Often maligned adaptation of the classic novel is a brooding Gothic horror drama

V.C. Andrews tawdry Gothic horror novel FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC was an instant hit with readers upon release in 1979, especially teens who thrilled to the taboo aspects of the tale and point of entry narrative of its young leading character, Cathy Dollanganger. So popular – and controversial – was the tome that it spawned a series of sequels, many of which have been penned long after Andrews passed in the mid-1980s.

A film adaptation was tossed around for years but didn’t materialize until 1987, when BLOOD BEACH director Jeffrey Bloom took over the project from Wes Craven. The resulting film soft-balled the explicitly sexual (and faithful to the book) approach Craven had intended to take and was dismissed by hardcore fans as being a neutered impression of a shattering tale. But time has been kind to Bloom’s FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC, and while this writer has never read the book, taken as a stand-alone shock-drama and a dark memoir, it’s a fine, often disturbing and artfully depressing experience. Its central themes of incest and greed and family derangement are still here and if anything, their suggestion, rather than their explicit realizations, make the movie that much more effective, accentuating macabre mood and doom over shocks.

DEADLY FRIEND and BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER star Kristy Swanson stars as Cathy, who tells the tale looking back as adult. When her beloved father is killed, her mom Corrine (Victoria Tennant) whisks Cathy, her brother Chris and their two 5-year old siblings Carrie and Cory to her family estate. There, the long disinherited Corrine intends to win back her father’s love and allows the children’s domineering, monstrous grandmother (Louise Fletcher, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOOS NEST) to lock the kids in a secret bedroom and attic, keeping them a secret from the dying patriarch until Corrine can get back into the will. Almost immediately the children are tortured by their evil Granny and eventually, after months then years, totally forgotten by their mother. The children become prisoners, coming of age and suffering humiliation and tragedy until they devise a plan to escape.

This is lurid, hard-hitting stuff and Bloom treats the material as the grim soap opera it is. And yet Christopher (HELLRAISER) Young’s lush, melancholy orchestral score adds such a sadness and soul to the story that it becomes a hypnotic experience. This is a decent picture, upsetting and elegant in equal measure and never as exploitative as it should be. Arrow Video offers a dose of new extras and interviews with peripheral cast and crew, the interesting alternate ending and a full commentary by their go-to-voice, DIABOLIQUE magazines Kat Ellinger, who works hard to keep her notes on the production and Andrews’ world flowing. The film – naturally – looks great too, with every dark corner of the monstrous Dollanganger mansion revealing high-def danger. And that score…so beautiful. It’s never sounded better.

FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC is an often overlooked and unjustly derided ’80s horror movie that is definitely worth a revisit.