Abuse comes in many forms. It can be physical and emotional. It can come through neglect or an unwanted attention. It can be judgmental silence, or ride on the smoky tendrils of gaslighting. Having just been restored and re-released on Blu-ray through Arrow Video, Flowers in the Attic packs many forms of abuse into one disturbing package, told through the eyes of four children…
…Originally released in 1987 and based on the book by prolific author, V.C. Andrews, Flowers in the Attic is a film written/directed by Jeffrey Bloom (Blood Beach). It tells the story of four children, led by teenage siblings Cathy (Kristy Swanson) and Chris (Jeb Stuart Adams), who are forced to move to their grandmother’s house with their mother (Victoria Tennant) after the death of their father. As if the passing of their dad wasn’t enough, turns out grandma, (played by Nurse Ratchet herself, Louise Fletcher), is an abusive woman who raised the kid’s mother under a thumb of fear, and now wishes to do the same with the kids. Locked off in a section of grandmother’s sprawling mansion, the kid’s mother insists they just have to get through this until grandfather (Nathan Davis) dies and leaves them with a hefty inheritance, but Cathy suspects something even more sinister is afoot.
Flowers in the Attic is a shining example of why companies like Arrow Video are so important. Any distributor that seeks out old movies, restores them and spits them back out into the public for all to rediscover is truly doing the lord’s work in my opinion. Admittedly, I’ve never read the book, nor had I ever seen Bloom’s film before, and while it’s not perfect, there is something special about this tragic commentary on parental abuse.
The film opens with a foreboding voiceover from Cathy, describing how her parents, in particular her mother, were everything to her. Cathy’s serene family life is portrayed with a dreamlike quality, brightly lit and with a thin fog hanging in the air inside her home. Flowers in the Attic isn’t your traditional horror film, playing out more like a childhood memory that’s been warped and twisted into a dark fairytale in order to deal with the trauma of Cathy’s past. Snow White comes to mind as a similar story. Hell, Cathy’s grandmother might as well be the epitome of the wicked witch, dressed all in black wearing a stern face that never falters. Grandmother’s mansion also stands like a gothic castle, covered in darkness and drenched in a thick fog.
Right away, we understand that Cathy and her siblings don’t know how to deal with grief. Cathy heartlessly even claims they should’ve had a dog, so it could have died before their father and they could know what death was like. You have to wonder at points in this movie if the kids ever left home much. Anyway, the moment they all arrive at Grandmother’s, she claims that their mother’s marriage was an abomination, orders young Cory (Ben Ryan Ganger) to hold his bladder and learn control, and declares “I will give you food and shelter, but never kindness or love”. Grandma has a pretty big stick up her butt, and that’s the last thing these already damaged kids need.
Though the film was originally shot to be more horrific (Wes Craven did a version of the script) where the horror truly comes in with Flowers in the Attic is in the theme of abuse and, ugh, incest. Grandma whips mother on the day of arrival, and grandfather makes her strip like one of his French girls. The kids are taken to an attic and locked off in that part of the mansion and trapped there like Anne Frank, where they get hardly a scrap of food. Eventually, each looks like a damn vampire, and they play the part, too, drinking each other’s blood occasionally for sustenance. All while mom tells them they just have to stay out of the way a bit longer until they get grandpa’s money and can leave, which gets Cathy’s spider-sense tingling.
The tragic nature of Flowers in the Attic isn’t just that grandma and grandpa are sick monsters, but that their sickness is one that runs in the family. Cathy raises plenty of questions about mom through the film while Chris tries to defend her, but between Chris washing Cathy in the bath and Cathy recalling with blissful pleasure the fact that her dad would sneak into her room in the middle of the night to give her special gifts because she was his “favorite”, you have to wonder just how much mom has really ever paid attention to them. Hence the dreamlike quality of the opening scene, which seems like something which Cathy has warped into rainbows and sunshine over rain and suffocating darkness.
Flowers in the Attic is like a music box with a sweet, dreamlike tune that grows darker and darker throughout. A haunting score by Christopher Young, troubling themes, and outstanding performances from the cast, especially Fletcher’s monstrous performance as the grandmother, make this fantastical slow burn one that is a truly disturbing exploration of childhood abuse. Is it dated? Sure. Is it slow? Oh, yeah. But there is so much rich (though unsettling) texture to this story, that, like a good book, it’s impossible to put down.
Arrow presents a beautiful transfer of the film, full of special features that pull back the rotten layers of Flowers in the Attic. “Home Sweet Home” is a warm recollection of cinematographer Frank Byers time on set, while “Fear and Wonder” gives a fascinating look into the mathematical methods production designer John Muto used to design the attic, which is way more interesting than it sounds. “The Devil’s Spawn”, an interview with Jeb Stuart Adams all grown up, gives fans a peek behind the curtain as to what the cast was like on set, notably discussing Victoria Tennant’s standoffish attitude, and Fletcher’s awe-inspiring presence. “Innocence Shattered” is a wonderful piece for budding composers, getting into the head of Christopher Young and how he transformed the perception of the film by creating a dreamier score that captured the point of view of the characters, rather than the stock horror stingers that weren’t working.
While I wish there were more deleted scenes, a damaged clip from the original ending highlights just how far leaning into horror the original film was, with Psycho-esque stingers and Fletcher rampaging through the house with a knife. Thankfully, we have critic Kat Ellinger’s commentary, an informative discussion that covers everything from the differences between the film and the novel, production troubles, themes, and so on.
Flowers in the Attic isn’t the easiest film to spend 90 minutes with and won’t work with fans wanting something more hardcore and less Lifetime channel plot (this was actually adapted again in 2014 as a Lifetime movie), but this is a film that deserves more attention, and Arrow Video has done a great job in packaging together a worthwhile collection of features that demonstrate why.
Flowers in the Attic is now available to disturb you.
Full Blu-ray Specs
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
Original lossless 2.0 stereo audio
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
New audio commentary by Kat Ellinger, author and editor-in-chief of Diabolique Magazine
Home Sweet Home: Filming Flowers in the Attic, a new interview with cinematographer Frank Byers
Fear & Wonder: Designing Flowers in the Attic, a new interview with production designer John Muto
The Devil’s Spawn: Playing Flowers in the Attic, a new interview with actor Jeb Stuart Adams
Shattered Innocence: Composing Flowers in the Attic, a new interview with composer Christopher Young
Production gallery of behind-the-scenes images, illustrations and storyboards
The original, studio-vetoed ending
Original theatrical trailer
Two versions of the script: the unproduced Wes Craven draft, and the final shooting script, including original scenes and reshoots, as well as both endings (BD-ROM content)
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Haunt Love
By Matt Konopka