Flowers in the Attic (1987 film)

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Flowers in the Attic
Flowers in the attic poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Tom Jung
Directed by Jeffrey Bloom
Produced by Sy Levin & Thomas Fries
Screenplay by Jeffrey Bloom
Based on Flowers in the Attic by V. C. Andrews
Narrated by Clare Peck
Music by Christopher Young
Cinematography Gil Hubbs
Distributed by New World Pictures
Release dates
20 November 1987
Running time
93 minutes
Country USA
Language English
Box office $15,151,736 (USA)

Flowers in the Attic is a 1987 psychological horror film starring Louise Fletcher, Victoria Tennant, Kristy Swanson, and Jeb Stuart Adams. It is based on the 1979 novel of the same name by V. C. Andrews. Despite the success of the book on which it is based, the movie was poorly received by both critics and fans.[1]

At one point Wes Craven was scheduled to direct the film,[2] and he even completed a screenplay draft. Producers were disturbed by his approach to the incest-laden story, however, and Jeffrey Bloom ended up with writing and directing duties.


After the sudden death of their father, four children — teenagers Chris and Cathy and 5-year-old twins Cory and Carrie — find themselves penniless and forced to travel with their mother Corinne to live with her wealthy parents (whom the children had neither met nor been told about before). Corinne informs her children that there has been tension between herself and her parents for many years, but does not elaborate and simply says they had cut her out of their lives for something she had done of which they disapproved. The children trust her, though Cathy is skeptical as she wonders what happened that caused the rift between her mother and her parents.

Corinne's mother Olivia, a religious fanatic, takes her daughter and her children into her home, though with the harsh condition that the children must be sequestered away in a locked room so that her husband Malcolm (who is dying) will never know of their existence. To that end, the children are shut inside one bedroom of the mansion, only with access to the mansion's attic via a secret stairway. It is on their first day there that the grandmother reveals the shocking truth of what caused Corrine to be disowned years ago: Corinne and her husband were really uncle and niece, making their love incestuous and their children the product of incest. When Corrine finally returns to the children that night, she is forced to show the children that she has been savagely bullwhipped by her mother as a punishment for her incestuous relationship and having children from the union. Corinne admits to the children that she and their father were uncle and niece and her parents were livid by it as they believed Corrine disgraced the family; the children do not say anything but seem to accept it. Corinne tells the children that her parents made it clear that if she had any children by her uncle she would be disinherited, but because her father doesn't know about them she still has a chance to get the money when he dies. She says that their confinement will only be for a short time: her father is deathly ill, and once she is able to convince him to secure her inheritance, they will be free when he dies.

The plot focuses on the children's ordeal as shut-ins and their clashes with the ultra-religious grandmother, who loathes the children due to their incestuous conception. The children struggle to survive, even as their mother's visits quickly taper off. In particular, Olivia becomes obsessed with Chris and Cathy, out of the warped belief that they have become lovers and are repeating the same incestuous acts like Corrine and her husband did. Discovering them sleeping in the same bed one morning, the grandmother smashes Cathy's ballerina music box, given to her by her deceased father. After Olivia later discovers the two innocently talking while Cathy is bathing, she calls them sinners. Chris manages to chase her out, but Olivia later ambushes Cathy in the bedroom, locks Chris in the closet preceding the attic, and hacks off Cathy's hair with a pair of scissors. She then starves them for a week, and Chris is forced to feed Cory his own blood so he doesn't die of starvation.

As time goes on, the children are often sick, especially Cory and Carrie. Chris and Cathy manage to secretly remove the hinges from their locked door on a few occasions to sneak out of their room, and discover that their mother has been living a life of luxury as well as dating a young lawyer, Bart Winslow. She does eventually come to visit them again, and they confront her about not visiting them anymore and leaving them to suffer at the hands of their grandmother. Corinne is very defensive and acts insulted, cries that they are cruel to think that she is deliberately neglecting them or enjoying life while they are locked up, then storms out. Shortly after, Cory becomes deathly ill. The children ask Olivia and Corinne to take Cory to the hospital, which they do, but later Corinne returns to inform them Cory has died. The children are devastated, but not long after they start to suspect that Olivia has been poisoning them when their pet mouse is found dead after eating part of a cookie. Chris researches and concludes that Cory and their mouse were killed via arsenic poisoning, mixed in the sugar on the cookies they are served with breakfast. The remaining siblings decide to leave the attic once and for all.

