Pop Culture

Incest and arsenic: 'Flowers in the Attic' movie keeps novel's juicy moments

The "Flowers" may have been in the attic, but the book was hidden under the covers, or in lockers, or propped up behind a chemistry textbook. For 1980s kids, girls especially, "Flowers in the Attic" was one of those guilty pleasure paperbacks that you couldn't resist, but didn't really want your mother to know you were reading.

A 1987 film sliced and diced V.C. Andrews' 1979 bestseller, cutting out the brother-sister incest storyline that had so many 1980s teens horrified. Now Lifetime has made a new TV movie out of the book, and sticks slightly more faithfully to Andrews' juicy prose.

(Spoilers ahead.)

Brother-sister incest
The most uncomfortable plotline of them all. In the book, hunky brother Christopher rapes his sister Cathy, who's in love with him but does resist. It's the plot that made the book infamous, the pages to which everyone's worn paperback fell open. It was left out of the first film, so everyone wanted to know how Lifetime would handle it here. Star Mason Dye, who plays Christopher in this version, said to Entertainment Weekly, "Will there be incest? Yes." 

He's right. But this is still a TV movie, and Lifetime's no HBO. The rape element is gone, and we only see the siblings kiss and lie next to each other in bed. It may have been the most gasped about plotline back in the '80s, but don't expect "50 Shades of Greg and Marcia."

James Dittiger / Today
He ain't sexy, he's my brother. Mason Dye plays Christopher and "Mad Men" veteran Kiernan Shipka plays Cathy in the "Flowers in the Attic" movie.

One of the creepiest scenes in the book and in the film is where evil grandmother Olivia (played juicily by Ellen Burstyn in the new movie) forces the children's mother, Corinne, to remove her blouse and show the children that the grandmother has whipped her — in the book, she strikes her once for each year of life and once for each year she "lived in sin" with the children's father, her half-uncle. The reasoning is slightly different in the film than in the book, but the sight of her bloody back is still horrific.

Tar in Cathy's hair
Creepy grandmother sees Chris eyeing Cathy and demands she cut her beautiful blonde hair off to be less of a temptation. (Like that would work, ha.) The siblings refuse, she starves them, and then drugs Cathy so she won't wake up while sweet Granny pours black tar in her hair. The movie carries through with the tarring, give it credit, but it's perhaps a lighter dousing than we expected from the books. 

James Dittiger / Today
Ellen Burstyn stars as the terrifying and brutal grandmother.

Arsenic on the donuts
When powdered-sugar donuts arrive in the children's food basket, they're thrilled — until little Cory gets sick. The first "Flowers" movie changed the donuts to cookies for some reason, but in this one, the donuts are back, and poor Cory is still in trouble. But one notable change comes when the kids test out the deadly donuts on their pet mouse. In the book, Cory's innocent twin Carrie gives the mouse some donut and he dies, alerting them to the poison. In the book, it's a grim Chris who insists they test the treats on Mickey the mouse.

What's with that ending?
Holding back from spoilers here, but let's just say the movie throws in some non-novel drama as the children make their attempt to escape from their attic prison. Oscar-winner Burstyn must've had fun with her role here.

"Flowers in the Attic" airs Jan. 18 at 8 p.m. on Lifetime.