Tuesday, September 23, 2014
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Back up to that creepy 'Attic'

"Flowers in the Attic" stars Heather Graham (left) as mom Corrine Dollanganger, up above the rafters with children (from left) Carrie (Ava Telek), Christopher (Mason Dye) and Cathy (Kiernan Shipka).
"Flowers in the Attic" stars Heather Graham (left) as mom Corrine Dollanganger, up above the rafters with children (from left) Carrie (Ava Telek), Christopher (Mason Dye) and Cathy (Kiernan Shipka).
"Flowers in the Attic" stars Heather Graham (left) as mom Corrine Dollanganger, up above the rafters with children (from left) Carrie (Ava Telek), Christopher (Mason Dye) and Cathy (Kiernan Shipka). Gallery: Back up to that creepy 'Attic'

You've probably seen V.C Andrews' 1979 novel Flowers in the Attic, even if you've never read it. There are so many paperback copies of this twisted thriller in circulation that they usually get their own section in used-book stores.

It was adapted into a middling creepy film in 1987. Now Lifetime has remade it as a sharper creepy TV movie.

The basic plot is you have a nuclear family, the Dollangangers, so clean and wholesome they could be the von Trapps. Except maybe Mom and Dad share a few too many electrons, if you get my meaning. (I can say no more.)

The dad dies and Mom (Heather Graham) gets stressed over the bills. "Look at me," she says to her older daughter (Kiernan Shipka). "I'm an ornament. The only thing I'm good at is being pretty."

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  • So Mom throws herself on the mercy of her own parents, a wealthy couple in Virginia, from whom she had a bitter parting when she eloped with her step-uncle 20 years before.

    Say hello to Grandma (Ellen Burstyn), who keeps the four children locked away in an upstairs warren, insisting their ailing grandfather must know nothing of their existence.

    Burstyn squeezes all the bile out of this harsh and hateful, shame-throwing zealot, though she still lacks the pure blue-fire menace Louise Fletcher brought to the role in the original film.

    While we're making comparisons, the original mom, Victoria Tennant, held the viewers' sympathy for far longer than Graham is able to do. And so the mystery of the children's fate wasn't resolved as quickly as it is here.

    Shipka brings a good deal of her pouty Sally from Mad Men to her Flowers role as Cathy. But it's nice to know it isn't just the Drapers; Shipka doesn't like adults period. You may miss the more innocent sensuality of Kristy Swanson in the original.

    Especially since the Lifetime version plays the incest card much more brazenly. Those Dollangangers are at it again!

    Too bad the remake didn't keep the one great shot from the original: As the surly groundskeeper is digging a child's-size grave, the camera slowly pulls pack to reveal that he has dug a whole row of them. That image stayed with you.

    On the plus side, Kayla Alpert's script is more tightly written and psychologically acute than Jeffrey Bloom's 1987 screenplay. But it also has a darker ending, which I did not think possible.

     


    TV REVIEW

    Flowers in the Attic

    8 p.m. Saturday on Lifetime


    dhiltbrand@phillynews.com

    215-854-4875

     

    @daveondemand_tv

    David Hiltbrand Inquirer TV Critic
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