Unless you’ve been too busy raising barns and churning butter or whatnot, you’ve been subjected to the relentless advertising blitzkrieg for THE RUINS, which opens wide tomorrow (April 4). The commercials have been cagey. Is THE RUINS about ghosts? Zombies? Plague? A zombie ghost plague, mebbeh? No, my friends, nothing so pedestrian. THE RUINS is the 21st century’s first man-eating plant movie.
Gay, you say? Fiddlesticks, says I! This tickles me pink.
THE RUINS is based on the best selling novel by Scott Smith (A SIMPLE PLAN) that was released late in 2006. When a friend broke this unrelentingly gory tale down for me, I immediately commented that it was a movie waiting to happen. As fate would have it, it had already been bought by Ben Stiller’s production company – which to me is almost, but not quite, as weird as Mel Brooks producing the remake of THE FLY (1986). Comedians doing horror – who knew? Of course, Brooks tapped David Cronenberg to helm his project, while Stiller gave THE RUINS to a guy that’s done some Tommy Hilfiger commercials. Smooth, Ben. I’ve got three words for your prowess as a producer: STARSKY & HUTCH.
The commercials have purposefully obscured the botanical menace, the studios assuming that these days they need to trick audiences into seeing any horror movie that isn’t a remake of a Japanese one. Long, exasperated sigh. That’s exactly the mistake Hollywood Pictures made with PRIMEVAL (2007), a passable giant crocodile movie that was advertised as if it were the Burundi Chainsaw Massacre. Despite this sort of fumbling parentage that is almost always a smokescreen for a slack-jawed, flipper-fisted banjo boy of a film, I’m excited to see THE RUINS. Why? Because man-eating plants and other samples of mean greenery are one of the most under-harvested monster genres of all time - and in these days of This of The Living Dead and That of The Living Dead, some monstrous mulch is exactly the kind of fresh move that renews my faith in the Hollywood machine. I love violent vegetation, with its long and varied pedigree in cinema; some of which ranks among my favorite ways to kill two popcorn infused hours. Who could ever forget what that possessed tree did to that little boy in POLTERGEIST? Or what that other ever-so-randy possessed tree did to Ash’s girlfriend in EVIL DEAD? You can’t shoot them in the head or stake them through the heart, so unless you’re sporting a backpack full of RoundUp these roots of all evil can prove especially menacing. Here are a few of my faves.
THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)
Seventy years old and still one of the greatest movies of all time – but an evil plant movie? Oh hell yeah. If you don’t think those thuggish apple trees were the catalyst for decades of wet beds then you just aren’t paying attention.
THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951):
The guy from GUNSMOKE plays a murderous space carrot.
What? That’s not enough for you?
FROM HELL IT CAME (1957):
Most unsettled souls come back as ghosts or zombies, but in this utter turdfest the spirit of vengeance is the Tabanga, a murderous stump that grows from the grave of a slain native prince. Goofy and unwieldy, Tabanga is a guilty pleasure for those of you clever enough to provide your own MST3K dialogue.
INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956, 1978, but not 2007)
Required viewing for the culturally literate, this classic sci-fi tale of paranoia put phrases like “pod people” into the common vernacular. Even the 1978 remake, which is heavy on the Invasion’s vegetative origins, is solid, spooky and memorable – especially when the pod people start shrieking. The end of that movie is as bleek as it is awesome.
DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS (1962, and a 1981 BBC mini-series)
What’s worse than waking up and finding the entire planet overrun by man-eating sunflowers? Well, probably waking up and discovering you’re blind, too. No fair! TRIFFIDS is classic, must-see sci-fi that’s been on the big screen remake block several times: every time preproduction is scrapped, I die a little inside.
MATANGO aka ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE (1963)
Those Asians – they’ll make a horror movie about anything! Wigs, videocassettes, dim sum – they don’t care. But mushrooms? When I was nine this movie gave me nightmares for a month. Now, the bizarre ghost laughter that echoes through the mist-covered mushroom forest is still enough to give me a hospital-grade case of the heebie-jeebies.
ISLAND OF THE DOOMED aka THE MANEATER OF HYDRA (1967):
A seldom seen French fright flick starring Cameron Mitchell as a mad doctor that’s grown a magnolia tree with a taste for blood. The suspense is not palpable enough to justify saving the monster for the end of the film, but it’s weird enough to get a thumb up from me.
THE FREAKMAKER aka THE MUTATIONS (1974)
This is pure ‘grindhouse meets greenhouse’ as Dr. Loomis turns Dr. Who into a half-man, half-Venus flytrap in this British bit of weirdness. You really have to give it to them for thinking outside the box on this one.
LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1986)
Lovingly wrapped as a musical comedy, LSOH is a tale of murder, sadism, greed and alien invasion set to a bouncy 50’s beat. I positively gush at this film. Gush, I say!! Arguably the king of the plant monsters, the sinister and insatiable Audrey II ranks right up there with Gollum and Freddy Kreuger as a true scene-stealer. If you are lucky enough to get your hands on one of the original, recalled DVDs, you can see the rough cut of the alternate ending, where Audrey II kills Seymour and Audrey and then rampages through New York, Kong style. Thanks for denying us a better ending, David Geffen and your spineless focus group! You are cordially invited to kiss my daisy-white ass.
GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE (1989)
What do you get when a mad scientist crosses a rose bush and some Godzilla cells in order to resurrect his dead daughter? A lot of confused round eyes, for one. I mean seriously, I wouldn’t think there was enough sake in the world to come up with that shit. Still, with his acid spitting crocodile head and his toothy tentacles, Biollante is one of the coolest looking monsters to ever get his ass kicked by Godzilla.
(You might note that Audrey II, the Triffids, the Body Snatchers and the Thing (as well as the monsters from INVASION OF THE STAR CREATURES, THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT, the hilarious THE GREEN SLIME and numerous episodes of THE OUTER LIMITS and DOCTOR WHO) are all outer space monsters. Even Biollante drifted off into space at the end of its movie. Evil plants and outer space seem to go together like schoolgirls and duct tape. I have no conclusion about that. I just found it an odd coincidence.)
So there you have it – a cinematic salad bar of sociopathic shrubbery! What better way to celebrate Arbor Day than to pop a couple of these into the ol’ DVD player?
Besides planting a tree I mean.