There are a surprising number of killer plants in horror movies. Some of them great, some… um… not so much. Here we have the good, the bad, and the utterly ridiculous.
They’re completely harmless, right? And plus, they can’t move, so they won’t be able to catch us, right? Well, in honor of Arbor Day, we celebrate our chlorophyllic friends, the plants, and all the ingenious ways that the movies have made these plants scary. Now, there are some REALLY terrible movies about killer plants, so we’ll go in ascending order, worst first.
15. From Hell it Came (1957)
A personal favorite of mine, and guaranteed one of the worst movies you’ll ever see. The Gumby-like Tabonga tiki-god-tree-monster is a foam latex abomination that is so stiff and so hard to see out of that the hapless victims have to run towards the monster and collide with it in order for it to attack. Wonderfully terrible, this 1957 B-movie defines campy 50’s schlock. And you know how bad a movie has to be in order to be worse than, the famous…
14. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1977)
Another camp classic. This movie knew it was stupid and rolled around in it. Not actually as funny as it should have been, it was nevertheless buoyed by a terrific poster by David Weisman and a fantastic theme song. “Ataaaaack! Of the Killer Tomatoooooeees!” The movie, however, is Godawful bad. The paper mache looking giant tomatoes look wholly unconvincing, and the tomatoes that would chase people looked like basketballs. Still, it’s a ridiculous favorite for many.
13. Seedpeople (1992)
Full Moon video is cable of making trashy classics, like Castle Freak and From Beyond. And sometimes they just make trash. Seedpeople is one of the latter. Alien plants deposited by a meteorite in the sleepy Rockies town of Comet Valley start pollinating the local human population and killing them with sprayed goop, mega pollen, and rolling “Critters” like vegi-monsters. Bad acting and sloppy special effects are in full effect. Like the Puppetmaster movies, the monsters had good box cover appeal, but don’t be fooled… this movie is a sloppy mess. I wanted to turn this off, but I finished it so that I could report back to you how terrible it is.
12. The Happening (2008)
Perhaps the low point in both Mark Wahlberg and M. Night Shyamalan’s careers. And that’s saying something! Unlike the preceding two movies, this movie actually wasn’t trying to be laughably bad, but… it was. The guessing here is that Shyamalan wanted to present a mysterious pandemic, with a gotcha twist that we wouldn’t see coming. But the whole idea that it was plant pollen that was turning into a mind-altering toxin was too preposterous to believe and too poorly executed to not elicit giggles… it’s a shame because the concept is solid, but the execution by all is AWFUL.
This slop-tastic movie also shows up on our Big List of Pandemic and Infectious Horror.
11. The Swamp Thing (1982) and The Swamp Thing (2019) [TV]
OK, now we’re into the mediocre movies. The Swamp Thing is a force of nature superhero in the DC Universe’s more Horror-themed titles. This movie was hot off the celebrated run of legendary comic artist Frank Miller, and had the talents of Adrienne Barbeau to fall back on. But… the suit looked BAD. And the villain, Arcane, looked WORSE. It’s a bit of a hot mess save the environment tale, but is ham-fisted in its approach and isn’t scary enough to warrant much of a watch.
Flash forward to 2019, and James Wan produced a terrific Swamp Thing TV show that aired on DC Direct, the comic giant’s subscription streaming service. It is everything that they were able to do from the 1982 movie. Swampy looks terrific. Big Derek Mears is both imposing and sympathetic as our vegetable superhero monster. Crystal Reed is earnest and charming as Abby Arcane, and they bring back Barbeau to play a corporate heavy in this version. It’s a great cast, and the story gets a little “soapy” as comic stories tend to go, but it’s a very energetic and entertaining romp. This is a gory and violent show too, with strong body horror homages to The Thing and The Ruins. It’s a crying shame that they discontinued the series, as it had top-notch production values, and the pace and punch worthy of a great comic book.
10. Maneater of Hydra (1967) AKA Island of the Doomed
This film actually garnered a vote for our top 100 Horror films of all time. It’s a Spanish-German production, and the prints that exist are in pretty poor shape. This is a Dr. Moreau/Dr. Cyclops mad scientist in the jungle story, about a botanist who is cross-breeding exotic plants, one of which is a vampiric tree that has been picking off the visitors to this strange arboretum one by one. Rather bloody for the time, it gained a new audience in the mid-’80s when Elvira associated herself with the production. This is one of our writers, Joseph Perry’s favorite movies, poor dubbing be damned!
