Flowers in the Attic is the 1987 film adaptation of the novel of the same name by V. C. Andrews.From the outside, the Dollangangers appear to be the perfect family: happily married parents Chris and Corrine and four beautiful children Christopher, Cathy, Carrie, and Cory. But when father Christopher is killed on the night of his thirty-sixth birthday, the family is quickly financially devastated. Lack of savings and Corrine's inability to find work mean that they must sell their possessions and then their house. Soon there is only one place left for them to go.Corrine takes her four children to Foxworth Hall, her childhood home, to live with her parents. Years ago her father disinherited her over her marriage. She plans to win her way back into his heart so that she can provide for her children. The grandmother permits them to stay on one condition: the children must live in a secluded upstairs room with only the attic for extra space to live and play.And it all goes downhill from there as physical and emotional abuse, the lure of money, and an entire attic full of ugly family secrets all come into play.
The film adaptation provides examples of:
Abusive Parents: And Grandparent. First, the grandmother is this to both Corrine and her four grandchildren. Then, it's not long at all before Corrine herself to start acting this way towards them.
Adaptation Dye-Job: Grandmother has grey hair in the books (and it turns out to be a wig) but is red-haired in the film.
Adaptation Explanation Extrication: Cathy calls her oldest brother Christopher throughout the whole film, which comes across as a little strange. It's not explained that since the father was Christopher as well, he was called Chris while Jr. was Christopher.
Adaptation Induced Plot Hole: The movie is set in the 1980s while the book was set in the 1950s. As a result Corrine going back to her rich family for money instead of finding a job herself is a little strange since there were less housewives and stay-at-home mothers in the 80s than there were in the 50s. Also Chris and Cathy are aged up to around fifteen and sixteen (they are fourteen and twelve respectively in the book) so one wonders why they didn't work either. Although it should be noted that in the book, Corrine was heavily in credit card debt, which would have been more common in the 1980s than the 1950s.
Age Lift: Christopher is 14 in the book and Cathy twelve (though they're imprisoned for three years). The film ages them up to fifteen or sixteen.
Alliterative Family: The man's name is Christopher, with his wife Corrine and there four children; Christopher Jr., Cathy, and twins Cory and Carrie.
As the Good Book Says: Used by the Grandmother in her sermons and lectures, proclaiming the children the "Devil's Spawn."
Billing Displacement: Kristy Swanson (Cathy) is billed below Victoria Tennant (Corrine), although Cathy is the main character and her older self narrates.
While the 2014 Lifetime version hews closer to the novel, this billing trope remains - Kiernan Shipka (a much more age-appropriate Cathy than Miss Swanson) is billed third with Heather Graham (Corrine) and Ellen Burstyn (the grandmother) coming before her.
Chekhov's Gun: The cookies, or more specifically, the arsenic-laced sugar topping.
Compressed Adaptation: The film is only 90 minutes long. As such, a lot of the emotional drama of the novel as the children are slowly worn away by their attic prison is glossed over with bits of narration.
Creator Cameo: V. C. Andrews appears very briefly washing a window.
Dawson Casting: This was one of the problems with the film adaptation. The actors playing the elder children are the size of full-grown adults but *act* as though they're relatively young children. This even breaks the plot - the male lead is large enough to physically overpower the abusive grandmother, which would make escaping from the large, empty mansion trivial. The actor playing Chris was 26! Although, WMG here, but perhaps being the product of incest might have made them feeble.
Fallen Princess: Deconstructed. Corrine comes from vast wealth and gave it all up to marry her husband but once he's dead she won't work and returns to her family, hoping to be rich again. She ends up trying to kill off her own children just to get her inheritance.
"Friends" Rent Control: A line from Cathy's narration, "I got a job to put Chris through medical school". And what kind of job would an uneducated teenage girl get that would pay for medical school?
Gilded Cage: The children's attic prison initially comes across as this when they are fed regularly and frequently given expensive presents. It becomes a nothing more than a cage, however, when their mother increasingly neglects.
Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Initially played straight with the Dollanganger family, but eventually subverted as the family breaks down.
Hulk Speak: Cory and Carrie don't speak good "'cause Momma don't like them no more."
Hypocrite: Of the super-religious type. The Grandmother takes the incestuous relationship her daughter had committed, and used it as an excuse to starve, abuse, lie, blackmail, dehumanize children,and commit outright murder, among other things. Also, it is mentioned once that the grandfather feels like he is entitled to act however he wants and do whatever he wants because he funded a church.
Incest Subtext: The scene with the father giving Cathy her music box when she's alone in her bed, topped off with giving her a ring in a posture that looks very like a proposal. Cathy and Christopher's relationship is relegated to subtext at best.
Innocent Blue Eyes: Initially played straight with the Dollanganger family, but eventually subverted as the family breaks down.
Insufferable Genius: Christopher wants to be a doctor, which apparently involves knowing everything there is to know about everything in the world. It gets to the point where Cathy shuts him up with a snide remark.
Kick the Dog: Grandmother breaks an ornament Cathy's father gave her For the Evulz. She actually didn't do it in the book because Cathy had to leave the ornament behind when they moved.
Loser Kids Of Loser Parents: The grandmother thinks that the kids, especially Chris and Cathy, are somehow incestuous by nature because they were inbred.
Mama Bear: Averted with Corrine, who doesn’t give a rat's ass about her kids. Played Straight with Cathy, who is a surrogate mother to her little brother and sister.
Momma's Boy: Christopher will not tolerate any criticism or questioning of their mother.
Promotion to Parent: Chris and Cathy become surrogate parents for their much younger twin siblings Cory and Carrie. They called it a game, with Chris as the daddy, Cathy as the mommy and Cory and Carrie as the children. It becomes more serious when it is made clear that their real mother doesn’t seem to want them any more.
Traumatic Haircut: Done more directly in the film, where Grandmother knocks Cathy down and cuts her hair off.
The Unfavorite: Corrine appears to be jealous of her husband's attention to Cathy from the beginning of the film.
Unnamed Parent: The grandparents are only known as The Grandmother and The Grandfather. In the film, the father's name is never given.
What Could Have Been: Wes Craven wrote a screenplay that Andrews turned down, and Sharon Stone auditioned for the part of Corrine.
Craven's ending luckily survived; the studio was not happy with other scripts they commissioned that kept the downer ending where like in the original book, Corrine and her grandmother get away with everything. So they grafted the Wes Craven ending onto the script that they ultimately picked to film in order to tie up loose ends and give the series closure with Corine getting killed for her crimes.
A script for a sequel (Petals On the Wind) was created for the second novel and Kristy Swanson and Louis Fletcher would have reprised their roles. The sequel would have focused upon Cathy's various affairs with other men, in order to try and escape her fears of falling for her brother and substituted the grandmother in Corrines role, as far as Corrine seducing her grandmother's new boyfriend as payback for her cruelty towards her grandchildren.
Woman in Black: The grandmother, who wore gray in the novel. The black serves as a constant reminder that she is stern at best and dangerous at worst.
Woman in White: Corrine on her wedding day. She is determined to pass herself off as the virginal bride.
Cathy notably wears a white nightgown when her grandmother attacks her.