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Five Great Things about Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Besides blood, boobs and beasts, the horror genre is infamous for both sequels and remakes. Between the years 2000 to 2011 alone, there were 39 horror remakes released, ranging from Thirteen Ghosts to The Thing (which in itself is a remake of a remake as Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece was an update of 1951’s The Thing from Another World).

Most horror fans eschew remakes in favor of the originals, and very few supplant the original in terms of quality, audience appeal, or longevity. This of course begs the question: Why does Hollywood continue to churn out horror remakes? That’s a question for another day. However, there does exist a handful of remakes that do indeed, if not better the originals (although some do), at least stand as extremely worthy companion pieces. These are remakes that take the original and update them to reflect modern social trends and sensibilities. They honor the original while giving the audience something new to admire. The aforementioned The Thing is a prime example; another would be David Cronenberg’s mind-blowing 1986 reimagining of The Fly. Yet another flick which sits comfortably on that very short list is Phillip Kaufman’s 1978 update of Don Siegel’s 1956 drive-in classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In remaking Invasion, Kaufman takes the original, moves the setting up twenty years to then modern-day San Francisco, and ratchets up the creep factor exponentially. Incidentally, the film was subsequently remade two more times: In 1993, Abel Ferrara released Body Snatchers, and in 2007, Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig toplined The Invasion. Both are decidedly lesser films which are forgotten by many. And if current Hollywood trends are any indication, I suspect we have yet to see the last adaptation of Jack Finney’s source novel. Here are five great things about Phillip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, Donald Sutherland, 1978

5) The Tone:

The original tale of our friends, neighbours, relatives and lovers transforming into pod people seemingly overnight is considered by most as a Cold War-era cautionary parable of the dangers of communism lurking in our midst. The original can’t be read the same way, but what it loses in subtext, it gains in sheer paranoia and terror. With all of San Francisco seemingly becoming a pod person, it’s impossible not to feel the claustrophobic nightmare that our heroes find themselves in. They truly have nowhere to turn to nor anyone to trust. And what could be more eerie then calling 911 and having the operator already know who you are?

The film is relentlessly creepy. The beginning is easy-breezy and even humorous (“It’s a caper! No, it’s a rat turd!”) But once the first transformed character is discovered, turning from a couch potato basketball fanatic to a besuited, emotionless “perfect citizen”, the feeling of paranoia and discomfort tightens like a vice and never abates, not even during the closing credits (which unspool in complete silence.)

The disquieting score and off-kilter camerawork effectively heighten the unnerving atmosphere. And that ear-piercing, shrill shriek the pod people emit to raise alarm is harrowing enough to soil even the hardiest of horror watchers’ underpants.

Invasion-cast

4) The Cast:

Where the original featured a commendable cast of then relative unknowns primarily known up to that point for their TV work, the remake features a stellar cast of A-list actors and future superstars. Donald Sutherland was already an established and respected actor, and he’s wonderful as the protagonist, health inspector Matthew Bennell. His performance is natural, humorous, exciting and ultimately tragic. And he has crackling chemistry with the female lead Brooke Adams as Elizabeth Driscoll (her eye-rolling scene and Sutherland’s reaction are both genuine and adorable.)

Joining them is the future Seth Brundle, Jeff Goldblum, very early in his career. As failed-poet Jack Bellicec, Goldblum inaugurated the “Goldblum” character – the paranoid, neurotic intellectual. He’s a treat and so is Veronica Cartwright as his new-age, slightly hippyish wife Nancy. Finally, there’s Mr. Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy, as Dr. David Kibner, a famed pop-psychiatrist/self-help guru given to spouting self-actualization nonsense. And special mention must be made of Art Hindle from Black Christmas and The Brood who plays Geoffrey, Elizabeth’s husband and the first to succumb to the alien invasion.

invasion-of-the-body-snatchers-They're-Coming

3) They’re coming!…Help!…Help!

The ’56 Invasion has one of the most indelible endings in horror history, with Kevin McCarthy as the film’s protagonist Dr. Bennell running frantically down a freeway and through the streets, bellowing to anyone who’ll listen “They’re coming!…We’re in danger!… Help… Help! … You’re next! You’re next! You’re next!” Twenty years hence and time has not succored Eastman one whit, as he reappears in the remake hollering and gesticulating in the same panicky state as he was last left.

Early in the film, as Matthew and Elizabeth are driving along, a man suddenly darts in front of the car, deliriously pounding on it. It’s Eastman uttering the climactic ’56 lines almost verbatim. He runs off and shortly thereafter we hear a car crash. The next shot is Eastman man lying dead and bloodied on the streets of Nob Hill while a gaggle of stunned onlookers bear witness. This can be read two ways. Perhaps (as some have suggested) as an indication that Invasion ’78 is actually a sequel and poor, crazed Dr. Bennell is still futilely trying to warn the populace of the invasion in their midst. The other interpretation is that dispatching with the star of the original is Kaufman’s hint that this isn’t your father’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The stakes are higher and this one will be a mite bit messier.

Eastman isn’t the only callback to the progenitor. Director Don Siegel cameos as a taxi driver ferrying Bennell and Driscoll. Reportedly, the looks of nervousness on both Sutherland’s and Adam’s faces during that scene were quite real, as the aged Siegel was virtually blind but vainly choose to drive the cab through the nighttime streets without the aid of his prescriptions!

Invasion_Effects

2) The Effects

Though not an all-out gorefest, Invasion of the Body Snatchers does feature some unique and memorable practical makeup effects, which once seen, will not easily abdicate the psyche.

As the pods start to proliferate, doppelgangers are found covered in fine, white hairs. When Sutherland’s Bennell falls asleep outside, we see a pod emitting tendrils which make their way up his arm. The pod pulsates and flowers. Suddenly there are pod-people emerging all around, escaping their pod cocoons and emerging as adult-sized, mucus covered embryonic newborn babies. Luckily, Bennell is awoken in time to bloodily bash in the face of his alien duplicate.

Other neat infects include Elizabeth’s rapidly decomposing and decompressing face right before she reemerges as one of them, and a hybrid dog with a human face which must be  seen to be believed.

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1.) The Ending

Since the original’s ending was so unforgettable, it behooved Kaufman to punctuate his film with a conclusion that was different yet equally memorable. The challenge was met admirably, and the ending of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one for the ages, so much so that it has subsequently become a fairly popular Internet meme.

All is quiet in San Francisco after a frantic night of trying to escape the aliens and destroy their pod-exporting operation. Bennell is back at work and doing his best to blend in with the transformed populace among him. As he leaves his building and walks across the lawn, Nancy calls out to him, elated to find a friend who escaped the night unchanged. The camera zooms toward Bennell and he pauses for a beat before lifting his arm, pointing and emitting the otherworldly high-pitched shriek. Nancy screams bloody murder as the camera zooms closer on Bennell’s face and right into his gaping maw before fading to black. Our hero, Matthew Bennell is one of them and Nancy is evidently next to fall. No one is safe from this Invasion, and we’re brought full-circle as Eastman’s dire prophecy has finally come to fruition.

Jeff is the co-host of the podcast Really Awful Movies. Click on the link to to check it out! You can also follow his web site Really Awful Movies

 

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