Movies We Like
The Day of the Triffids
Though not in the same league with John Wyndham’s brilliant sci-fi novel that it’s based on, the low budget 1962 film version of The Day of the Triffids is still a heady piece of post-apocalyptic entertainment and still one of the best and most influential end-of-the-world films ever. A more faithful to the book version was made for BBC TV in 1981 and it’s also essential “survivor movie” viewing. (A more recent TV version in 2009 was terribly disappointing.) But while this first on-screen edition may veer from the book, it was a landmark in British B-movie sci-fi and in a lot of ways it still packs a wallop.
With all of London excited about watching an astounding meteor shower outside, American merchant seaman, Bill Masen (Howard Keel) is stuck in a hospital bed with his eyes bandaged after surgery. The next day he awakens to find that the hospital staff and then the entire town are now blind (everyone who watched the sky that night at least). If having to navigate among the desperately blind isn’t apocalyptic enough, it seems a deadly plant known as a Triffid is also on the loose—these are walking shrubs that shoot a poisonous stinger at their victims and if that’s not bad enough they have the ability to verbally communicate with each other. Eventually Bill comes across a little girl (Janina Faye) who can see and the two have to fight their way out of England and make it to France. Once there they help a group of blind women, including a pretty love interest (Nicole Maurey), while trying to escape a group of violent convicts as they head for Spain.
Meanwhile in a side story that often feels like padding but does work to explain the science in the film a drunken biologist (Kieron Moore) and his wife (Janette Scott who was once Miss Mel Torme!) are stuck in a lighthouse battling Triffids and hamming it up, as they search for the proper way to destroy them (salt water, easy!).
While writer Wyndham also wrote a number of significant novels including The Midwich Cuckoos, which was the inspiration for another great British sci-fi/horror classic Village Of The Damned, director Steve Sekely only has extreme B-credits on his filmography. Apparently the great cinematographer Freddie Francis took over direction and, though uncredited, he’s considered by many to be the film's co-director (he filmed the lighthouse segments). Francis went on to direct a number of Hammer films in the ‘60s while also having a major career as a director of photography on movies ranging from The Innocents to The Elephant Man.
Many of today’s audiences might wave off The Day Of The Triffids as cheesy or dated but they are missing out because besides being exciting and delivering on scares, it carries some film history significance. The influences of both the book and the movie on popular culture are massive—the set-up of having the hero confined while the world goes mad can be found in The Walking Dead (graphic novel and TV series) and more obviously in 28 Days Later. Director Danny Boyle has acknowledged Wyndham as a major influence, having cribbed even more details from the later TV version of Triffids. Night of the Living Dead and a number of zombie flicks gracefully borrow from Triffids’s lighthouse sequences while director Fernando Meirelles’s (City of God) arty sci-fi flick Blindness is basically The Day of the Triffids without the Triffids.
Between The Day of the Triffids, the Quatermass flicks, The Village of the Damned and its sequel Children of the Damned, it was a heady time for British sci-fi. Perhaps you can feel the jitters in a society still trying to find itself after WWII. And this would all lead to a revolution in British Cult TV in the ‘60s and ‘70s (Dr Who, The Prisoner, etc.). This all makes The Day of the Triffids so much more than a solid, ahead-of-its-time B-movie. Heck, when it’s all said and done The Day of the Triffids might just be the Citizen Kane of the apocalyptic film genre.