Body Snatchers (1993)
Director: Abel Ferrara
Cast: Meg Tilly, R. Lee Ernie, Forest Whitaker, Gabrielle Anwar, Christine Elise, Terry Kinney, Reilly Murphy, Billy Wirth
One thing I find interesting about these Body Snatcher movies is that they are not clones of each other, they are all different somehow, which kind of goes in line with the main characters in these films who are always fighting to retain what makes them different, what makes the unique. Yeah, sure all four films are about the fear of losing our individuality, but at the same time they all have little things that make them just a little different. For example, while in Phillip Kaufman’s Invasion of the BodySnatchers (1978) we follow a Health Department official as he uncovers the horrors of the invasion, on this one we follow a teenage girl who’s moving to a military base with her family, because her dad is going to investigate a chemical spill.
The fact that this film takes place in an American military base is what sets this version apart from all others because for example, the 1956 version served as an allegory for America’s fear of communism, essentially making it a film about how we needed to fear the Russians because they were going to turn us all into communist. But on this ‘93 version, it’s the American military who are the bad guys; I thought it was interesting how the filmmakers switched things around like that. I guess they figured that times had changed and that fear of communism was no longer a relevant theme. They did a similar thing in the ’78 version which eliminated the political allegories all together. That one was just about the fear of losing our humanity, which is probably why I like it so much, it just concentrates on pure fear, pure paranoia and because of that, it’s a very effective horror film.
Abel Ferrara is the director behind this remake, and well, Mr. Ferrara isn’t exactly known for making commercial horror sci-fi hybrids. In fact, Abel Ferrara is better known for making ultra realistic films about corrupt cops and mafia warlords. I speak of course of films like the amazing double whammy: The Bad Lieutenant (1992) and King of New York (1990), two films I highly recommend you guys watch, you won’t soon forget them. To some, it might seem strange to see Ferrara directing a science fiction/horror film, but we can’t forget that, Ferrara’s career actually started with a no-budget, ultra gritty slasher film known as The Driller Killer (1979); a film about an artist who is so poor and flat out frustrated with his life, that he starts killing people with his power drill! So anyhow, it’s cool seeing Ferrara returning to his horror roots. Does he succeed?
I’d say he did because the film has some genuinely chilling moments, it’s not a perfect film, but it’s not a disaster. What I enjoy about these Body Snatchers films is that they are all about people being chastised for being different, for thinking differently and so there’s this scene where a little kid is in school painting a picture with all his little student friends, problem is that when the teacher asks everyone to show what they’ve drawn, all drawings are the same, except for the one done by the little human kid. There’s another scene where someone who’s been turned into an alien tells her husband “Where are you going to run? Where are you going to hide? There’s no one like you left” A chilling scene delivered with great gusto. The one problem is that the film takes a while to really take off. Before the aliens start showing up, there’s a lot of exposition and unfortunately not a whole lot of tension. Which is something I really liked about the 1978 version, there’s this feeling of unease from the very first moments. On this one, I think they needed to augment the paranoia earlier on, in my opinion they waited too long to turn up the heat. Actually, I really didn't get that feeling of paranoia I got from the ’78 version, this one is just “let’s run from the monsters” type of film.
Another downside to this film is the banality of the main characters, who we don’t really get to know. In Phillip Kaufman’s ’78 version of Body Snatchers you get to know the main characters because you spend some time with them. There’s this scene where we see Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams having dinner together, being silly, we get to see their human side. In fact, it’s one of the things I remember the most about that ’78 version, the special effort that was made to make the human characters really human. Not so much on this one because we’re never really given a chance to connect with them, we’re supposed to be scared that they will turned into alien drones, but how can we when we don’t get to see their human side in the first place? In Body Snatchers, what freaks us out are the aliens, but we don’t really fear for the protagonists. Some performances do stand out though, Meg Tilly does an amazing job with some of her scenes, in fact, she has the most chilling scene in the whole film. Forest Whitaker has some intense scene as well, unfortunately the rest of the cast weren’t compelling enough. This is especially the case with Gabrielle Anwar, the actress playing the teenager, she needed to be developed and portrayed much better; more so when we take in consideration that she is carrying the entire film on her shoulders.
So what we have here is a good, but not excellent remake. Thankfully, the good outweigh the bad. For example, when Ferrara’s Body Snatchers finally takes off, and the aliens start shrieking and pointing at the humans, things get intense and freaky. I have to admit when the first alien shrieked it got to me. The last half of the film is solid in my book, the ending is kind of overtly simple and abrupt. It’s explosive, but rushed. I was not aware of it, but Stuart Gordon the director behind Re-Animator (1985) and From Beyond (1986) partially wrote the script, so it’s cool having a great horror director doing scripting duties, it’s also great to have a distinguished director like Ferrara behind the cameras. I only wish they’d made more of an effort to make the humans more human, as it is, the human characters on this film feel like they’ve been cloned before the aliens even laid a single tentacle on them.
Rating: 3 out of 5