Day of the Triffids (1981)
This was a six part, half-hour length mini-series that the BBC did back in 1981. I had heard very mixed reviews about it when I first learned about it in the mid 80s. People whose opinions I trusted on genre tv shows tended to have fairly positive things to say about it but, some of the tv critics where less than charitable in their reviews at the time. When Amazon UK recently had another one of their “let’s get more money out of Nick” sales, I decided to grab this series as part of the deal.
Overall, I would have to say that my friends where more right than the critics. The story, for those unfamiliar with it, is set in the not too distant future. Actually, this is no longer a correct statement as the Soviet Union still exists in the story so perhaps an alternate history would be a better description these days. Anyway, a Russian scientist shows up with seeds to this strange new plant that he calls a Triffid. The plant is implied to be a mutation, either accidental or intentional, that has a unique side effect of providing an oil that can be used as a substitute for gasoline. He sells these seed to various companies only for these companies to later learn that the seeds have already drifted with the wind from Russia. While the Triffids offer a tremendous new renewable source of combustible fuel, this advantage is somewhat diminished by the Triffid plant being a mobile carnivore that captures its animal meals by means of a deadly stinging “tongue”. This is all introductory material, by the way, so I’m not really spoiling anything. At the time the story begins, there are Triffid farms all over the place as every country seems to be using them to reduce the cost of fossil fuels. Then an astrological event occurs that blinds everyone who sees it. With enough of humanity losing their single most powerful sense in one shot, the Triffids break lose and now become a serious contender to replace us at the top of the food chain. The story follows a survivor named Bill Masen, a Triffid “farmer” who retained his sight because he had his eyes bandaged at the time of the event. The story follows his escape from the hospital, contact with other humans and, ultimately just surviving in a new world where humans are now fighting to maintain their stance as the dominant species on the planet.
This production is pretty clearly a low budget affair but I didn’t feel this really hindered the story in any great way. They do make efforts to write around this. For example, there is one scene where Bill and another character have to go on a mass Triffid killing spree. We only see the end results of the battle but, given the insanely lopsided nature of the engagement (Bill had access to all of his Triffid wrangling equipment) I don’t think the fight would have been all that exciting to watch in the first place. This leads into one of the criticisms that I remember hearing fairly regularly, back in the day, that the Triffids themselves were less than convincing due to their largely immobile nature. I really don’t understand this criticism as that the Triffids totally worked for me. They were creepy as hell and, given that they are plants after all, I wouldn’t expect them to be super mobile to begin with. This is even more the case given the way they are described to hunt and consume their prey. Their is also this noise they make that may or may not be some for of communication that seriously amps up their creepiness factor. The only place where I felt the visual effects fell short was with Bill’s Triffid gun. Imagine a gun that shoots triangular ninja throwing star-like projectiles that cut off the flower and, along with it, the stinger of a Triffid. The projectile is poorly computer animated and I guess the producers were aware of this as the gun is only ever used once in the entire series.
The Day of the Triffids is really more about the human survivors than the plants themselves. With this being the focus of the series, we get to see society rather rapidly fall apart with new “rolls” equally rapidly assigned to the sighted minority by various groups including the remnants of the government and the blind masses themselves. Ultimately, the story is about the construction of a new civilization given the sudden shift in humanities’ competition for the top spot on the food chain. There are a number of alternatives shown with varying degrees of success and along with varying degrees of outrage voiced against them. In the end, Bill and his ever changing team of survivors must navigate their way through this morass while dodging the ever increasing heards of Triffids to decide what works best for them. This journey that is the focus of the story so people looking for more of a straight up monster show may not find the series that entertaining.
I originally was having doubts about reviewing this series given its relative scarcity in the US but, its recent appearance on Hulu made me decide to do so. I strongly recommend watching the series and, as a good follow-up companion piece, episodes 16 and 17 of British Invaders podcast where they cover Day of the Triffids.