Kirlian Witness, The (1979)

Kirlian Witness, The (1979)

“My plants sense that he is a bad person!”

A photographer (Nancy Snyder) investigates the mysterious death of her plant-loving sister (Nancy Boykin).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Amateur Sleuths
  • Killer Plants
  • Lawrence Tierney Films
  • Murder Mystery
  • Photographers
  • Supernatural Powers

In 1968, Clyde Baxter published an article called “Evidence of a Primary Perception in Plant Life”, claiming that when he hooked a plant up to a polygraph machine, the plant reacted to thoughts and threats. It’s an intriguing idea — after all, plants are alive, so isn’t it possible that we’re underestimating their potential for sentience? — but Baxter’s “experiment” has since been roundly debunked. Back in the day, however, the “secret life of plants” was apparently ripe with dramatic possibility — and, combined with the equally new-agey concepts of Kirlian photography, auras, and psychic transmission, formed the basis of this minor cult flick by independent writer/director Jonathan Sarno.

The Kirlian Witness (also known as The Plants Are Watching) was marketed as a horror film upon its release — indeed, my local video store inexplicably continues to file it in the horror section under “When Plants Attack” (!?) — but, as pointed out by Shane Burridge in his review, it’s actually more of a crime thriller than a horror flick, with amateur sleuth Nancy Snyder attempting to find out the identity of the killer while placing her own life in danger. As such, it’s a reasonably well-done, albeit unevenly paced, independent feature — and though there are only two primary suspects, Sarno manages to pull a nifty plot twist at the end. Nonetheless, all the nonsense about psychic plants and auras ruined my overall enjoyment of the film, and ultimately elicited more groans than chills.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • An unusual premise for a murder mystery

Must See?
No. Though it developed a small cult during the time of its release, I don’t think this curio remains must-see viewing today.


One thought on “Kirlian Witness, The (1979)

  1. First viewing. Oh, the many moods of ‘meh’! Skip it.

    This film is now nearly impossible to find – which is not at all surprising since it’s not very good. It plods along in scene after scene that’s completely forgettable once it has moved onto some other ultimately forgettable scene.

    I only got a little personal pleasure out of watching it because – when I first lived in Manhattan – I worked for a time at the Circle Repertory Co., mainly during its production of Lanford Wilson’s ‘The 5th of July’. In the original cast of that production was Nancy Snyder (who has the lead role in this). I got to know her reasonably well (well-enough to think she was a nice person) so it was nice to see her in this. I believe, at some point, she eventually left the actor’s life.

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