Flowers in the Attic (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Arrow Video
Review written by and copyright: Paul Lewis (11th March 2018).
The Film

Flowers in the Attic (Jeffrey Bloom, 1987)

The Dollanganger children – aspiring ballet dancer Cathy (Kristy Swanson), wannabe doctor Chris (Jeb Stuart Adams), young twins Cory (Ben Ryan Ganger) and Carrie (Lindsay Parker) – dote over their father (Marshall Colt). This is especially true of Cathy, who is her father’s favourite child.

The Dollangangers’ father is often away on business; on one such occasion, the Dollanganger children and their mother, Corrine (Victoria Tennant), prepare for their father’s 36th birthday, but their planned celebration is shattered when the police arrive at the Dollangangers’ door, informing Corrine that her husband has been killed in a road accident.

Following her husband’s death, Corrine quickly finds that money begins to run out. The house is repossessed. She flees with her children to Foxworth Hall, the home of her mother (Louise Fletcher), ailing father (Nathan Davis) and sinister butler John Hall (Alex Koba). Corrine’s father is on his last legs, and Corrine hopes to reconnect with her parents – from whom she has been estranged – in order to ensure her place in his will.

Upon arrival at Foxworth Hall, the children find themselves locked in an upstairs room with bars on the windows. They have access to the attic and spend many hours up there, their food being passed to them by their grandmother and visits being made by Corrine. Eventually, they are told the reason for their mother’s exile from her family: Corrine’s husband was her uncle, and the children are the product of an incestuous relationship. Corrine’s father, it seems, isn’t aware of the children’s existence, and if Corrine is to win his favour and work her way into his will, he must not be made cognisant of the fact that Corrine and her uncle-husband had any children.

Grandmother forbids Cory and Carrie from sharing a bed and becomes incensed when she finds Cathy and Chris sleeping together. Corrine’s visits to the children become more and more infrequent and their grandmother begins to neglect their meals. Chris and Cathy make unsuccessful attempts to escape from their new prison. Meanwhile, grandmother poisons some of the children’s food with arsenic, resulting in the slow deterioration and eventual death of young Cory.

Away from the children, Corrine becomes involved romantically with her father’s lawyer, Bart Winslow (Leonard Mann). Her parents wish for Corrine to marry Winslow, and Corrine seems happy to do this. Corrine is set to inherit her father’s fortune, but one proviso remains: it must never be known that Corrine had children by her first husband. The children are left to die in their attic room so as to ensure their mother’s wealth and prevent embarrassment to the family.

Based on Virginia Andrews’ hugely popular 1979 novel of the same title, the first of the five Dollanganger novels written by Andrews (and Andrew Neiderman, who completed the final novel in the series after Andrews’ death in 1986), Jeffrey Bloom’s Flowers in the Attic has recently been remade (in 2014, by Deborah Chow).

Despite (or, more to the point, because of) its taboo subject matter, Andrews’ novel was a right-of-passage for many young women during the 1980s, with the novel being passed furtively around playgrounds alongside paperbacks by the likes of Shaun Hutson and Richard Laymon. Andrews’ book, a Gothic romance with a theme of incest which is hugely toned down in this film adaptation, was favoured by teenage girls, whereas boys tended to go for the Hutson and Laymon paperbacks. Both, however, offered stories of sadism and sex that appealed to those on the cusp of maturity and adulthood.

Bloom’s film adaptation of Andrews’ novel, however, is comparatively chaste, toning down the suggestions of incest between Christopher and Cathy and completely eliminating the more outrageous material (eg, the scene in which Cathy discovers Christopher measuring his penis, and the later moment in which Christopher rapes Cathy after she kisses their mother’s new husband). At one point, after the success of A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Wes Craven was attached to direct the big screen adaptation of Andrews’ novel and wrote a script for the project that was much more graphic than the finished film. However, the producers rejected Craven’s script and he refused to continue with the project. Bloom’s script was also reputedly more in keeping with the source material, though the more contentious content was excised by the producers before production began. The producers also concocted a new ending in post-production, at which point Bloom walked away from the film, forgoing any involvement in the final edit of the picture, as did Victoria Tennant; the new ending was shot with Tennant’s stunt double playing Corrine.

For the most part, the film is focalised through Cathy, the story presented largely from her perspective, though there are some scenes which take us away from the children and offer the perspective of their mother: for example, when Corrine is taken by her mother to the bedroom of her ailing father, where he commands her to lower her blouse so that Corrine’s mother may whip her in punishment for her transgressions. As the film starts, Cathy’s perspective on events is consolidated by a moment of voiceover narration by the character (delivered by Clare Peck rather than Kristy Swanson): ‘Grandmother’s house’, she intones over a long shot of the Foxworth estate, ‘Though it’s been many years since I last saw it, I’ll always remember that even my first impression was one of fear and wonder. My childhood was soon to be lost, my innocence shattered, and all our dreams destroyed by what we would find within’.

