Next Saturday night? January 18? No, we can’t go out that night. Uh . . . no reason. We have friends in town. No, you probably shouldn’t meet up with us. We’ll call you Sunday. Or Monday. Or uhh, whenever Lifetime is done premiering the new “Flowers in the Attic” movie.
Like “Fifty Shades of Grey” if it was set in the 50s and everyone talked like it was the 70s, “Flowers in the Attic” is a book that every girl furtively read(s). Before the days of cable TV, it gave us tween girls some forbidden . . . and oh boy oh boy oh boy are they ever FORBIDDEN . . . insights into sex, puberty, and being a ballerina. Judy Blume was bland and vanilla compared to “Flowers” author V.C. Andrews. We hid copies under our pillows, buried them deep in our backpacks, denied reading them, and immediately read all her other books,[ref]
- Flowers in the Attic (1979)
- Petals on the Wind (1980)
- If There Be Thorns (1981)
- Seeds of Yesterday (1984)
- Garden of Shadows (1986)
- And about a billion other five-part series about romantically confused tweens named Casteel and Heavenstone and Brokenwings. No, really.[/ref] hoping the librarian wouldn’t tell our parents. And now we’re getting a Lifetime movie version of it. With Kiernan “Sally Freaking Draper” Shipka.
Why are we ladies so obsessed with “Flowers in the Attic?” We’re drawn to it with the same grotesque fascination that might draw you toward a McRib burrito topped with fries and cole slaw and boobs. The difference is that we will probably end up with a feeling of regret and disappointment if this Lifetime movie isn’t up to expectations.
Even though she may not admit to it, the lady you’re talking with is probably looking forward to the new “Flowers in the Attic” movie. Why don’t you impress her by knowing your way around V.C. Andrews’s most popular novel, or at least understanding it a little better, before the movie horrifies you too much to talk about it publicly? Tread lightly though, bros – things are gonna get rull creepy rurl quick.
A Bro’s Guide to “Flowers in the Attic”
“Flowers in the Attic” was written in 1979 by Cleo Virginia Andrews.[ref]I don’t understand how Cleo Virginia became V. C. either[/ref] It was her first published novel. Here’s the 411.
The Dollangangers are the blondest, most Aryan family ever, who all have names starting with C: father Christopher; mother Corrine; 14-year-old Chris Jr.; 12-year-old Cathy; and four-year-old twins Cory and Carrie. They are set to celebrate Mr. Dollanganger’s 36th birthday (!!!) when the police come to the door instead of daddy. Seems Daddy died, and left his four children and young wife absolutely penniless. Corrine is forced to go begging back to her family for support, and the Grandmother (yes, capital G) agrees to take the family in under the condition that the children are locked up in the attic so that the grandfather never lays eyes on them. It seems Corrine has fallen out of favor with her family because, turns out, she ran off and married her Uncle Christopher.[ref]FORESHADOWING Y’ALL[/ref]
So the children set up shop in the attic. FOR THE NEXT THREE YEARS. During those three years, Bible-thumping Grandmother opts for a few different methods of torturing the children (who, keep in mind, are locked in the attic for the entirety of this period). She whips Cathy in front of the other children; she drugs Cathy, too. When she discovers Chris and Cathy in the bathroom at the same time, she pours hot tar into her hair; she eventually, uncharacteristically kindly serves the children doughnuts every morning that are covered in powdered sugar. Every day those kids look forward to those damned doughnuts that certainly aren’t powdered with arsenic.
Finally, she straight-up starves the children. As time goes on, the twins, who are already tiny and weak and just not growing because they ARE TRAPPED IN AN ATTIC AND BEING SLOWLY POISONED WITH ARSENIC, start to really suffer. Corrine hesitates to take little Cory out of the attic and to the hospital. Cathy eventually screams at her until she does . . . but not in time.
Abuse and starvation notwithstanding, it’s not all misery in the house before Cory leaves and never comes back – the older siblings make a paper garden in the attic for the twins (hence the name of the book) and that’s where Cathy practices ballet while Chris studies to be a doctor completely from books. The only practical experience Chris gets though, is when he has to feed a starving Cory his own blood.
