Doctors say not to look directly at a solar eclipse, but in Steve Selky’s overgrown plant thriller The Day of the Triffids, it’s a meteor shower that screws up humanity’s delicate corneas. A U.S. naval officer (Howard Keel’s Bill Masen) undergoing eye surgery in Britain misses out on the meteor lightshow of the century, but when he wakes up the next morning and removes his bandages, he discovers that everyone who saw the astrological event is blind. That would be bad enough, but to compound mankind’s problems, the meteors also sprinkled seeds that grow into giant man-eating plants known as Triffids. The Triffids move slower than molasses, and their slithering is accompanied by a sound effect akin to a bong clearing (or the noise made by blowing through a straw into a glass of milk), but people are nonetheless petrified, primarily because they’re blind and can’t see how ridiculous the tree branch-waving creatures actually look.
28 Days Later’s Danny Boyle must have been a fan, since his zombie film replicates Triffids’ finest element – Masen wandering around a deserted, end-of-times London populated only by the occasional sightless fool. For the most part, however, this campy ‘60s sci-fi adventure is decidedly short on awe-inspiring moments. Masen leaves the U.K. and travels to France and Spain, picking up a surrogate daughter and wife along the way; simultaneously, a marine biologist couple holed up in their lighthouse lab on a deserted island off the British coast try to fend off the encroaching monsters. This side-story, one can assume, is included for ironic thematic purposes – they’re in a lighthouse, but no one can see! – and as a means of introducing scientist characters who’ll eventually save the day. What it provides instead are two bickering fish lovers (one’s a drunk, the other’s a nag) who, in all their unbearable glory, almost make Masen and his new clan’s dull, episodic cross-country trek seem like Lawrence of Arabia.
Masen’s use of an electric fence to repel the horde of Triffids, as well as a showstopping cinematic aside involving an airborne plane piloted by, and carrying nothing but, blind people, have an apocalyptic liveliness, but unlike its ‘50s and ‘60s counterparts, there’s no social commentary lurking beneath this fantastical façade. The Day of the Triffids was based on a novel by famed British author John Wyndham (whose "The Midwich Cuckoos" was turned into The Village of the Damned), but his original story's apparent analysis of man’s bestiality has been wholly jettisoned in favor of quaint set pieces like the one in which Masen’s car gets stuck in the mud while hungry Triffids approach. Even worse, Wyndham’s original, pessimistic ending has been replaced by an 11th-hour cure for the Triffid plague that makes next to no sense. I mean, didn’t anyone just have some weed killer handy?