No Rose Garden

Teen-age girls can handle the graphic depiction of incest in a book--but not in color on the big screen. That’s what producer Chuck Fries and distributor New World found out in tests for their gothic thriller, “Flowers in the Attic,” due out Friday with critical re-cutting.

The movie’s based on the 1979 best-seller by the late V. C. Andrews that involves the erotic awakening of a brother and sister locked away in an attic by their insane mother. But its path to film has been rocky. Consider:

An early cut of the film was screened last December for Valley fans of the book--primarily adolescent females--and test cards indicated they were revolted. “I don’t know whether this was conscious teen-age hypocrisy or what,” writer-director Jeffrey Bloom told us. “Maybe young girls just don’t want explicit sexual titillation. If a boy takes his shirt off, that’s cool. But if it goes any further, they get uneasy.”

An executive source at Fries added that the book presented the sex as a natural outgrowth of a relationship developed under duress over several years. The movie condensed that into a period of months. “And what may have seemed reasonable over the course of four years seemed dirty over the course of a summer.”


The Valley girls also gagged on a scene in which Victoria Tennant, playing the mad mother, disrobed in front of her father, to be whipped by Louise Fletcher, her fanatical mother. “We dropped the skin,” said the exec.

Bloom’s original ending--one not even the Valley girls got to see--showed the children discovering they could merely walk unopposed out of their attic prison, into the sunshine. To symbolize growing up, Bloom said, with “the way to freedom clear.”

But Fries thought it lacked drama and tried a new finale: Fletcher attacks her grandchildren with a meat cleaver. When that proved too horrific for Valleyettes, it was toned down. But a new version screened in January--Tennant falling from a window to her death entangled in a trellis--met with hoots of derision from an older audience in West L.A., according to Bloom and others close to the picture, who said that Tennant herself refused to do the scene (a double was used). So a March release was scratched.

Bloom, unhappy with the continued editing, was allowed out of his contract with Fries, although his name remains on the credits.


More previews in San Jose and Ohio with yet another ending (we’d never tell) were more successful, said a Fries source, and “Flowers” will bloom in 1,100 theaters Friday.