The Book Was Better Than the Film: The Strange Legacy of V.C. Andrews Continues

On July 27 Heaven, the latest V.C. Andrews novel to be adapted for the screen will premiere on Lifetime in the USA. Less famous than Flowers in the Attic, though no less loved by fans of the author, Heaven tells the story of Heaven Leigh Casteel, a young woman who was born in abject poverty and is raised by her loving grandmother, a stepmother who tolerates her and her father, a womaniser and an alcoholic who cannot stand her and blames her for her mother's death. It is notable that Heaven resembles her mother in every possible way, but for her hair. While Heaven's hair is black, and according to her, cursed, her mother was a blonde, and consequently, more attractive.

 Heaven does her best to rise above her situation, trying hard to look out for her younger half-siblings and by working hard at school. She forms a relationship with a middle-class boy from the town. Then the family situation takes a turn for the worse and her old man decides that the only solution is to sell his children. One by one the children are adopted, and Heaven eventually finds her way to a new home. But things are far from wonderful at the home of Kitty and Cal Dennison. There, Heaven suffers abuse at the hands of Kitty (who is her father's ex-girlfriend,) and is then groomed and sexually abused by Cal. At the end of the novel, Kitty dies and Heaven is offered the chance to go and live with her mother's parents, whom she has never met, which leads in to the sequel, Dark Angel.  

V.C. Andrews passed away in 1986.
She published six books in her lifetime.
Published in 1985, Heaven was the second to last novel to be published by V.C. Andrews. The second book in the Casteel Saga, Dark Angel was published just a month before the author passed away from breast cancer. In the years that followed, three more books in the series were published Fallen Hearts, Gates of Paradise and Web of Dreams, each one seemingly more perverse than the last. Certainly, V.C. Andrews never shied away from sexual content. But when she wrote about characters whose sexual awakenings were often born out of tragedy, hurt or neglect, and the confusion that often followed, the focus in these stories turned more to men who used the otherwise innocent characters for pure sexual gratification. Eventually, a lawsuit would reveal the contrast between the earlier novels and the books that followed on from the author's death. The executors of her estate had hired a ghostwriter to continue writing books in her name. We now know that the ghostwriter is Andrew Neiderman, a horror novelist who shared the same publisher and agent as V.C. Andrews. As ghostwriter, Neiderman has published more than seventy novels baring V.C. Andrews' name on the front cover, many of them varying in theme and quality. Over the years, books featuring everything from vampires to early puberty have been published, with each of them sharing a young female protagonist who finds herself in some kind of peril. 

If there was one thing that Andrew Neiderman has brought to the table during his time as the ghostwriter for V.C. Andrews, it is his penchant for bringing her books to the screen. This is no surprise, given the huge success that Neiderman had with the adaption of his own novel The Devil's Advocate, which went on to become a box office success. By contrast, V.C. Andrews did not have a good record when it came to film adaptions. Multiple scripts for a film adaption of Flowers in the Attic were written and never made it to screen, including one by Wes Anderson. In 1986, an adaption was eventually filmed (if you look closely, V.C. Andrews plays the part of a maid in one scene,) and released in 1987. Though Louise Fletcher plays the role of bitter antagonist Olivia Foxworth to perfection, the filmmakers glossed over a number of key details--the poison doughnuts became cookies, the story was set in the 1980s instead of the 1950s and all hints of incest were removed. And then significant alterations to the ending killed not only Corrine Foxworth, but any chance of a sequel.

Meanwhile, Neiderman's reputation for adapting books to screen has gone from strength to strength. In 2006 Rain, one of the ghostwritten VC Andrews novels was made into a successful film on an extremely low budget. Around this time there was also talk of another Neiderman penned series, The Landry Saga being adapted as a TV series. However, this failed to eventuate.

And then in 2014, Flowers in the Attic was adapted by Lifetime, followed by three of it's sequels, Petals on the Wind, If There by Thorns and Seeds of Yesterday. While the adaptions weren't perfect, they were far more faithful to the books than previous adaptions had been. Also, to the annoyance of fans, these would lead to more sequels to the books being penned by Neiderman, Secrets of Foxworth, Echoes of Dollanganger and Secret Brother. Three more prequels are planned for this year--Beneath the Attic, Out of the Attic and Shadows of Foxworth.

Following on from that was a Lifetime film adaption of another beloved V.C. Andrews novel My Sweet Audrina. This almost nonsensical film adaption focuses purely on the antagonistic relationship between Vera and Audrina, and misses a number of key elements from the novels. Following on from its release was a sequel, Whitefern, which was penned by Neiderman and, again, misses some of the key elements from the book. (You can read my review here.)

And now, it seems that Heaven and, in fact, all, of the novels in the Casteel Saga are set to experience the same treatment. For months now, fans have been divided about the adaption, with many expressing concern on the fan page about the casting of a red haired actress for a role where the character's black hair was central to the plot. And then this somewhat troubling trailer was released by Lifetime:



It could just be poor editing, but the trailer suggests that the story transforms Heaven from a frightened and abused young woman into a Lolita type figure, who is willingly seduced by her adoptive father, in turn, causing her adoptive mother to have a mental breakdown. Obviously, this is in stark contrast to the book. It's also gross and not in keeping with the writing of V.C. Andrews. 

If this has not all been strange enough, an incident occurred on facebook recently which troubled me greatly. Basically, ghostwriter Andrew Neiderman lashed out at fans for criticising the film and not giving it a chance before it is even released. In one sense, he has a point--one can only properly criticise a film after they have seen it. On the other hand, fans of the books have ever perfect right not to tune in if they don't want to. For me, it was personally quite disappointing, given that something the ghostwriter said many years earlier on the page had a huge influence on how I write my book reviews and offer constructive criticism. 

In retrospect, the legacy left behind by V.C. Andrews should have been six novels. Instead, what we have is a huge collection of ghostwritten books of varying quality and a whole lot of telemovies. Meanwhile, a fantasy novel penned by V.C. Andrews before she died remains unpublished, while her one and only Sci-Fi novel, The Gods of Green Mountain, remains available only as an eBook. (It has never been available in print.) Whether or not Heaven and the other screen adaptions of the Casteel saga are any good remains to be seen. I will certainly be keeping out an eye.

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