‘Flowers in the Attic’ is a sadistic tale without bite

01/18/2014 9:42 PM

01/18/2014 9:42 PM

Say what you will about Betty Draper’s gin-soaked parenting on “Mad Men,” she never locked little Sally in the attic. Or made her appear in a mediocre TV movie.

But turn on Lifetime (“Television for Women!”) tonight and you’ll see Sally Draper, aka 14-year-old Kiernan Shipka, trapped in a basic cable adaptation of a naughty 35-year-old novel.

For those unfamiliar with the incestuous antics of the Dollanganger family, “Flowers in the Attic” might dish up a little suspense. Shipka is Cathy, a responsible tween who has to go live with Grandma after her father dies and leaves her mom and siblings penniless.

“Go live with grandma” turns into years locked in the upstairs annex of a gothic Virginia mansion with her siblings while lavish parties bustle below. Grandma (Ellen Burstyn) is a sadistic zealot. Doors are padlocked, faces are slapped, pastries are poisoned.

As Cathy’s mother, Heather Graham twitches her puppy-dog eyes a few times to convey anguish, but she mostly lets her snazzy wardrobe chart the course toward all-consuming narcissism.

V.C. Andrews’ book was a hot commodity in the 1980s because of its racy accounts of incest among the teenage kids. Lifetime goes there, then backs away from the issue immediately, making for some scenes that add nothing to the story but brief bouts of nausea.

When the movie ends, Cathy’s still plotting her revenge. Luckily for her, Lifetime just announced it will be adapting Andrews’ “Flowers” sequels, starting with “Petals on the Wind.” More face-slapping for everyone!

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