Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Director: Phillip Kaufman
Cast: Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum, Brooke Adams, Veronica Carthwright, Leonard Nimoy
There have been three remakes of the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). The first one was this Phillip Kaufman version I’ll be reviewing today, then there’s Abel Ferrara’s Body Snatchers (1993) which I will be reviewing soon, then there’s The Invasion (2007) which strangely enough was as devoid of emotion as the aliens it was depicting, don’t even bother with that one. But I decided to revisit this 1978 version because I had not seen it since I was a child and wanted to see what I could get out of it now as an adult because my original reaction to it as a kid was one of pure fright. The idea that these aliens were trying to turn us into something we are not frightened me immensely, my reaction was a visceral one; I hated these aliens with no personality and emotions. But back then I was simply a scared little kid, frightened by these notions, my reaction was based on fear, I didn’t really see the themes behind the film, or what the filmmakers where really trying to say, to me it was just a freaky movie. Upon my re-watch I discovered that this film is still freaky, still highly effective as a horror/sci-fi hybrid, and filled with socially relevant issues. How did the film fare this time around, from an adult perspective?
Invasion of the Body Snatchers is all about these alien spores that make it to our planet by traveling through space. I loved how the director decided to film the opening sequences by using footage of micro organisms (I have no idea what they really were) and made it look like they were the alien organisms infiltrating our planet. So anyways, these alien organisms arrive to our planet and attach themselves to plants which grow into these giant pods from which half formed humanoid beings pop out of. They wait until you are asleep and then try to duplicate you. After they do, your body decomposes and turns to dust, and then the duplicate takes over. The duplicate looks like you in every way save for one significant difference; you are now a being devoid of emotion! The main characters in the film realize this is happening and attempt to runaway in order to retain their humanity. But how far can they run before the pod people catch them?
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), the first film to bring Jack Finney’s book to life was made during the 50’s, when Russians enemies to the Americans, so if we look at it within that context, the aliens probably represented communism, which believe it or not was actually spreading itself rather quickly throughout the united states. During those years, there was such a thing as a ‘communist party’ in America. Communists numbered in the many thousands and where growing strong! The workers unions all got together to fight for their rights, and many of these workers were foreigners with communism as their way of life. So of course Americans were trembling in their pants, capitalism as a way of life was in peril! So it’s safe to say that we can see the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers as an allegory for that, a metaphor for the ever spreading ‘menace’ of communism, which threatened the American way of life. Was this 1978 version addressing these same fears? Or was it about something else?
Well yes, this time around, instead of aiming its guns at communism, this version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is all about “losing our humanity”, a theme that is emphasized all throughout the film. The main characters are fighting for their right to retain their memories, the right to feel, the right to retain what makes them human. This theme brought to mind George Orwell’s 1984, which is a novel about a totalitarian government that prohibits all forms of emotions. Everyone dresses the same; no one is more special than the other. In this novel everyone is loyal to the all powerful, ever watching government. If you go against them, someone will rat on you. And when this happens, you will end up paying for your betrayal to the all knowing ‘Big Brother’. Individuality is not encouraged in Orwell’s novel. But the main characters always fight for it, even if it means death. Well, this version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is not all that different from Orwell’s novel. The aliens want you to be like them, or else. They are a race of beings who don’t show any emotion at all, if you show emotion the point at you and give this other worldly scream in order to alert all other aliens that you are not one of them. So this of course creates an intense feeling of paranoia amongst the humans who live in constant fear of getting caught. The paranoia is extremely palpable in this movie; it’s one of those movies where the whole town is in on something, something that you don’t want to be a part of. I drew similarities with Invaders from Mars, a film that plays with similar themes.
Because this film was made in the 70’s, everything feels more real somehow. There’s no color filters, no computer effects, this is a film that comes from an era when they actually shot movies with film and a camera and real actors instead of CGI doubles and color correction. I love how the effects are entirely practical, so visceral, palpable. There's even some gore in there! This film feels gritty and realistic; something I wish modern films would go back to. Even the actors are adult, which is something you don’t see a lot of these days either, nowadays most films only use young people. Yet during the tail end of the 70’s films were way more adult oriented. The actors seen in most films were adults, not teens, not twenty- somethings. Speaking of actors, this film has an awesome cast! Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum, Brooke Adams and Veronica Cartwright all do a splendid job of displaying fear. Even Leonard Nimoy is hear playing a psychologist! By the way, be on the lookout for cameos by Robert Duvall as a creepy looking priest, director Phillip Kaufman and even Kevin McCarthy, the main actor from the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)!
So yeah, closing statements on this film is that it’s solid, still creepy and filled with copious amounts of paranoia! It is also considered one of the best remakes ever, some even think that it’s better than the original because it takes the concepts presented on the original and improves them and even takes them to places that the first film never went, which is always a sign of a good remake. The worst thing you can get is a remake that plays out exactly the same way the original did. So I guess this one can be placed in the same pantheon of awesome remakes as The Fly (1986), The Thing (1982) and Night of the Living Dead (1990). Be on the lookout for subtle hints of paranoia throughout the film. I mean, right from the very beginning, little things happen that let you know something is not quite right with people. The creepiest thing about this film for me is how fast the aliens spread, how effectively they organize themselves and spread their pods, you get this feeling that the aliens are overpowering, that they are in fact an unstoppable force which we cannot deal with and simply have to give into. A frightening idea indeed!
Rating: 5 out of 5
A dog with a human head, I never did understand why it appears on the film. Be my guest and try and explain it! Still an effectively freaky visual dont you think?