The children are alternately pitiful and arrogant, and when they arrive at Foxworth Hall and speak sharply to both their mother and grandmother (or ‘the grandmother’, as they call her), the viewer might be forgiven for perhaps identifying to some extent with their grandmother when she criticises their manners (‘You will abide by my rules’, she tells the children, ‘You will not yell or cry or run about’). On their journey to Foxworth Hall, Cathy bitterly (petulantly?) complains that the children should have been given a pet when they were younger: ‘If we’d had a pet that had died, we would have learnt something about that’. ‘About what?’, Chris asks her, ‘Death?’ ‘Yes, death. Death!’, she spits, ‘She should have told us. Somebody should have told us fathers die too [….] Even if they’re young and handsome and we need them’. The twins, in particular, come across in this film adaptation as entitled brats, though the slow poisoning of Cory is difficult to watch; as a parent, the sequence in which the young boy submits to the poison that his grandmother has placed on his food – before being taken away by Corrine and ‘the grandmother’ to a certain death and burial in a shallow grave on the estate – has a sense of punctum that pierces despite how outrageously camp most of the film is.

Throughout much of the picture, Cathy dotes over the musical ballerina statue that her father gives her in the film’s opening sequence. The statue becomes a symbol of the outside world, a metaphor for Cathy’s dream of becoming a dancer. The scene in which her father gives it to her seems innocent enough, though in retrospect – given the later revelations that the children are products of incest and the suggestions of incestuous desire between Chris and Cathy – it has a more than slightly sleazy air, her father’s gaze being held just a little too long and her assertions in the voiceover narration (‘He loved us all, but dad never let me forget I was his favourite’) possessing subtly unsettling connotations. When ‘the grandmother’ breaks the ballerina statue, the gesture is an affront to Cathy’s memories of her father and represents the shattering of Cathy’s dreams of becoming a dancer.

Given the taboo nature of her marriage and the stern disapproval with which it was met by her parents, Corrine’s decision to return to Foxworth Hall following the death of her husband – as opposed to, say, getting a job and trying to support her family that way – is the first not-so-subtle indication of her grasping nature. Her gradual abandonment of her children and their eventual realisation that she has left them in the attic to die, simply so that she may inherit her father’s estate, is – like the death of Cory – an aspect of the story that has a strong emotional impact despite the high camp elsewhere in the film.

Andrews’ novel was already exaggerated to a bizarre degree, but despite such outrageous source material Bloom’s film is strangely chaste and its histrionic approach to the material aligns it with such camp classics as Mommie Dearest (Frank Perry, 1981). Emphasising its camp qualities, Bloom’s film adaptation of Flowers in the Attic retains the flowery dialogue of Andrews’ novel; though on the page, the verbosity of Andrews’ characters’ speech aligns the book with the Gothic novels of the Victorian age, in Bloom’s film the dialogue simply becomes a mouthful for the actors: ‘Your mother’s marriage was unholy’, the grandmother tells the children, ‘a sacrilege, an abomination in the eyes of the Lord. She did not fall from grace: she leapt into the arms of a man whose veins pulsed with the same blood as hers. Not into the arms of a stranger, but her own uncle. And you, the children, are the Devil’s spawn’. Later, she reminds the children that ‘I will give you food and shelter but never kindness or love. For it is impossible to feel anything but disgust for that which is not wholesome’. The audience may very well feel the same way about Bloom’s film that ‘the grandmother’ feels about the children; on the other hand, they may feel a certain ironic affiliation for the material, a response which explains the cult-ish following that the film has experienced in the years since its original release.


Flowers in the Attic was reputedly trimmed before its theatrical release in order to avoid an ‘R’ rating from the MPAA. The version that’s presented here is the theatrical cut (the rough cut/workprint has never surfaced in its entirety, as far as this writer knows) without any further cuts and a runtime of 91:53 mins.

The 1080p presentation uses the AVC codec and is presented in 1080p. The film takes up 26.1Gb of space on its Blu-ray disc. The 35mm colour photography has an organic, filmlike presentation on this Blu-ray disc. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Some of the compositions look very tight along the vertical axis, resulting in some awkward framing from time to time. (For example, take a look at the large screengrabs at the bottom of this review – click them to enlarge – and examine the last screengrab in the sequence.) This may be a characteristic of the original photography rather than a ‘flaw’ in this presentation.

