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  Kirlian Witness, The The Plants Are Watching
Year: 1979
Director: Jonathan Sarno
Stars: Nancy Snyder, Nancy Boykin, Joel Colodner, Ted Le Plat, Lawrence Tierney, Maia Danziger, Jonathan Sarno
Genre: Horror, Drama, Thriller, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Rilla (Nancy Snyder) and Laurie (Nancy Boykin) are sisters who live in the same building where Laurie has her own plant shop. She is passionate about her stock and likes to think she is attuned to them to the extent that they can understand what she is thinking and vice versa, so much so that she is reluctant to sell them to any customers and not-so-secretly yearns to keep all the flora for herself. This attitude irritates Robert (Joel Colodner), who is Rilla's husband, who believes Laurie is her own worst enemy and wishes she would give herself a shake to buck up her ideas, but there's someone else the couple are not aware of who may have a drastic influence over the plant-lover...

Back in the nineteen-seventies, the paranormal became a hot topic of discussion, both in life and in the media, be that the power of Satan over everyday folks or the strange entities the unwary could encounter, be they ghosts, Bigfoot or the odd space alien. But there was a scientific side to all this, or at least a pseudo-scientific side, where respectable boffins conducted experiments into the likes of extra-sensory perception to ascertain whether there were any sixth senses humanity had access to which could expand our consciousness. So far, so hippy-dippy, but the fact this was taken seriously by a lot of people was an indication of how far the supernatural had permeated society.

No matter if there was any truth to it or not, and even after great swathes of it were debunked, the interest and belief in the otherworldly continues to this day, though naturally there were parts that fell by the wayside, and Kirlian photography was one of those topics. Its central notion was that plants were giving off an aura, an energy linked to what might have been a soul of some sort, and we could pick out what this was trying to tell us by examining special photographs of leaves (and not only plants, as fingerprints and even inanimate objects had this ability). This tied into the idea of what might be termed the "screaming trees", that notion trees would cry out if cut down by loggers.

Unfortunately for the New Agers, Kirlian Photography was exposed (hah!) as a sham, merely an effect of treated or dirty slides that gave off its distinctive look: pretty and colourful to look at, but no proof of any kind of awareness from the greenery. That's why you don't hear about it these days, but back in 1979 there was one writer and director, Jonathan Sarno, who thought this subject was ripe for exploitation and designed his own thriller movie around the concept, The Kirlian Witness being that movie. With a small, mostly unknown cast (Lawrence Tierney aside, and his appearance as a policeman was merely a cameo) he fashioned a murder mystery where there were only two suspects and had us wondering back and forth which of them was the red herring and which was the culprit.

This was effectively achieved as until the violent finale you would not be able to settle on one or the other, but the rest of it, the build up to the twist, was hampered by a far too languid, dreamlike tone and pace. Fair enough, every so often Rilla would suffer a horror movie nightmare, but this was only loosely a shocker, more accurately described as a dramatic thriller with supernatural overtones. The victim, about halfway through the first act, is the hapless Laurie, a woman more at home with her plants than she is with actual human beings, though she is sensitive and seems to have bad vibes about local handyman and occasional assistant Dusty (Ted Le Plat). He certainly comes across as irksome, even overbearing, but does he have it in him to murder? Or was it Robert, in one of his fits of rage? As Rilla talks us through the workings of plant polygraphs and that photography in narration, you wonder if Sarno would not have been happier making a documentary like The Secret Life of Plants - that had Stevie Wonder in it, at least. An oddity, but not as compelling as you may like. Music by Harry Manfredini.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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