In Petals on the Wind, V.C. Andrews successfully hooked into the female preteen psyche by conveying to us that the following things are possible as an adult: 1) You can be a famous ballerina; 2) Life is VERY dramatic, always; 3) Everybody wants to sleep with you. Your foster/stepfathers. Swarthy ballet dancers. Your brother. Everybody.
Re-reading this sequel to Flowers in the Attic (as an adult, in my 30s, only quasi-shamefully) last summer, I will say that I probably alarmed nearby beachgoers by screaming aloud, "WHAT THE FUCK?" multiple times during each chapter. That shit is bonkers! (Side note: It's like $4 on kindle. Get it, read it, live your best life.)
While I salute Lifetime for being brave enough to make incest hot, I also take umbrage at a few things. First of all, MORE ELLEN BURSTYN, bitches! That lady won an Oscar! And then she donned a scraggly skullcap and talked in stroke-voice and for these and other reasons she deserves quadruple screen time. Ditto Heather Graham, because her giant eyes were made to act an angry hand job, and she did it with aplomb.
And while I'm not going to exhaustively compare the book to the movie, I will say that I was disappointed at the removal of what to me was the most fucked-up subplot—that kindly foster father Dr. Sheffield (yes, like on The Nanny) had his manly wolf eyes on Cathy from the moment she set foot on his front porch, covered in her sister's vomit and half-dead from arsenic poisoning. He gave her lingerie as a present! "Filmy lingerie" at that! (V.C. Andrews is obsessed with the term "filmy lingerie," FYI, I think because she was kind-of a shut in.)
In any case, the movie starts at Dr. Sheffield's funeral in 1970, ten years after the attic. Following is a list of my personal high points and low points (which are actually also high points). Spoiler alert: Incest is heavily featured.
Incest, Part One: Fifteen minutes into the movie Chris walks in on Cathy in her slip, then proceeds to give her a boning to end all bonings! Apparently he's been wanting to give it to her for the past ten years, ever since their magical rape in the attic. Cathy is TOTALLY into it, too. And to be frank, the guy who plays Chris is so hot that you can't fault her for at least CONSIDERING it. Poor little sister Carrie listens at the door as Chris tells Cathy that she's the only woman he'll ever love. And, like, if you're going to have incest sex at LEAST close the door! Jesus.
Julian Marquet: Cathy's swarthy bad-boy British-ish ballet dancer paramour (who looks like he's about 49) thinks he's in Saturday Night Fever, as evidenced by his turning out plies in jeans and a leather jacket. Julian swoops Cathy off to New York City to be a pro ballerina in his company, and he's also great at cunnilingus! Dream boyfriend, right? UNTIL he turns out to be a jealous, abusive dick.
He drops Cathy while she auditions to be Juliet to his Romeo, but then sets things right by putting broken glass in the toe shoes of her rival. (And, like, how numb can your toes be to not feel that shit before you jam the shoe on?) To his credit, Julian totally calls that Cathy and Chris are sexing, but then ALSO feels up little sister Carrie, which is not cool. He does provide one of the movie's laugh-out loud moments, however, when he gets hit by a car after learning that Cathy is carrying his baby.
Ballet: There is so much fucking ballet in this movie! I found it a little tedious, though Julian's ballet tights with suspenders were certainly a highlight.
Carrie: Poor Carrie. First she's locked up in an attic for her formative years, then her growth is stunted either because of poor early childhood nutrition OR because of her incest DNA, and THEN she has to deal with mean girls at some boarding school of the damned who totally give her PTSD by locking her in a closet. (I can't be the only one hoping that she'd acquire some dastardly powers like the other famous Carrie and show those girls what-for.) Things seem to be looking up for her when she meets a kindly young pastor who proposes, but quickly plummet when she tries to hand-deliver a wedding invitation to Corrine. Corrine denies knowing her (and has apparently been returning Carrie's letters to sender for years), and this prompts Carrie to commit suicide…by eating an arsenic donut! THE SINS OF THE MOTHER, ETC! The lingering shot of a giant shaker jar of Rid-O-Rat on the counter by the baking supplies was genius.
