Mankind’s internal disassociation from the world at large, the communist threat and McCarthy witch hunts robbing us all of our individualism, and, fear of modern mechanization dehumanizing life as we know it; these were just some of the socio-political critiques ascribed to Walter Wanger’s 1956 classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers – an intelligent, if slightly campy sci-fi B-movie that attempted to address more meaningful questions of isolationism during the repressive fifties using science fiction as its artistic patina for getting to more fundamental truths. In reinventing the story for the more socially ambiguous 1970s, director Philip Kaufman’s 1978 remake all but diffused and/or distilled any and all of these subliminal references into a nightmarish landscape where people are being consumed by an alien life-force hoping to breed on the planet earth. No – they don’t want to coexist. They want to take over.
I am still trying to exact my own kernel of fascination from such self-destructive narratives. Over time, and as humans, we have increasingly become enamored by our own demise. Whether embracing the movie genres of disaster, horror or sci-fi, it seems that we just cannot exact enough catharsis from watching our own species die at the mercy of another more superior one hell bent on watching us expire. In reality I can’t imagine anyone wishing for such an apocalyptic conclusion to our world. Yet, in the movies – particularly the summer popcorn blockbusters – such devastation is not only permissible, but built around that morbid curiosity to watch it all go to hell and a hand basket. Sick – but fun too. And Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers is much more than just a light smattering of either.
Arguably, it is one of the greatest horror movies ever made. Quite easily it is one of the best remakes attempted; a far more terrorizing excursion this time around that delves deeply into the sinister supernatural. The original book's cosmic terrors are real and terrifying. In W. D. Ritcher's screenplay the migration of the ‘pods’; aliens from outer space cast down onto the atmosphere of an unsuspecting earth, is masked by a cleansing spring rain, the pods attaching themselves to other living plant life in and around the San Francisco Bay area, producing a colorful purple blooms that proves enticing to the human population.
The flowers are first observed with curiosity by micro-biologist, Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams) as she heads home after a long day, working as a chemist in the public health offices. Liz’s live-in boyfriend, Dr. Geoffrey Howell (Art Hindle) thinks her speculation about parasitic plants is farfetched to say the least. Actually, he doesn’t care about much of anything except sports. Very shortly, however, Geoffrey discovers the truth when one of the pods grows into his counterpart – a human/alien hybrid. The new Geoffrey looks pretty much the same, but he is utterly void of emotions or sentiment. At first Elizabeth suspects Geoffrey is having an affair but dispels this theory regarding his strange behavior when she witnesses him engaging in the transfer of a strange pod-like material between both men and women from all walks of life, meeting in deserted parking lots and back allies.
To get a better handle on what might be going on Elizabeth consults her friend, Board of Health investigator, Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland). At first, Matthew is just as reticent about accepting Elizabeth’s theory of alien colonization. Then, he begins to witness the changes first hand as he frequents local establishments in the city, only to discover an emotionless population staring blankly back at him. Keen viewers will recognize actor Kevin McCarthy's brief cameo as a frightened man who runs into Matthew's car on a crowded Frisco street, relentlessly pursued to his death by the pod people.
Meanwhile across town, massage therapist Nancy Bellicec (Veronica Cartwright) and her husband Jack (Jeff Goldblum) begin to suspect that their establishment has already been frequented by the pod people. Eventually, the Bellicec's approach Matthew and Elizabeth with their findings – a look-a-like of Jack having grown from a pod inside their backroom. But it's too late for San Francisco. The pod people outnumber the human populace. Now this foursome must flee the city limits – masquerading as pods themselves to infiltrate the city, only to learn that they are already near the tale end of complete extinction.
Kaufman’s apocalyptic vision generates an ever-growing sense of dread, fear and paranoia. The special effects are gruesome and hold up very well under contemporary scrutiny. Yet, it is the overall believability we glean from the actors who really sell this monster mash as the gospel. In retrospect, Invasion of the Body Snatchers plays much more like grand tragedy than a traditional horror movie – the final moment where Nancy, having escaped the pods, approaches Mathew from across the parking lot near city hall, only to discover he too has become a pod, leaving us all a little shell-shocked and terrorized that the end for the rest of us is near.
What really sells this remake are the performances; not a false one among the roster. The ensemble works so well that we can easily bypass the star personas, forgetting it is Donald Sutherland or Jeff Goldblum or Leonard Nemoy or Veronica Cartwright or Brook Adams and simply buy into the story at face value. Even better, Michael Chapman’s moody cinematography transforms sunny California into a dreary gray landscape looking very worn and creepy. Most of the movie take place at night; all those shadowy recesses hiding Lord knows what ready to burst forth and devour us. Yet, even the daytime sequences contain a constricting sensation – that, somehow, everything belonging to the age of man is in a steep decline, fast-tracking into a paralyzing oblivion. Chilling on every level and sure to lead to a few sleepless nights besides; Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a film not so easily dismissed from our consciousness once the houselights have come up.
MGM/Fox Home Entertainment's Blu-Ray easily bests any DVD incarnations. The 1080p Blu-Ray is razor sharp with very solid contrast and accurately represented colors. The ugly orange flesh tones on the DVD look quite natural on the Blu-ray. This is a very film-like presentation with a good smattering of grain that looks like grain. Truly, there's nothing to complain about visually - or aurally. The audio is a new 5.1 DTS from the same Dolby Digital stems used to master the DVD. Invasion of the Body Snatchers played in theaters in a mono mix and while this 5.1 re-purposing won’t rock the house, the spatial spread across all five channels sounds pretty awesome. Extras include a thorough audio commentary, original theatrical trailer and 3 featurettes detailing the film’s creation and impact. Highly recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)