How Lifetime’s Cheesy Flowers in the Attic Stood Up to V.C. Andrews’ Classic

How Lifetime’s Cheesy Flowers in the Attic Stood Up to V.C. Andrews’ Classic

It’s our fault: We expected too much of the Lifetime movie of V.C. Andrews’ creepy Gothic horror classic Flowers in the Attic. Unlike past Lifetime movies—including my favorite, Drew Peterson: Untouchable, starring Rob Lowe—which appeared to have more thought put into them, this adaptation seemed hastily put together. The classic wasn’t going anywhere; they could have afforded to make it creepier and (I never thought I’d say this) amp up the incest factor.

Source: Stephanie Feagan

YA author John Green had probably the best reaction of anyone in the book world:

And yet, the movie was so bad that it made for a fun viewing experience. Here are the highlights and where the new Flowers in the Attic could have done well to pay closer attention to its source material.

The dark atmosphere

I have to agree with Flavorwire that the adaptation lacked “the book’s curiously dank atmosphere.” Aside from the claustrophobia—which comes into play later—of living in the upstairs room and attic, you didn’t really get the sense that the children’s quarters were a prison. And, as Huffington Post points out, there wasn’t enough contrast with the opulence of Foxworth Hall for you to get a sense of what the kids were missing out on (aside from, you know, fresh air and sunshine).

Creepy family dynamics

Lifetime’s big selling point was that this movie would have 100% more incest than the 1987 version, and they certainly lay that groundwork early, what with Cathy’s dad giving her a promise ring (um) and Corinne kissing her son on the lips.

Source: Crushable

Even before they move to Foxworth Hall, Cathy and Chris seamlessly shift into parental roles, taking care of the twins. They’re a creepy, golden-haired family. Which brings us to…

Corinne

Heather Graham’s wooden acting was the most hilarious part of this movie, but then again, Corinne is never presented as a sympathetic character. As my roommate pointed out, Graham is best in ditzy roles like in Austin Powers and The Hangover. Attempting gravitas translated to her blankly reciting to Cathy, “Look at me, I’m an ornament. The only thing I was ever good at was being pretty” and “You’re lucky, you have a dad who thought you were special.”

Source: Tumblr/Vogue Weekend

The grandmother

Ellen Burstyn was such inspired casting as religious, hell-hath-no-fury Grandmother Olivia—but even she fell short of our expectations. She was creepiest in her most fervent moments, where she’d lurk in the doorway trying to catch Chris and Cathy feeling each other up.

On the flipside, when she brought them “real flowers for your fake garden,” you couldn’t help but get a little bit choked up. As Corinne withdrew into her materialistic life and became more ruthless in hiding—and getting rid of—her illegitimate children, the grandmother became slightly more sympathetic. Still, this performance was nowhere near as nuanced as Burstyn’s work in Requiem for a Dream or even Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.

Source: Comic Book Movie

The incest

How Flowers in the Attic handled the book’s incest was another example of the trailer being better than the movie. When we got our first look at the film, with Cathy whispering, “You think I’m pretty?” while a haunting cover of “Sweet Child of Mine” plays, it was wonderfully shiver-inducing. But, while they set up the inevitable brother/sister romance with plenty of creepy foreshadowing, when it got down to it, things were pretty tame.

Source: Tumblr/The Daily Dot

But especially problematic was that what we did see was presented as entirely consensual. The book, by contrast, contains a rather harrowing rape scene where a desperate Chris forces himself on Cathy. Sure, it’s Lifetime, and they can only go so far, but for us to get the typical “kiss and fade to black” kind of scene completely misrepresents what happens between Cathy and Chris.

Source: Hollywood.com

Cathy FTW

Go, Cathy! You slap your mom and try to whip your grandmother! After all this, you’ve earned it.

Source: Photobucket

Anticlimactic ending

To be fair, it’s pretty underwhelming in the book, when the kids discover that Corinne and her new husband have up and left Foxworth Hall. That’s the straw that finally inspires Cathy and Chris to take Carrie and run. So, Cathy getting the chance to slap Corinne was cathartic for all of us. And shortly after, in the only truly scary part of the movie, the grandmother tries to chase them up to the attic, only for the kids to lock her in the dark stairwell where she stands, paralyzed. For Ellen Burstyn to be taken down by a bout of claustrophobia, after all this, is the kind of ridiculous detail Lifetime movies are known for.

Sources: Uproxx, Stephanie Feagan

Then, aside from some expository voiceover about escaping, it’s all over. Probably because Lifetime has already greenlit the sequel, Petals in the Wind. But I’m not sure I’d be willing to watch it.

What did you think of Flowers in the Attic?

Natalie Zutter
Seeing as Natalie spent her childhood reading Star Wars and Tamora Pierce novels, she’s used to being the token geek at anything from celebrity websites to book websites. (Though she’s also a recent romance convert!) A graduate of NYU's Gallatin School of Individualized Study, she stages plays about superheroes, sex robots, and Internet fandom in her spare time. As a pop culture blogger, she has written for Tor.com, Crushable, Quirk Books, BlackBook, and other outlets.

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