Written by Mike Watts
There’s something almost irretrievably schlocky about killer plants. Aside from the Triffids and 2008 horror movie The Ruins, stories of plants wrapping their green fronds around victims come over as risible rather than horrifying. Not for nothing is the most famous vege-villain Audrey II the star of a camp musical.
Fishmonger Henry Wilkes has two loves in his life. His wife Monica and his garden of exotic tropical plants. Only recently it appears to Monica that her husband has become obsessed with his hobby, ever since he started receiving cuttings from a postal correspondent called Mr Pringle. And there’s something unnerving about that garden, almost although the plants are actively threatening her health. Henry however is too caught up with the excitement of growing these unusually responsive plants, even when they require a regular feeding of fresh meat.
This is an unsatisfying episode, not deliberately funny enough to be classed a comedy, too polite to go for full monster horror. Quite padded too. Why expensive filming is used to show Henry’s commute on his motorbike and sidecar, when it is entirely superfluous to the plot, is a mystery. There’s already more than enough in the episode to establish his working class suburban credentials. Similarly his shop assistant Anne’s interest in spiritualism is a blind alley. Once it is established that Henry has animated carnivorous plants in his garden, the plot is virtually over and we are only waiting for his wife to discover the awful truth.
On a good note, writer Mike Watts avoids some obvious stereotypes and he’s helped by good underplaying from the central trio of Milo O’Shea, Christine Hargreaves and Patsy Rowlands. It would have been easy to make Henry a rather grotesque or pathetic figure, but he emerges as an essentially well-meaning, naïve man who is far too short-sighted about the consequences of his hobby. His main eccentricity is a dislike of seeing plants used as food, which does stretch credibility somewhat and makes one wonder what his diet consists of. Similarly Monica could have been a shrewish woman who has driven Henry to spend as much time in the garden as possible, but she comes across as a caring individual driven to illness by the strangeness. Anne is essentially a straight foil for Henry. For a while I wondered if there as a hint of attraction between her and the gardener but what there is in the way Patsy Rowlands plays her lines rather than the script.
An unexpected curveball is thrown by the credits – Barbara Woodhouse was the trainer of the Wilkes’ dog. Offers a delicious image of La Woodhouse marshalling the killer vegetation before a take.
Bernard Wilkie and Ron Oates provide some fairly decent puppet plants, the grasping tendrils and roots are effective in short bursts. Most of the time the animation is provided by simple shaking, when I had hopes for a climatic attack on the house. Keeping the origin of the plants a mystery is a good choice. It is better to keep guessing if this is some low-key alien invasion, mad scientist’s plan, or secret government project. Ultimately this trip into Tales from the Crypt territory proves to be a bad match for a series aiming for adult science fiction.