Occasionally, Corrine also lets her children sneak down into main house to spy on fancy parties held in her honor. They discover through these covert operations that she has . . . are you kidding . . . remarried? When Cathy (being a tween girl unable to help herself) kisses her sleeping stepfather, Chris FREAKS THE FUCK OUT. Declaring that Cathy is his and he’ll make sure she’s only his, he drags her back to the dirty mattress in the attic and rapes her.
It’s totally “OK”[ref]RAPE IS NEVER OKAY[/ref] though, because she could not deny that Chris is her true love (oh boy forbidden) and thus heads down a road of repeating her mother’s sins. Still, this is more “Game of Thrones” incest than “Downton Abbey” not-so-bad incest.
Umm. So. After the death of Cory, the visits from Corrine stop. Cathy and Chris who are TOTALLY COOL WITH EACH OTHER EVEN THOUGH HE RAPED HER sneak downstairs to investigate, and discover the grandfather they have been hiding from has been dead for months, and Corrine and her new husband have moved out and are on a trip around the world. They make peace with the fact that have been left to starve in the attic by their Grandmother.
Even worse, they also find out it’s their mother who has been sprinkling the arsenic on the doughnuts (!!!) not the evil Grandmother. Yes, their mother has been trying to kill them, because she would be ineligible to inherit her father’s fortune if any proof of children from her unholy union with her uncle was revealed. Cathy and Chris decide all they can do is leave, so they collect Carrie and peace out. Cathy vows revenge. The end. Four more books.
How can you use this information?
Impress your friends: V.C. Andrews died in 1986. She pumped out a novel every year of her life between “Flowers in the Attic” and her death – and continued to do so thanks to a ghost writer after her death. Six novels were written solely by V.C. Andrews – to date, however, 74 novels are credited to her name.
Lady boner points (which is super creepy for me to say in this context, I know): V.C. Andrews’ relatives also claim “Flowers in the Attic” is based on a true story – that she developed a crush on a doctor who claimed his family was locked in an attic for six years to protect the family inheritance.
Super lady boner points: V.C. Andrews was in a wheelchair or on crutches due to a back injury that resulted in severe arthritis. She lived with her mother as a companion. “Flowers in the Attic” is dedicated to her mother. Make of that what you will.
Impress your friends: The first movie version of “Flowers in the Attic” was a major theatrical release in 1987. It starred Kristy Swanson (pre-Buffy), Louise Fletcher (post-Nurse Ratchet), and Victoria Tennant (post-wedding to Steve Martin). It made $5 million and came in third at the box office in its opening week. It has been universally panned and here’s why.
Lady boner points: V.C. Andrews sold off rights to the book but said she had final approval over the script. She died before the final script was approved. Wes Craven was the first director/writer attached to the movie, but his first pass at the script was promptly rejected as way too graphic. Jeffrey Bloom was hired on to write the new script and direct. The producers read his script and took out all the sex and most of the incest – yes, the reason everyone bought the book was edited out of the movie. Bloom apparently was so fed up with the changes made to the movie that he walked off the set and refused to film the final scene – which ironically, was a holdover from the Craven script.
Super lady boner points: The Lifetime movie promises to be closer to the novel than the 1987 movie version. It also has Ellen Freaking Burystn as the Grandmother.
Impress your friends: Speculate as to why women are so into this twisted tale.
Lady boner points: Feel free to share my theory that women of a certain age see “Flowers in the Attic” the way a lot of men see “Fight Club” – it’s disturbing and gritty and messy, but it is an accessible way for us to see things that aren’t often addressed for us growing up. And just like you aren’t going around beating the shit out of other dudes in basements, we aren’t locking anyone in the attic or banging our brothers. We can both relate though, to the feeling of helplessness and rage that stems from these metaphorical scenarios. Luckily, we have outgrown that crazy pubescent tornado of emotions but we both probably still fondly remember the stories that we could point that tornado at and think “I don’t get the full gravitas of exactly what’s happening here but OMG, IT’S SO HOT.”
Super lady boner points: Don’t watch it with us. Don’t even offer to watch it with us. This is something we have to do alone. Trust us.