Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) is not only a superior remake but a fantastically spine-chilling horror that still feels unsettling today.
Recently it seems that very few ‘original’ movies are being made.
Releases range from reboots, remakes or sequels. From Terminator Genisys (fuck, that spelling annoys me) to Total Recall and Robocop, to Point Break, Ghostbusters and Independence Day, it’s like we’ve run out of ideas and the world of popular cinema is severely lacking in inspiration.
Not to mention the ever expanding Marvel (and to a lesser extent DC) Cinematic Universe (I’m not complaining in this case – it’s like a yearly treat) and the general trend for serial comic book adaptations.
However, there are just a few remakes out there that are genuinely amazing and I’m here to tell you about one of the best…
Re: Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one of the best remakes ever made and one of my favourite horror films too. Deeply unsettling, wonderfully filmed and a bit of a lesson in how to do horror right.
A worthwhile remake takes the bits that are great about the original and builds on them. It pays true respect to source material while crafting something new and original from it.
This is second adaptation of Jack Finney’s 1995 book The Body Snatchers – about a race of alien lifeforms coming to earth and assimilating people, creating perfect but emotionless clones while sapping the life and ultimately killing their hosts. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) builds on the style and look of the 1956 original, but moves the scene from a small Californian town to the city of San Francisco.
Although the author and filmmakers have denied that this was the intention, the original film and book have a strong cold war theme. The film is insidious with fear and paranoia, in particular the fear of communism and otherness, displayed neatly through the distrust our characters feel toward the body snatchers.
Kaufman’s move to the city also shifts the theme from cold war to isolation and the dehuminisation that occurs when people moved to big cities. It also pokes merry fun at the surge of self-help gurus that emerged at this time, especially with a fantastic turn by Leonard Nimoy.
The city of San Francisco is very much a character in the film and is shot wonderfully throughout – along with that comes the deeply goofy 70s-ness of everything which is kind of hilarious and you can either put to one side or let it add to the sense of oddness that pervades the film.
Donald Sutherland is perfectly cast – five years after his brilliant turn in Don’t Look Now – as the nerdy but forceful protagonist, Matthew. His relationship with Brooke Adam’s Elizabeth is slowly and elegantly built throughout the film, with a jokey tenderness that I adore. They effortlessly display a friendship that’s close and full of trust while also running with a deeper current of tension beneath, not to mention Matthew’s clear interest in Elizabeth.
One small moment when Matthew’s tries to cheer Elizabeth up by telling a joke, just before the punchline they both laugh as she realises he’s told it before. It’s a gentle and subtly done scene and it juxtaposes nicely into the shock that comes next.
A terror filled man thumps into the front of their car screaming with fear and warning that ‘they’re coming’ before being chased down the street – it’s a shocking moment and a wonderful cameo from Kevin McCarthy, the lead actor in the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers – referencing the ending of the original film brilliantly.
While sitting next to a friend I was introducing to the film he turned to me and said “not at lot happens does it” to which I questioned “you don’t like it?” He replied “no I love it, it’s incredibly effective.” This sums a lot of the film for me. It’s not a heavy action packed film, and there is very little gore. What it does is slowly build up a sense of unease that permeates your very being. It’s one film that I think only improves through repeated viewing.
The second time you watch you start to notice people panicking, running and looking scared in the background of many scenes. It’s hardly noticeable first time but it gets under your skin throughout. Also, keep an ear out for the first time you hear the ear splitting Snatcher scream – it’s kind of hidden but neatly done – blended in with the screech of car tyres.
The opening scene where we see a creepy priest on a swing (a post Godfather Robert Duvall working for free – he just happened to be in the city ya know) is the unnerving beginning to a lot of wonderfully done background work.
The growing unease Kauffman creates is wonderful and it’s elevated by the ‘is he/isn’t he?’ element of Nimoy’s psychiatrist. Convincing Elizabeth and other characters that the fear they have that that their partners/family members have changed is all in their head and they are just projecting their fears and worries is excellent. Never sure whether he is in on the conspiracy or if he is just a jumped up, self-important shrink.
As the extent of the horror comes to light we see copies of humans being made – born from the pods in a wonderful bit of physical special effects work – plant-like hairy tendrils creeping up the characters arms as they assimilate them. The one big gore shock involves Sutherland smashing in the head of his own doppelgänger, and it is appropriately gross.
Despite being in colour the film manages a noir-esque look, with deep unsettling shadows that nod towards early horror films. There’s lots of wonderful lighting throughout, often seeming over-lit and shlocky but actually it adds to the oddness of the scenes and the overall feeling of the film.
Once the outbreak starts to fully overtake the city and the snatchers start to chase people in groups there’s an almost Zombieish element to the herd-like way they chase. With deep shadows of our heroes and their chasers – to feet running and hiding in darkened holes, it feels very creepy and it harks to the faster zombies we have see in the last decade from the likes of 28 Days Later and World War Z.
The last bit I’ll discuss is what I think of as the ‘horror scream’ which is something I’ve always been a big fan of. In the 70s when women were scared in films they screamed with a real spine tingling, high pitched awfulness. It’s definitely a stylistic thing and is compounded by the quality of sound recording of the day, I love it. I often find a old school horror scream more effective than in modern horror movies. It usually involved the camera panning in up close on the actresses face as they wail in terror.
Veronica Cartwright pitches in a fantastic performance, just a few years before her great effort in Alien. Playing Jeff Goldblum’s (fantastically cast as a neurotic writer) new-world but amazingly sensible wife she is the perfect horror female, and she can scream like the best of them. Her character is not useless and flimsy but still scared like hell and screaming like she means it. I think she’s wonderful – for those of you that know how the final scene plays out – I read that she was no more aware of the ending that the audience. Whether or not that’s true or a myth I don’t know – but she pulls it off wonderfully.
In short – with great performances throughout, a subtle but incredibly effective sense of fear and oddness – and a take on a story that both reveres the original but creates something of it’s own. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is both a fantastic remake and a wonderful piece of horror. Check it out at your local video rental store today.