Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Having recently watched all four cinematic adaptations of this classic 1955 serial by Jack Finney, I have to declare this one to be the very best for a number of reasons. Obviously with actors like Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, and Leonard Nimoy, the cast is spot on, but what really impressed me is the way something creepy is always happening in the background. Normally, the first act would be reserved for a lot of setup that could be potentially boring or just not as engaging as when our heroes are literally running for their lives. It's different here though especially if you're familiar at all with this infamous story since they keep ratcheting up the tension even from the very beginning when a teacher nonchalantly instructs her children to take the pod flowers back to their parents (not to mention, there's also the eerie excellent credit sequence on a distant planet with the alien seeds spreading). When our main characters witness a crowd of people relentlessly chasing a man down the street, they naturally reason, "He must have done something," despite the chilling odd nature of the scene and for those in the audience who know this tale, the horrifying reality behind these seemingly mundane events sinks in even deeper. We know soon our protagonists will be in the very same situation with their only crime being that they are in fact still human amongst a growing population of soulless pod people.

Of course, the special effects, greatly improved since the 1956 black-and-white version, really add a lot to this terrifying story particularly because you won't find a single drop of CGI. Everything here is practical. Done in-camera, and it gives every moment a visceral real quality that computers won't ever be able to touch. Plus, the actors have something physical to respond to so their performances never seem canned or glazed over. I'm not against CGI done well and in limited quantities for things you can't physically do, but I just have to admit I love practical. The opening space credit sequence without any CGI really puts a smile on my face, because I know, sadly, now that would be all computer-generated yet the clever ingenious way they did it back then still looks flawless today.

I can easily see why this story has been remade so many times. It's just creepy with two brilliant unnerving concepts at its heart: they get you when you sleep (and we all have to sleep) and my husband is not my husband; my wife is not my wife; my child is not my child; they look the same but we know they're not and no one will believe us. That screams pure horror, but aside from the weird bit with a homeless guy's head on his dog (I guess to show errors do occur and to play up the strange grotesque side a bit more though I think it's a little goofy), any future attempts to top this version are pretty futile. I do like the 90s remake; however, it still pales in comparison to this adaptation, and the most recent one ranks the lowest by far, ensuring it'll probably be a long time before anybody else tries again. If you missed this film even if you've watched the other remakes, you got to see this. It's truly a masterpiece.


  1. I tend to flip flop between this and the original as favorite. Wonderfully creepy, and this version has some great humour, too. A question, do you know if there is a DVD that has the original ending of the 1956 version? The DVD i have has the altered 'dream' ending...

    1. The recent Blu-ray and DVD releases of the '56 version were barebones since Olive Films' licensing deal with Viacom/Paramount didn't allow for extras, and the earlier Republic Pictures DVD only had an interview with McCarthy. Even the German Kinowelt edition had no special features. It's pretty sad. I've never seen a dream ending for the 1956 film though... just the one with the doctors examining MIles. You might be thinking of Invaders from Mars (1953) where the US cut has a dream ending and the British version does away with that (both are available on the 1999 Special Edition release from United American Video).

    2. Doug, I may have described it incorrectly as a 'dream'... The version I saw as a kid started and ended with the doctor and Miles relating the story. Instead of ending with the iconic 'You're Next!" cries from Miles we then cut back to the doctors office. I believe the ending was altered as the studios found the idea of our hero screaming into the camera too much to finish on. I'm not sure the film is even available without the tacked on doctor sequences...

    3. Yeah, the director wanted to end it with just the "You're next!" screaming scene, but the studio insisted on the hopeful bookend. That bit could definitely seem like a dream to a kid watching it... I didn't actually see the original until recently. You would think they would put out a version without those tacked-on scenes, but it doesn't look like they ever did.

    4. Ah, ok, that makes sense. I believed that a version of the film existed with both cuts, my bad. Sad that they don't go back and re-visit it, as it would appeal massively to purists and cinephiles. The film greatly upset me as a child, couldn't sleep for days afterwards for fear of a pod being under the bed.


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