Chris sneaks out to steal money before they escape and discovers that their mother is planning to marry Bart Winslow at the mansion the next morning. Though upset, he suggests to Cathy they dress in fancy clothes from the attic, and use the wedding as a cover to sneak out of the house. When Olivia secretly enters their bedroom the next day, hoping to catch them once more doing something "evil", Chris takes her by surprise and beats her unconscious with a bedpost. As they are leaving, Cathy was not going to allow her mother to get the money after what she did to them and wanted to reveal themselves to their grandfather so Corrine would disinherited as revenge (they had come across him sleeping in his room once before while out and investigating their mother's absence). However, when they enter his room, they find it empty, with the bed dismantled: their grandfather has been dead for months. They also find a copy of his will, which reveals a clause which states that if it is ever revealed Corinne had children from her first marriage, even after her father's death, she will be disinherited and lose all of her money. They realize that Corinne was the one poisoning the cookies, not their grandmother and their mother was trying to kill them all so no one would know of their existence and secure her inheritance.

The children crash the wedding ceremony and expose their mother to the guests and the groom; Corinne refuses to acknowledge the children as her own, then Chris shows everyone the dead mouse that was killed from eating the same cookies Cory ate that their mother made for them. Cathy demands to know why her mother did such horrible things to the children. Cathy offers her an arsenic-coated cookie as a wedding present, and in fury tries to force her mother to eat it, chasing her out to a balcony. After a brief struggle, Corinne falls and dies when her veil is caught on a trellis, strangling her to death. Afterward, the children leave the mansion as their grandmother looks on with scorn; the narrator (an older Cathy's voiceover) explains that the children did manage to survive all by themselves although Carrie was "never truly healthy". She wonders aloud if her grandmother is still alive, anticipating Cathy's eventual return to claim the family's fortune.




V. C. Andrews herself demanded and, eventually, got script approval when she sold the film rights to producers Thomas Fries and Sy Levin. She turned down five scripts (the violent and graphic screenplay by Wes Craven[3] was rejected by the producers, though), before choosing the script by Jeffrey Bloom, who would also direct. Obviously, Bloom's script was the one that was the closest to the novel, but, as he did not have full control over the matter of the film, the numerous producers and the two studios forcefully made changes in the script, thus stripping from it many plot points and themes of the novel, including the incestuous relationship between the oldest siblings. Bloom said there was a lot of conflict in production but could do nothing to talk the producers out of the many drastic changes made in the script.

Originally, Bloom wanted David Shire to score the film, but Christopher Young was chosen by the producers instead.[4]


Veteran actresses Louise Fletcher and Victoria Tennant were cast as the Grandmother and Mother, respectively, while the four children were played by newcomers Kristy Swanson, Jeb Stuart Adams, Ben Ryan Ganger, and Lindsay Parker. Swanson once claimed when V.C. Andrews met her, she said Swanson was just like she pictured Cathy.

Being a fairly low-budget production, Bloom said, big names were not considered for any role in the film. Jeffrey Bloom had a young Sharon Stone audition for the film, but he could not convince the producers to give her the part of Corrine, the mother.


Louise Fletcher wanted to get deep inside her role, so she called Andrews one night to ask about the motivation of her character in the film. She was also so into the part, that she stayed strictly within the character of the Grandmother all the time, even when she wasn't shooting. "I couldn't let myself think about distractions like what a beautiful day or what are we going to have for lunch?" she said in an interview.

Andrews was also given a cameo as a maid in Foxworth Hall, scrubbing the glass of a window after Chris and Cathy attempt to escape from the rooftop. Anne Patty, present at the filming of Andrews' scene, said that her part is metaphorical. "The writer is a person who wipes the window clean so that the reader can clearly see into the lives of the characters".

