Banned in some schools, required reading in others, V.C. Andrews's youth-in-crisis novel Flowers in the Attic is now a Lifetime movie — and it's still as shocking and creepy as when it first entered the zeitgeist in 1979. Heather Graham stars as Corrine Dollanganger, a picture-perfect housewife and mother of four who is suddenly widowed and must take her brood to live with her parents in the elegant mansion where she grew up. But there's a catch: Corrine's dying father can't know she has kids — she scandalized the family by marrying her uncle — so her offspring must stay hidden in the attic until Grandpa kicks the bucket.
Flowers "takes place in the 1950s, when women had few job options," notes Graham. "You could be a secretary, teacher or nurse — none of which Corrine is qualified to do. It's so sad. All she thinks she can be is beautiful. Her only hope is the family inheritance, so she ends up making a horrifying choice."
The children's imprisonment stretches from weeks to months, then a couple of years, by which point the two eldest kids, Cathy (Mad Men's Kiernan Shipka) and Chris (Mason Dye), have fallen in love and are engaged in a sexual relationship and Corrine has become as crazy as her Bible-thumping mother, Olivia (Oscar winner Ellen Burstyn).
Flowers was previously filmed in 1987 with Victoria Tennant and Kristy Swanson, but skittish producers left out the brother-sister incest. "This is a dark and extreme story, and we really go for it," says Graham, who admits she had issues with her doormat character. "I'm a working woman who thrives on being independent, so it's hard to imagine doing what Corrine does to save herself. She isn't innately evil or sadistic. She was a severely abused child and, once she's back under her parents' roof, she falls right back into that victim role.''
Flowers in the Attic airs Saturday, Jan. 18 at 8/7c on Lifetime.