Colours are naturalistic and consistent. The photography uses a lot of soft focus and diffused lighting, presumably intended to give the film a ‘dreamy’/ethereal aesthetic, but which results in a picture that often looks quite ‘flat’ and television production-like. Contrast levels in this presentation are nicely balanced, with good, defined midtones and even highlights but shadows that are sometimes ‘crushed’ in terms of detail whilst simultaneously appearing more gray than black. This, combined with the coarse texture of the picture (especially given its vintage), suggests a positive source. Damage is limited to a few white flecks and specks here and there. It’s a solid, organic presentation of the picture, though it’s not a ‘showy’ presentation by any stretch of the imagination.


Audio is presented via a LPCM 2.0 stereo track. This track is clean and clear throughout, dialogue always audible. Optional English subtitles for the Hard of Hearing are included. These are easy to read, accurate in transcribing the dialogue and error-free.


The disc includes:
- An audio commentary by critic Kat Ellinger. Ellinger is clearly a fan of the book and film, and she reflects on the picture’s place within the horror genre during the 1980s. Ellinger also discusses Andrews’ book and its place within the sub/genre of American Gothic fiction.

- ‘Home Sweet Home’ (8:26). Frank Byers, the film’s cinematographer, discusses his work on the picture. The production’s original cinematographer had to leave the picture owing to ‘a union problem’, and Byers was promoted from camera operator to cinematographer. Byers says that Bloom wanted a very mobile camera, and this was ‘a very smart thing to do’.

- ‘Fear & Wonder’ (13:45). Production designer John Muto talks about the problems facing the production and discusses the designing and building of the attic set in a great amount of detail.

- ‘The Devil’s Spawn’ (13:41). Jeb Stuart Adams, who plays Chris in the film, reflects on his role and his work with the other actors, revealing that Victoria Tennant hated Adams calling her ‘mother’ on set.

- ‘Innocense [sic] Shattered’ (9:33). Composer Christopher Young talks about his score for the film, with its music box chimes leading way to sweeping orchestral stylings. (In retrospect, there are some striking similarities between Young’s score for this picture and his music for the first two Hellraiser films.) The original temp tracks were too ‘heavy’ and ‘horrific’, leading to bad responses from preview audiences; Young’s brief was to write a score that wasn’t too ‘heavy’ but was also not too ‘light’. Inspired by Elmer Bernstein’s score for To Kill a Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan, 1962), Young made the decision to make the score ‘speak for the eldest daughter’.

- Original Ending (7:53). This original ending is taken from a Betamax cassette-sourced workprint copy of the picture and is in bad shape but nevertheless offers an interesting idea as to the direction in which Bloom intended to take the final moments of the film prior to the director walking away from the picture during the post-production phase. It’s a more action-oriented and, arguably, dramatically successful ending to the denouement featured in the final cut of the film.

- Revised Ending with Commentary. The ending of the theatrically released version of the film is presented with accompanying audio from an archival interview with Tony Kayden, who wrote and directed the film’s final ending after Bloom left the picture. Kayden’s comments give an insight into his approach to the material and his intentions with the ending he shot.

- Production Gallery (4:51). This is a gallery of pre-production sketches and storyboards, and onset photography.

- Trailer (1:37)


Andrews’ novel has a strong Gothic heritage and is essentially a folk tale – a modern retelling of the story of Hansel and Gretel (see Maddrey, 2012: 165) or perhaps Baba Yaga. Corrine becomes the wicked stepmother who is willing to lead the children into the maw of the witch (‘Witches in there, mama! Witches and monsters!’, Carrie says when the children first see Foxworth Hall), and the Foxworth estate is the gingerbread house. The book became a right of passage for many young women during the 1980s, in a manner comparable to earlier salacious novels such as Grace Metalious’ Peyton Place (1956) and Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls (1966) and, of course, later books like E L James’ Fifty Shades of Grey (2012). The sense of transgression has what is perhaps an essential appeal to the adolescent mind, these stories both breaking and reinforcing taboos in a manner which seems challenging/liberating (depending on the position one takes) but is arguably ultimately repressive. Bloom’s adaptation of Andrews’ book is strangely chaste whilst hinting at themes of incest and abuse – a product of the clash between the material and the producers’ demands that the film be PG-13 friendly. Ironically, it’s also too slavish in places, filling its actors’ mouths with Andrews’ purple prose in a manner that probably inspires more laughter than terror. The result is a film that is high-camp and has a strong following because of that.

Arrow’s presentation of the film is solid and film-like, especially within the limitations of the original source material (diffused light, soft focus photography). Some of the compositions appear very tight (click on the large screengrabs at the bottom of this review) though this may be a feature of the original photography. The film is accompanied by some very pleasing contextual material. (The alternate ending is a revelation, in particular.)

Maddrey, Joseph, 2012: Nightmares in Red, White and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film. London: McFarland & Co

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