Bloom claims that, after the filming was completed, the producers approached him to refilm a new ending, and one of the many ideas was that the siblings accidentally kill Corinne during their escape. Bloom tried to talk them out of it and when he was unable to convince them otherwise, he eventually quit. The new ending, partly inspired by the ending of Wes Craven's own screenplay, was eventually filmed by someone else.

Castle Hill, a Tudor Revival mansion in Ipswich, Massachusetts served as Foxworth Hall and was the main location at which nearly all interior and exterior scenes were filmed. The beginning scene shows the children walking towards the front of the house after being dropped off by the bus. In reality the bus stop is at the end of the rolling green where the lawn ends and the ocean begins. The final scene of the film where Cathy pushes her mother Corrine off of the balcony and her bridal veil gets caught in the trellis, strangling her to death, was filmed at Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, California.


Jeffrey Bloom had no involvement in the final edit of the film, as he had walked off the set, and the new ending was inserted. He also claimed, regarding scenes involving the incest between Chris and Cathy, scenes were indeed cut. According to Bloom, the original ending to his film was like this:

"Briefly, the surviving children interrupt the wedding ceremony and dramatically confront Corrine. All in attendance are horrified by what the children say about how their mother locked them up and poisoned them. The groom is shocked speechless. The grandmother is outraged. The grandfather is there, in his wheelchair, to hear it all. Corrine denies everything, but it doesn't matter; it's too late. The children's story is bolstered by the fact that they look half dead. They leave the wedding, but before leaving the house the grandmother tries to attack them [with a big knife]. They're saved by John Hall, the butler. The grandmother is subdued by him and the children leave."[5]


The film received mostly negative reviews from critics and fans of the book, who both disliked the film's slow pacing, acting and plot changes.

Box office[edit]

The movie debuted at No. 3.[6]

Awards and nominations[edit]

The film's reception by fans of the book and critics was mostly negative, but Kristy Swanson won a Young Artist Award in 1989 for her portrayal of Cathy Dollanganger, while in 1988, Louise Fletcher was nominated for a Saturn Award for her performance as the Grandmother.


According to Kristy Swanson herself, a sequel to the film adaptation based on the novel's sequel, Petals on the Wind, was planned but eventually it never reached production. Once again, Fries Entertainment was going to be producing the sequel and the script was written by Mark David Perry.[7] The film would be based on the same plotline of the sequel novel, with the exception of the lack of Corinne Foxworth's character since she was killed off in the original film.

Kristy Swanson agreed to do the part one more time but she was never contacted again about the film after she was sent the script: "I was sent a script of Petals on the Wind and it never took off... I remember running into Louise Fletcher in Santa Barbara about four years ago. She asked me if I had gotten the Petals on the Wind script, which I had, and she wanted to know if I had read it. I told her I had and that they had called me about it. I was interested but then I didn't hear from them anymore. And apparently the same thing happened with her. It's like they wanted to do it but they couldn't get it off the ground... When I read the script, I wasn't too thrilled with it. I know Cathy goes through a lot in the next book, and the script was a real "sexfest." She gets pregnant and has so many affairs. There's her brother, Christopher, and then she has an affair with Julian, the dancer, and there's Paul, the doctor. I was actually kind of wondering if I should even do a sequel, you know? I just didn't know if it should be done."[8]

Other adaptations[edit]

Another adaptation of Flowers in the Attic aired on the Lifetime network on January 18, 2014, starring Heather Graham as Corrine, Academy Award-winner Ellen Burstyn as Olivia, and Kiernan Shipka and Mason Dye as Cathy and Christopher.[9] Producer Meredith Finn stated that the remake of the film remained much more true to the book than its predecessor with the controversial incest storyline remaining intact.[10]

A tv movie sequel based on the next book of the series, Petals on the Wind, premiered on the Lifetime network on May 26, 2014[11] Unlike the book, the film jumped ten years ahead from the events of Flowers.[12][13] It starred Rose McIver as Cathy, Wyatt Nash as Christopher, replacing Kiernan Shipka and Mason Dye from the previous movie, respectively, and Will Kemp as Julian Marquet, with Heather Graham as Corrine and Ellen Burstyn as Olivia Foxworth. Production for the film began on February 25, 2014, in Los Angeles.[14]

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