The Dirty South: Since part of the movie is set in South Carolina, there are some rather lame attempts at sweet-tea and grits infusions. The movie turns briefly into The Help anytime kindly housekeeper Henny is on screen, and Chris's girlfriend and eventual fiancee Sarah wears only pastels and has literally the worst southern accent I've ever heard. (Meanwhile, poor fucking Sarah, huh?)
Corrine's Redecorating Skills: With mean ol' grandma on her last leg, Corrine decides she wants to avoid any sort of Grey Gardens scenario and gives Foxworth Hall a makeover. She even goes to the trouble of plastering over the door to the guest room and attic, for obvious reasons. And the whole place winds up looking totally great! What a shame, then, that she eventually sets fire to her own handiwork in her final literal/metaphorical flame-out.
Cathy's Revenge Plot, Stage One: After Carrie's death, Cathy vows revenge on Corrine and quickly identifies the easiest method: by seducing her mother's husband, the inimitable Bart Winslow. All it takes is a legal appointment, a glimpse of her bare thighs and a home-cooked dinner, and Bart's banging her standing up in the hallway. (It bears mentioning that Lifetime was fully committed to the soft-core in this movie.)
Babies, Babies, Babies: First we learn that Cathy miscarried Chris's child from their attic rendezvous (among some corresponding concerns about God punishing them). Then Cathy gives birth to Julian's ballet baby, Jory, and THEN she gets knocked up in no time by Bart! At least being the product of incest didn't negatively impact her fertility.
Incest, Part Two: On the eve of Chris's wedding, Cathy comes to have a chat with him while wearing some of her signature filmy lingerie. He says there's only one problem with fiancee Sarah: "She isn't you." So THEN of course they start to make out, and THEN of course after Cathy begs him to just go ahead and marry Sarah, and THEN of course they make out some more. And THEN of course Sarah walks in on them, because these tools STILL haven't figured out to close the door when incest is happening!
Bedridden Ellen Burstyn Yelling Things: Scraggly-headed grandma is forever barking nasty things at Corrine, including that she killed her kid. Hey, sometimes the truth hurts. Corrine plans to put her in a home, noting that, "No one's interested in the rantings of an old woman." Before she has a chance, though, Gram gets to take a turn at Cathy when she randomly walks in the house to raid her mom's closet. (Corrine's renovation didn't include locks on the doors?) Most of Gram's rantings to Cathy are along the "Devil's spawn" line, though she really ramps it up when she busts out with, "You spread your legs for your own brother!" And, um, hooray for her for not subscribing to the "baking cookies" stereotype?
Best Christmas Party Ever/Cathy's Revenge Plot, Stage Two: At the gloriously renovated Foxworth Hall, grandma is dressed up and wheeled out while everyone celebrates Corrine and Bart's flawless romance. Bart toasts Corrine, and then Cathy shows up to ALSO toast her (SARCASTICALLY) and tell all the guests about how she a) locked her kids in the attic; b) tried to poison them; c) succeeded in killing one of the little ones. Oh, and d) Also Cathy is pregnant with Bart's child. Upon these accusations, Corrine turns to grandma for a denial, giving Ellen Burstyn the opportunity to bust out with, "I don't think anyone's interested in the rantings of an old woman."Awkward!
Best Christmas Present Ever: After all THAT shit has gone down, Corrine retreats to grandma's room and wonders why she never got love as a child. Work that shit out in therapy before you wind up locking your kids in an attic, people! In response, Gram has a present for her, retrieved by workmen from the attic. It's a trunk containing a teddy bear…AND CORY'S ROTTING CORPSE!!! WHAT THE FUCK???? And, like, didn't somebody smell that? How did they get that back up to the attic without the kids seeing it? In any event, Corrine goes crazy and sets fire to the whole place. Chris carries her out of the house and Cathy also makes it out safely, but Bart perishes while trying to save grandma. And if there's one thing this movie has taught us, it's not to bother having a moral compass. And also close the door if you're doing incest.
And a Happy Ever After: And then Chris and Cathy move to California, where they raise Cathy's two kids as their own, get to have as much covert sibling sex as they like, and are the envy of all their neighbors! Meanwhile, Corrine raves in an insane asylum and waits for If There Be Thorns along with the rest of us.
[Images via Lifetime]
Morning After is a new home for television discussion online, brought to you by Gawker. Read more here.