B-Movie Inspirations: Day of the Triffids (1962)

Rating: NR

Another movie I remember very well from my childhood days of watching way too much TV was the Day of the Triffids.  I will always remember the sounds the Triffids made.  Only recently did I find out (thanks to Wikipedia) that it was based on a 1951 novel  of the same name and there were also several TV series based on it.  However, this movie stands out to me because of certain aspects of it that were not in the book or the TV series.  Some may call it an Americanization of the film while others may write it up to the era of filmmaking, but there are some aspects that I really liked about this movie.

First and foremost, this movie has a strong “zombie apocalypse” feel to it.  However, before you chalk it up to one of those, you should watch it all the way through.  It’s also from 1961, before any kind of zombie-craze hit pop culture.

The movie’s basic premise is that a meteor shower rains down spores on earth, spawning man-eating plant creatures – triffids.  This meteor shower was a great spectacle and many watched it all over the planet.  However, those that watched it found themselves completely blind by morning, thus leaving them completely at the mercy of the growing population of triffids.

This is a brilliant concept, in my view.  Was this by design? Is this some kind of alien bio-weapon? Or is it a natural migration of some alien plant?

The movie follows a guy who is still healing from eye surgery. An obvious influence of 28 Days Later or even The Walking Dead, this guy did not suffer the blinding effects of the meteor shower.  He awakens to a world thrown into chaos and one of the more shocking and iconic scenes of the film is watching a plane crash realizing it was flying during the meteor shower.  For 1961, that is a pretty horrifying scene.

Our protagonist, an American by the name of Bill Masen, travels throughout this world searching for survivors and some semblance of civilization. But he is not alone.  A second story in the movie is about a marine biologist and his wife, stuck out on an island during the meteorite storm.  We switch back and forth as Masen travels from England to Europe battling the growing number of Triffids while the scientists try to figure out a way to destroy them.

Triffids are man-sized plants that were seeded on this planet by the meteor shower.  This is the major deviation from the book that I really like.  In the original novel (at least according to Wikipedia), the origin is theorized by the protagonist to be a bioengineered plant from the Soviet Union but this is apparently only a theory.  There is no link to the meteor shower that blinds everyone and in fact, the plants are being harvested for their oil, despite the danger.  They are capable of movement and have a nasty stinger that can kill.  I much prefer the extra-terrestial origin as well as the link to the meteors.  It’s a perfect symbiosis – the meteors render the prey blind, making it easier to catch.

The major failure in this story is the end.  Obviously influenced by other movies of the time, this had to have a nice and tidy ending where humans figure out way to destroy the triffids (nevermind that fact that most of the entire world is blind).  The scientist on the island accidently discovers the way to destroy them and suddenly all is well.  Instead of leaving us with a world torn by blindness and the infestation of man-eating plants, it had to end on a high note, like many of the movies at the time.  It was a time when Hollywood was not always thinking of sequels, I suppose.  It was perhaps a more pure time.  This movie would have been much better if they left it hanging.

Day of the Triffids is full of great nuggets that an RPG GM can use.

  • Extraterrestrial Apocalypse: This concept seems to be having a resurgence in today’s theaters and on TV.  With shows like Defiance and movies like Oblivion and After Earth, a world destroyed by something not of this Earth is in vogue.  This gives me hope for a possible remake one day.  A world taken over by alien plants is a setting just waiting to be written for an RPG.
  • Alien Bio-Weapon: The questions left unanswered are also a great inspiration.  Was this an alien bio-weapon sent to clear the planet, and prepare it for invasion?  Is there another wave of something else coming?  Where did they come from?
  • A World Blinded:  A world completely robbed of one its essential senses could be a very interesting setting as well.