9. The Day of the Triffids (1963)
OK! Our first GOOD killer plant movie! The Day of the Triffids is a neat little British post-apocalyptic film about a mysterious comet that, in cicling the earth deposits aggressive mobile alien plants! Moody and serious, the Day of the Triffids resembles a zombie apocalypse film in many ways… including the slow shambling creeping doom that they inspire. This was redone by the BBC in 1983, with some nifty looking orchid creatures, but I would stick with the original.
8. The Thing from Another World (1952)
The original The Thing from Another World is often overshadowed by its more accomplished 1982 remake, but it still serves as one of the great Sci-Fi Horror films of the Matinee Era. The James Arness creature pales in comparison to the terrifying shape-shifter in the Carpenter film, but he is a powerful Frankenstein like being, and it is discovered that it is actually a plant from space that can take on a humanoid form. The scientists want to study it, but the soldiers realize that if the seeds get out, this could mean… THE END OF THE WORLD. Watch this for the fun 50’s war-buddy banter, and the fun fear of science storyline.
7. Creepshow (1984): The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verill
Don’t touch that meteorite, Jordy, you lunkhead! It’s got too much life in it! And by life, I mean a hyper-aggressive slurry of vegetative matter that overwhelms and transforms everything in sad and lonely Jordy’s home/shack. He believes that this meteorite will make him rich and famous, but instead, he is left being consumed by the verge. This would rank higher if Stephen King could act, but let’s face it, he should stick to writing.
6. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
OK, bear with me here. We’re talking about the Whomping Willow, perhaps the greatest realized scary tree put to film. Harry Potter isn’t exactly a horror movie, but it does have its share of spooky things for kids, and one of the great things that Chris Columbus did at his turn at the helm of the Harry Potter Franchise was to inject some darker and scarier elements into the story. Enter the mean old whomping willow. Now… the whomper never killed anybody, but this cranky tree is more than willing to beat you to a bloody pulp if given a chance, and woe be to any broom that gets caught in its branches!
5. Poltergeist (1982)
Continuing on with childhood fears of spooky trees, perhaps no tree did more to scare kids than the possessed tree from Poltergeist. As if things weren’t bad enough for poor little Robbie Freeling (Oliver Robbins) with nasty clown puppets, the spooky tree outside his window comes crashing into his room and attempts to pull him away for who knows what diabolical reason. I think every kid has spotted a tree that makes them uneasy, and Tobe Hooper and Stephen Spielberg tapped right into that alligator brain fear of creepy trees.
4. The Evil Dead (1981, 2013)
Vegetation has never been more outright evil. Or rapey. The depiction of the tree assault in the original Evil Dead is one of the reasons why the movie earned a banishment in the UK, as one of the most notable “video nasties”. Fede Alvarez brought back the evil tree and with his larger budget made the tree scene even more intense. Not an easy watch, in either case, this is the most extreme use of plants as horrible things that shouldn’t be trusted.
3. The Ruins (2008)
If the Evil Dead had the most evil plants, perhaps the Ruins has the scariest use of plants. A bunch of pretty teenagers trapped on an ancient temple with plants that have set out to consume the whole lot of them. And, if they try and flee the local tribesmen will shoot them. The body horror involved is gruesome, and as a survival tale, this is a harrowing experience. The Ruins is an under-appreciated horror film. The best part? The cellphone mimic! So cruel!
2. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
For my money, this is the best horror musical ever made. The story of Seymore (Rick Moranis), the lovelorn florist shop assistant, who discovers a strange little plant that likes human flesh and blood! “Little Shop of Horrors”, “Suddenly Seymore”, “Feed Me”, and “Dentist” are all classic songs, of ANY musical. Add to that the wizardry of the Audrey II animatronics, and the fabulous fun that you get with Bill Murray, Steve Martin, John Candy and Ellen Greene… it is also one of the best Horror Comedies ever made. Kudos also to Roger Corman and crew who did the first one in two and half days, with Jack Nicholson… but this is by far the superior film.
1. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956, 1977)
Pod People. ‘Nuff said. The 1977 Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one of the most intense, paranoid, and apocalyptic movies ever made. Looking for a happy ending? Go somewhere else. But lean into the stupendous acting of Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, and Leonard Nimoy. For my money an even more terrifying reason to stay awake over the Nightmare on Elm Street movies. A terrific exponential build of tension, coupled with some of the ickiest visuals ever done in a PG movie, and you’ve got the best plant-based horror movie ever made.