Since the beginning, horror stories have bent over backwards to find new things to make you afraid of. A great horror story will tap into a deep-rooted universal fear shared by all members of humanity. We all fear dying or being killed, for instance, so most horror stories feature murders. When skewing more complex, horror stories begin to delve into the minds of the killers themselves, revealing our own fear of becoming like them; there, but for the grace of God, go we.
But when an author needs to bang out a quick cheapie, the universal objects of terror begin to skew into the less threatening. Sure, that one lamp we have in the attic may be a little spooky-looking in the right light, but our “universal” fear of that lamp is a most certainly a weak basis for a film (which happened, by the way, in AMITYVILLE 4: THE EVIL ESCAPES, one of the goofiest horror movies you’ll ever see).
The oddest well of universal fears – and one that bafflingly keeps being visited – is that of plants. Evidently, humanity has an ancient and primal mistrust of the vegetable world, and killer plants are innately terrifying. At least that’s the impression one gets from the number of plant-based horror monsters in the cinematic firmament. If movies are to be believed, being overwhelmed by a giant venus flytrap is a fear we all share. Whether or not that’s actually true, filmmakers have gone back to plant-based monsters with something of a regularity over the years.
Since this is the internet and lists are always fun, we here at Blumhouse have assembled a list of eleven of the more notorious plant-based monsters from movies.
The Swamp Thing
The Swamp Thing was originally conceived for comic books in the early 1970s and was adapted into a watchable – but incredibly cheap – feature film in 1982 by Wes Craven. The comics became increasingly philosophical over the years, and The Swamp Thing – a man-shaped mass of moss and vines – was constantly wrestling with existential dilemmas. SWAMP THING the movie, meanwhile, was a silly monster flick. Its sequel, THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING from 1989 was even sillier. You may love the character, but the movies function better as camp.
Marvel’s Man-Thing is more or less identical to The Swamp Thing, but predates him by a year. The Man-Thing, however, never became as popular as The Swamp Thing and has always been something of a side creep in the Marvel universe. In 2005, Man-Thing was adapted into a feature film by Brett Leonard. The film was meant to be released theatrically, but eventually premiered on the Sci-Fi Channel. It’s a simple, but atmospheric flick with a lot of shadowy swamp photography. It’s better than SWAMP THING, although not as well-remembered.
Famously filmed over only two days, Roger Corman’s 1960 cheapie THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is a complete curio rescued from the doldrums of obscurity by late night TV broadcasts. LITTLE SHOP, about a weakling who comes into the thrall of a talking, man-eating plant named Audrey II (named after the film’s heroine), grew into a cult hit and eventually inspired a stage musical in 1982. The stage musical was, in turn, adapted into a screen musical in 1986, a version that remains a new cult classic unto itself. Few remember the 1990 animated series LITTLE SHOP, a one-season wonder of startling obscurity.
Triffids – as depicted in the actually-pretty-good 1962 monster flick DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS – are mean, man-eating plants that began scarfing down humanity following a plague of blindness. Based on 1951 novel, DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS went on to be adapted for radio on several occasions (in 1957, 1968, and 2001), a secondary film in 1962, and even a recent, oblique anime film called CRAYON SHIN-CHAN: MY MOVING STORY! CACTUS LARGE ATTACK! To this day, Triffids remain the golden standard for attack plants, as they shamble about like proper monsters.
In George A. Romero’s classic 1982 anthology horror film CREEPSHOW – a film written by Stephen King and openly inspired by 1950s horror comics like TALES FROM THE CRYPT – King himself plays a goofy yokel who discovers a fallen meteorite on his property. Touching the meteor infects him in some way, and soon plants begin to sprout from within his body. When he bathes, the plant growths get worse. By the end the segment (called THE LONESOME DEATH OF JORDY VERRILL), King has essentially become a plant. But far from becoming a murderous beastie, he is becomes suicidal in his monstrosity. It’s gut-wrenching in its tragedy.
The Venus Flytraps from CREEPSHOW 2
CREEPSHOW is held in high regard by horror fans, although the quality CREEESHOW 2, from 1987, is often debated. The film is hosted by a Cryptkeeper-like ghoul who appears in animation throughout the film and tells brief interstitial animated stories in between the three live-action segments. In one of the animated host segments, a young boy dispatches with local bullies by feeding them to mail-order venus flytraps. Although the segment is brief, watching it on afternoon TV as a nine-year-old has the effect of branding it on the brain, as it did with this author.
The Killer Tomatoes
A spoof of monster movies, 1978’s ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES has become a cult hit of the highest order. It’s cheap, it’s dumb, and it’s amazingly enjoyable. The story, as intuited by the title, is about killer tomatoes (are they vegetables or fruits?) which rise up in revolt against humans, similar to the birds in THE BIRDS. The film inspired several increasingly silly sequels (in 1988, 1990, and 1991), and RETURN OF THE KILLER TOMATOES! is famously the debut of one George Clooney. There was also a 1990 animated series based on the film. The original is great if you’re high. The sequels are great if you’re eight years old.
The Venus Flytrap from PLEASE DON’T EAT MY MOTHER
Have you ever wanted a sexed-up version of the 1960 version of THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS? Track down this 1973 oddity directed by Carl Monson.
The Vines from THE RUINS
Perhaps the most recent example of cinematic killer plants, THE RUINS is a 2008 ecological horror film about a few Americans who search an ancient lost temple looking for a lost German tourist. Plot complications ensure that they will be trapped out in the jungle, cut off from humanity, where they are to discover a species of creeping predatory vine that eats human flesh. Grossness and screaming ensue.
The 17th canonical Godzilla film was 1989’s GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE, the second in the so-called Heisei era of Godzilla movies. In it, the recently rebooted monster faces off against a creature that is grown from Godzilla DNA after being mixed with, of all things, a bushes of roses. The result is the vine-whipping, spiky, flower-producing Biollante, one of the sillier monsters in the Godzilla canon (a canon, by the way, that also includes a giant lobster, and a monster made of living sewage). Godzilla, of course, makes short work of the monster shrubbery, and the special effects are amazing. But… a rose bush? Really?
Even if you haven’t seen Howard Hawks’ 1951 sci-fi classic THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, you’ve likely seen John Carpenter’s 1982 remake, or perhaps the 2011 the prequel to the remake which may also be a remake of the remake because it has the same title as the remake (ARGH! I HATE REMAKES!). In the original film, however, the monster retrieved from arctic ice is a humanoid that is made up of plant material. Perhaps this detail was added to make the alien seem more alien, but it’s an odd detail that few seem to acknowledge. The Thing was a plant monster.