The Kirlian Witness (1979)

“For the first time on the screen a strange thriller that takes you into the psychic world of plants.”

Yes, in 1979, people were talking to their plants, using biofeedback devices to hear from them and even singing to them. For everyone obsessed with the 80s, let me tell you, the 70s were way better.

Director Jonathan Sarno did post-graduate work in playwriting and directing at the Yale School of Drama under directors Arthur Penn, George Roy Hill, Elia Kazan, Roberto Rosselini and novelist Jerzy Kozinski. He’s an artist and yet here he is, making a horror movie about psychic plants, but life is great that way. Sarno wrote this, along with Lamar Sanders, and also produced the movie and acts in it.

I don’t even know where to start with this movie. I mean, the phrase Kirlian is because the photographer detective at the heart of this movie, Rilla Hart, has a photo in this style that represents the energy field of the exotic plant that her sister Laurie owned before her death. And oh yeah, her sister could literally talk to that plant.

An occult low budget movie about talking plants and a psychic named Dusty who brags about how he has surpassed human existence and is one with the plants despite mainly working the night shift loaded trucks and also knows the exact moment that they will expire? What could make this better? How about a cameo by Lawrence Tierney as a police detective? Yeah, that’ll do it.

There’s another release of this called The Plants Are Watching that cuts a fair amount of footage, so go for this one. It’s so twisty and oddball that it could pretty much be classified as an American giallo, what with its dream logic and ending which reminded me of The Cat o’ Nine Tails. It’s a relatively sexless journey through the same end of the world New York City as Driller Killer, but you know, with plants.

Honestly, this movie is way better than it has any right to be. In a perfect world, it would have been the first film that Sarno turned into a cult film and we’d be celebrating everything he made afterward instead of him going into making travel videos. There’s honestly nothing else like it.

Oh yeah, one more thing.

In the credits, it thanks the owner of Day of the Triffids for the use of a scene from that movie. That man? Philip Yordan, whose strange movie Night Train to Terror is a nexus point in my strange film obsessions. Much like how the Church of Satan connects The Car, Tippi Hedren’s Roar and Jayne Mansfield, that movie is the crux of so many of the pathways that researching weird films has led me down.

Here’s a drink for this movie.

The Plants Are Drinking

  • 1 oz. Midori
  • 1 oz. vodka
  • 1 oz. white rum
  • 5 oz. lemonade
  1. Stir the first three ingredients in a glass with ice.
  2. Pour lemonade over and enjoy.

One thought on “The Kirlian Witness (1979)

  1. Pingback: What’s Up in the Neighborhood, March 20, 2021 – Chuck The Writer

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