Terror Tuesday: Killer Plants
Last fall I hosted a screening of this batshit gem at the Nuart in Los Angeles, and about 20 people showed. Too soon, I guess, because I guarantee that the bad movie loving crowd (particularly the ones who go out to watch movies at midnight) will ultimately eat this one up, especially if M. Night Shyamalan can ever pull out of his creative nosedive and become a big draw again. But it’s an anomaly in his bad movie output in that it’s the only one where the actors are as much to blame as he is for its ridiculousness. No one points at Paul Giamatti for screwing up Lady in the Water; and most folks who hate on Last Airbender probably couldn’t even tell you the name of the actor who plays the title character. But there is no possible way to discuss The Happening without mentioning the hilariously awful turn by Mark Wahlberg, who plays the character almost as if he suffered from some sort of disorder in which he lacked the ability to converse with anyone in a natural way. More than once I was reminded of Eric Freeman’s non-performance in Silent Night Deadly Night Part 2 (you know, the movie that surrounds that “Garbage Day!” clip), as Wahlberg bugs his eyes out and raises his eyebrows as often as he can, delivering each and every line as if it was the first time he had ever been asked to perform on camera. Or maybe he was just drinking from a completely superfluous bottle of cough syrup before each take.
But here’s the thing about the movie – there’s actually a good point here about the world striking back against the people who are slowly killing it. There have been movies along these lines before – Frogs, Long Weekend, etc - but this is the first to do it on such a massive scale, with the Wahlberg scenes broken up by quick interludes where folks fall to their deaths or feed themselves to tigers and lawnmowers because the trees convinced them to. But Shyamalan (aided by his “First R Rating!” – this was part of the ad campaign) just makes it as ridiculous as it can possibly be, so it’s impossible to derive any sort of message from it. As a result, I was constantly thinking of David Cross’ reaction to Seagal’s eco-action thriller On Deadly Ground (in which the ponytailed one ends the movie by talking about how oil is harming the world): “The sad thing is, he’s basically right. But he’s this idiotic clown.”
Sometimes known as Creepers, or The Crawlers, or even Troll 3 , this American/Italian co-production from 1993 is the most straight up killer tree movie I’ve ever seen. Unlike The Happening, they don’t just make wind to do their dirty work, they wrap their branches and vines around folks (think Evil Dead but without the rape) and pull them apart or suffocate them. And their victims are the residents of a town where just about everyone works for the evil power plant that has been dumping toxic waste into the woods (which is what causes them to come to life in the first place, of course). There’s even a killer Christmas tree at the end, long before Treevenge. But what’s cool is that they don’t discern between the bad power plant folks and regular schmoes (and one poor dog) who happened to be nearby – they are an equal opportunity killer, as if to say that we shouldn’t be pointing fingers at the people who are at fault for harm to the environment; it’s EVERYONE’S problem now!
Note – that’s just me reading into it too much. In reality it’s just the fact that it’s made by crazy Italians who don’t really care about plot, characters, etc, as long as people die with some frequency and there’s at least one exploding helicopter somewhere.
This one doesn’t really have any pro-environment message; it’s more a traditional survival horror movie about folks who get trapped outside of their comfort zone with limited supplies. But instead of being stuck in the desert after their car broke down, or on a ski lift after the mountain was closed, our heroes are trapped on the top of a mountain due to a tribe of locals keeping them at bay, lest they spread the mountain’s “virus” to the rest of the world. And by virus I mean talking killer vines! Yes! Apparently in the book this was a more prevalent subplot, but the movie strips down a lot of that, and as long as you can buy into the basic scenario, it’s actually a fairly effective, surprisingly dark tale of survival - it’s not spoiling much to say not everyone makes it out alive. It’s also aided by the performances of the four leads (including Shawn Ashmore, who’d go on to star in the afore-referenced Frozen), all of whom are much better than you’d expect from what some might look at as a teen horror movie. Their plight, including dehydration and severe injuries requiring impromptu “surgery”, blends nicely with the potentially goofy killer vine story, making for a surprisingly solid entry into both the survival AND the killer plant genres.
To be honest I didn’t love this one, but it’s the rare Asian horror film that doesn’t resemble 15 others that I’ve seen. In fact, it’s pretty much the most unique of all the ones I’ve watched for HMAD, so I’m willing to overlook some of its blemishes. Like in The Happening, the trees here don’t physically attack, but instead sort of drive you crazy. There’s a bit where a girl is spray painting numbers on trees so she can find her way back, only for the trees to move around and disorient her, causing her to get lost. Also, they work as lie detectors here, as our scientist hero has found a way to use the trees to determine if someone is lying or not during police interrogation. AND, they can sense when someone wants to hurt them, and they will defend themselves. So, yeah, pretty wacky, but like most Asian horror fare, it’s not played for laughs, and unlike The Happening, it doesn’t have a ridiculous lead performance by an Oscar-nominated actor to add to our enjoyment, so it’s not as fun. But again: tree-based lie detectors!
Obviously this movie was not meant to be scary, but damned if 7 year old me wasn’t a bit disturbed by the climax, in which the plant nearly eats our heroine, and then bursts out of its pot to reveal those disgusting, purple/brown roots (one of which hits our hero right in his balls – AS THE PLANT SINGS ABOUT DOING SO). Something about that imagery really upset me, and to this day I can’t look at a potted plant without wondering what sort of ugly, fleshy things might be connected to it underneath all that dirt. More than any other movie on this list (or others that exist), this movie made me think twice about kicking a flower in my path or pulling some loose bark off a tree.
Note – if you haven’t seen the Roger Corman original yet, it’s obviously not as fun due to the lack of songs, but it does feature Dick Miller as a guy who likes to eat flowers as if it’s the most normal thing in the world. Also – shot in two days! Impressive no matter how you slice it.
OK, I’m cheating a bit here, as mushrooms are not plants but fungi (and I couldn’t find a movie with the clever title Planticide). However they do grow out of the ground, so it’s close enough. Also it’s a mind-blowingly awful movie, featuring sub-Birdemic production value and a climax that goes on for about 20 minutes, consisting of nothing but the bad actors swinging weapons at CGI mushrooms that don’t always match up with the footage (and by “don’t always” I mean “never”). There are also one or two giant mushrooms played by guys with sheets wrapped around most of their bodies (look for a couple of sneakers), and one of the heroes sacrifices himself by spontaneously combusting, an act of bravery the other heroes just sort of watch without reacting and then continue on their way. Really, I’m only bringing it up because the goddamn thing exists and I feel that I should go on the record about it as often as possible, lest some folks think I’m making it up. That’s why you get TWO screenshots!
Anyway, as I said, it’s a pretty rare genre. There’s a movie simply called Trees that I am looking to obtain (as well as its sequel, which has Horshack!), and then of course there’s the more sci-fi leaning Day Of The Triffids, but otherwise I can’t think of any others. If you know of any, please let me know!
I leave you with this:
Brian Collins watches a horror movie every day. Be there when it finally turns him into a vegetable at Horror Movie A Day.