chance?"
"Well, after you taste this coffee of mine, you'll know nothing worse can happen."
And of course the classic line:
"There's no sense getting killed by a plant!"
As a post-apocalyptic survival story, The Day of the Triffids scores surprisingly well, with a number of horrific developments that come about from mankind's sudden collective blindness. As a monster movie, however, it leaves quite a bit to be desired -- the monsters are underdeveloped and unthreatening when compared to the monsters already living on planet Earth. If you're looking for a fearsome vegetable, may we recommend The Thing From Another World?