This article is written in tribute to Elizabeth Sladen, the actress known for her role as Sarah Jane Smith in the Doctor Who series. She sadly passed away on April 19th 2011.
For some reason, beyond my control, I am inexplicably drawn to the concept of plants going mean. Themes involving the botanical world getting even with the human race create an awesome and creepy back-drop for any piece of science fiction. I was first drawn to this weird genre in the 1980’s with the sinister TV adaptation of John Wyndham’s ‘The Day of the Triffids’. The original book, written in 1951 still remains one of my favourite reads (I seem to continuously blog about it!). It’s a novel that remains a seminal text in horror and science fiction through works such as ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ (1956), through to the heavily triffid-inspired ’28 Days Later’ made in 2002 and the recent adaptation of the original triffid tale made by the BBC in 2009. In 1960, Wyndham went on to write ‘Trouble with Lichen’. A great concept book where the plant-life featured isn’t the enemy itself, but rather human society’s reaction to it is what threatens civilization.
Doctor Who – The Seeds Of Doom (1976)
The original inspiration for this article on strange vegetation came from a watch-through of Tom Baker portraying the Doctor in ‘The Seeds of Doom’. A suitably cheesy title for a proper alien vegetable romp. The four-part serial concerns the events surrounding the discovery of a pair of alien pods. The pods are found to be harbouring an alien parasitic plant life-form, very much akin to Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’. The difference being that victims of parasitic infection take on the strange behaviour of transforming into nasty mansion-sized plant monsters.
The Ruins (2008)
Many other tales explore the strangeness of weird botanical life forms, such as ‘The Evil Dead’ (1981), ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ (1960, 1986), and even horror-master, Steven King’s portrayal of the alien spore-infected hick portrayed in ‘The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verill (1982)’. If there is one movie that really captured my imagination, and is worthy of a big mention, it’s the fantastic low-budget horror movie, ‘The Ruins’. This film features a bunch of annoying American gap year students that decide to escape the so-called beaten trail whilst travelling in Mexico, and end up discovering an ancient Mayan pyramid. Unbeknownst to them though, the structure is infected with a vicious parasitic plant. The locals know all about the danger, and as soon as the travellers mistakenly start investigating the pyramid, the locals go to great lengths to quarantine them. Thus we get to witness the play-out of their slow creeping deaths, as the carnivorous weeds take the tourist unawares. Truly nasty stuff! ‘The Ruins’ is generally poorly received. I’m not entirely sure why! It’s a simple story that doesn’t try too hard. If the viewer cannot buy the concept of a group of annoying American young adults being horrifically defeated by a bunch of scraggy weeds, then they are missing the whole point of the film. For me, it’s hard to deny that this film, as humble as it may be, is in my top ten favourite films. However, I am yet to meet anyone that praises this film as I do! The film suceeds in achieving what all good horror films should strive for. Namely, to produce an emotional reaction. ‘The Ruins’ delivers big-time, as while the characters are annoying, subtley gory scenes involving the characters attempting to remove parasitic plant invasions manage to emote such strong feelings of revulsion, one can almost feel the pure pain horror of what the characters are going through.
Just to put a cap on this topic, got to give a mention to the radio-play, ‘The Destruction Factor – The Seeds of Creation’ by James Follett. The play, produced in 1978 for the BBC, centres around a new lab-developed plant species developed as a means of eradicating famine in the third world. A story that pre-empts the recent paranoia about genetically modified crops, or so-called frankenstein foods. The plant has the lethal side-effect of generating excess oxygen resulting in spontaneous fire incidents, and with its rapid propagation, it’s global spread proves hard to control.