Julien Neaves, Sci Fi Editor
On February 5 seminal Sci Fi horror film Invasion of the Body Snatchers turned 65. Happy belated birthday you wonderfully creepy film. And thank you for making people afraid to go to sleep almost three decades before A Nightmare on Elm Street and one Mr Frederick Krueger.
Based on Jack Finney’s 1954 science fiction novel The Body Snatchers, the film tells the tale of a small town infiltrated by body-stealing, emotionless aliens grown from giant seed pods. It went on to influence other films in the genre and has become a part of pop culture itself. If you ever heard the term “pod people” this is where it’s from. The film also spawned (good word there) three remakes of varying quality, and for today’s article we will be revisiting all four films. With the desiccated husk of a SPOILER ALERT let’s get to it.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
What happens if your neighbours are no longer your neighbours? This is the dilemma facing general practitioner Dr Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) and his stylish former girlfriend Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter) in the sleepy town of Santa Mira.
One of the best decisions by director Don Siegel is the slow burn approach to the terror in the film. I mean, the title pretty much spells out what you’re in for, but there’s no rush here. We get to meet the residents of Santa Mira through the lens of the affable and charming Dr Bennell, and we see him turn up that charm to woo the lovely Miss Driscoll. But there continues to be a growing sense of unease as more and more people claim that their relative or significant other is an imposter.
Things start to simmer when duplicate bodies begin showing up and an alien pod is discovered in a farm house. And then in the final act it is a full screaming boil for survival from the disturbingly emotionless pod people. It’s scary, thrilling and a great watch. I must also give praise to the practical effects of the pod as that thing looked very unsettling.
McCarthy is pitch perfect as Dr Bennell, nailing both the laid-back affability and wide-eyed terror. The scene when he discovers Becky has been replaced is a heart-breaking one. And the climax of him screaming “You’re next” to random drivers on the highway is simply iconic. I do sit in the camp, however, that believes the film should have ended on that bleak scene as was originally intended, as that would have been perfect. The “happy ending” just fells out of sync with the rest of the film and always falls flat for me. But that notwithstanding, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a tension-filled blast that still holds up five and a half decades later.
Score: 8 out of 10
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Now I love the 1956 original and, as I said, it holds up well to this day, but the 1978 remake is the superior film in terms of acting, tone, scope and special effects.
The slow reveal of the pod people explodes into the unrelenting tension of being discovered by these nefarious aliens. And what can be scarier than aliens who look just like your family, spouses, friends and neighbours but are freakishly emotionless like automatons? Answer: Not much. The effects for the transformations are also wonderfully gross, including a creepy dog-man, and add some body horror to the paranoia. And that unnatural scream the pod people make when they discover a human? Bone chilling. Absolutely bone chilling!
The remake also boasts a superb cast including Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Veronica Cartwright, Jeff Goldblum and Leonard Nimoy. There is even a great cameo with Kevin McCarthy. This version is also the bleakest and most harrowing in the entire franchise.
And this was also the only film that had the guts to go with the downbeat ending. The scene of Sutherland’s Bennell being revealed as a pod person by screaming at Cartwright’s frantic Nancy Bellicec is the perfect end to this tour de force of tension and body horror terror. And for me this version is easily the best of Body Snatchers franchise.
Score: 9 out of 10
Body Snatchers (1993)
I had to rewatch this one for this article, but before I did I remembered two things from my previous viewing: the scene with the naked Gabrielle Anwar pod person and the overall feeling that it was kinda meh. And after rewatching it, the film is still kinda meh. This version takes the body snatching action away from the small town of the original and the bustling city of the first remake to an isolated army base. And it focuses on Environmental Protection Agency officer Steve Malone and his family visiting said base.
The set-up for the film is the first misstep. Because it’s a new family temporarily moving in you have none of that “long time neighbour turns emotionless monster” horror of the original. And there is not much of a slow burn here as we have Forest Whitaker’s Major Collins explaining all the “paranoia” in an exposition dump. Show, don’t tell people! Whitaker, a future Academy Award winner, features in just one more scene and it is where he commits suicide after being confronted by pod people, including R. Lee Ermey’s General Platt. Both Whitaker and Ermey feel wasted in the film and I believe this version would have benefited greatly if there was more time spent with them.
Instead we are stuck with the flat acting of Anwar as stereotypical rebellious teen Marti, Billy Worth as her bland love interest and helicopter pilot Tim, and Terry Kinney as Malone, who kind of looks like a poor man’s James Spader. And I don’t mean to knock child actors but Reilly Murphy is completely unbelievable as Marti’s traumatised half-brother Andy. When he says, “She’s not my mom. My mom’s dead” it sounds like he was just reading his lines. On the positive side, Meg Tilly is decent as Carol Malone and later her emotionless pod replacement. I did find her “Where you gonna run” speech, which I remember them spoiling in the trailers, would have worked better if it was more cold and robotic. But that pod scream did make up for it though. My favourite character was actually Christine Elise’s punk rocker Jenn Platt, and I was genuinely sad when she went all pod person.
The special effects are also a mixed bag. The practical stuff is genuinely well-done and the pod tentacles just make your skin crawl. Ugh! But we also have the extremely bad green screen when Pod Andy gets thrown out of the helicopter. And were we really supposed to have been fooled by Pod Andy? He just walked past a bunch of pod people and they didn’t try to stop him. Come on movie. Better than that.
And are these intelligent aliens? Because the plan to place a pod in a ceiling was a pretty dumb one as we clearly see when the new body comes crashing down. And then we have the super happy ending of the military bombing the hell out of the pod people as the frequently narrating Marti talks about “hate” and “revenge”. Maybe if the Malones felt like an actual family I would care, but I don’t. In the end Body Snatchers has some cool effects but little else to offer.
Score: 5 out of 10
The Invasion (2007)
Full confession: I only realised this movie existed when I did research for this article. And can you blame me? As a title The Invasion sounds very generic. How was I supposed to know this was the third Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake?
Sadly this version feels like the most watered down of the story because they changed so many things. It is no longer a pod creating duplicates but an infectious spore that rewrites the DNA. The body gets all gelatinous but then gets normal again, I guess. Visually it is okay but plot wise it is boring. It is no longer duplicates that destroyed the host but people taken over by aliens. Come on. We’ve seen that a million times already. Why change this fundamental aspect of the story? It really reduces the stakes, especially with the ending when infected people are cured and just go back to normal.
Nicole Kidman does give a solid performance as psychiatrist Dr Bennell and fresh Bond Daniel Craig is good as well. Child actor Jackson Bond (hey, another Bond) is also much better than his 1993 counterpart. And Veronica Cartwright from the 1978 version returns here for a small but impactful role as Dr Bennell’s patient who is suspicious when her abusive husband becomes all friendly.
The film also has a few tense moments and cool set pieces, though after a while it does get to be a bit much. And all the modern rumination about real life wars and politics feels hackneyed. They seem to be trying to make a point about how all our modern problems are due to our emotions but the treatment is as deep as a puddle. And that ending? Wow. What an anticlimax. Yeah, feel free to miss this Invasion.
Score: 4.5 out of 10
So what’s your favourite Body Snatchers film? And if you enjoyed this article feel free to share. For Senior Writer Sommer’s review of cult classic Sci Fi horror The Hidden you can click here.
Julien “Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. I can also be found posting about TV and movie memes, news and trailers on Facebook at Movieville. And to stay on top of all Redmangoreviews articles you can like and follow us on Facebook here.