Pandemic means pandemonium and these are by far the best scenes in the adaptation of John Wyndham’s famed sci-fi novel. Virtually everyone in the world is struck blind by the fierce brightness emitted from a bombardment of meteorites.
When passengers on a plane realize their pilot is blind, the panic is breathtaking. Ditto a train crashing into a station. While those with sight intact such as a busload of convicts can terrorize the blind, forcing them to submit to sexual overtures. On top of that are terrific scenes of deserted cities – very familiar to us all during the current pandemic – and of those unable to see trying to walk hands outstretched or attach themselves to anyone still blessed with sight.
One of the standouts is patient Howard Keel, saved from seeing the dazzling light display because his eyes were bandaged, walking through a deserted and trashed hospital. And perhaps Jurassic Park found useful the scene where the plants test an electrified fence.
And on top of that, of course, are the unstoppable monstrous man-eating plants whose growth has been triggered by the comets. Steven Spielberg over a decade later showed how to maintain tension by showing a terrifying predator in small doses and indicating its presence through musical cues and especially, when your monster ain’t quite up to scratch, keeping it hidden for as long as possible.
Interestingly, this film uses sound cues, specific noises attributable to the creatures, though the plants are shown too soon and too often but, in terms of special effects, not at all bad for their time and the low budget. And the sheer normality of the locations works very well – a caretaker having his sandwich, hard-boiled egg and flask of coffee the first victim. Some deft humor undercuts the terror. “Once you’ve tasted this coffee of mine,” remarks a character, ”you’ll know nothing worse can happen.”
Leading the battle against the monsters are sailor Howard Keel, ironically recovering from an eye operation, hotel proprietor Nicole Maurey and in an isolated location alcoholic scientist Kieron Moore and his wife Janette Scott. Keel and Maurey are initially intent on mere escape, but in the end have to fight.
But once again a film like this shows how much more powerful is imagination. We can imagine being blind and walking in a vacuum with the vulnerability and helplessness that fear entails. As the present pandemic has shown, the unknown is terrifying and fear of the unknown even worse.