If there’s one thing that horror fans have learned in the last, oh, five years or so, it’s that the remake, for better or worse, is here to stay. One thing horror fans can generally agree on is that there’s a whole lot more “worse” than “better” getting made, unfortunately. Basically, this means that no one was much surprised when The Invasion hit theatres not long ago and garnered yet another sigh of discontent from the masses. Considering that it’s the fourth Body Snatchers film to appear, this is one remake that provokes the age-old question WHY? For the love of Donald Sutherland’s ‘70s afro, why?
At times like this, I find it best to simply ignore the new version and head back to the source material, for the crappiness of the new certainly doesn’t diminish the awesomeness of the old. In this case, I sat on my Wayback Couch and traveled all the way to 1956 to partake in Don Siegel’s black and white sci-fi masterpiece Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the film that marked the first time Jack Finney’s novel was adapted for the screen.
Affable Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) returns home from a medical conference to find some strange goings-on in quaint little Santa Mira, CA. Patients have been scheduling office visits and then inexplicably canceling them, while folks around town have noticed other folks acting odd: a boy fears his mother is not really his mother, and a young woman is sure that her uncle is an imposter. “At first, everything looked the same,” says Bennell. “It wasn’t. Something evil had taken possession of the town.”
That “something evil” is simply some form of mass hysteria, according to the town shrink. Eventually, the truth is revealed: Santa Mira’s residents are being replaced by carbon copies that hatch from giant alien seed pods. People are reborn into a world where everyone is the same; there’s no hate, but there’s no love. There are no highs, no lows, and no creamy middles: pod people have no emotions. Miles wisely wants no part of this new life, and attempts a daring escape with his girlfriend, Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter). Will the couple make it out of Santa Mira alive? Will they succumb to sleep and be replaced by emotionless doppelgangers? If the world becomes overrun with emotionless doppelgangers, what OH WHAT will happen to American Idol?
Siegel’s film proves that with a great story, charismatic leads, and solid pacing, you don’t need a huge budget to make an effective horror film. And yes, though it’s generally classified as sci-fi, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is indeed horrifying. Watching the pods crack open to “birth” the near-fully formed human replicas is pure nose-wrinkling grodiness, even if the goo looks just like soap bubbles. Hearing the town’s sirens go off as Miles and Becky flee into the hillside amps up the fear factor, and watching loved ones “change over” is heartbreaking and terrifying all at once. The film begins as things in Santa Mira are about to turn ugly, and the action simply doesn’t let up. Invasion of the Body Snatchers absolutely earns its place as a classic of American cinema, and it feels as relevant today as it must have over 50 years ago. Though it’s often interpreted as a reaction to the political landscape of its time, condemning communism and McCarthyism alike, the theme can be seen as broader than even that: what does one do in the face of conformity? How far will you go to maintain your individuality? Will you drink the Kool-Aid? Of course, it’s also just a good old-fashioned fright flick, and what you get out of it is what you put into it.
Hey! Dazzle your friends and family with this cool Invasion of the Body Snatchers trivia!
– The fictional town of Santa Mira is also home to Silver Shamrock Novelties in Halloween 3: Season of the witch
-Kevin McCarthy has a cameo in the 1978 remake; he’s the crazy dude who pounds on Donald Sutherland’s windshield, screaming about aliens (and pretty much picking up where he left off in the original)
– The prologue, epilogue, and voiceover narration were added to the film to give it a slightly more upbeat ending
– Before Sam Peckinpah became…well, Sam Peckinpah (director of such films as The Wild Bunch and Straw Dogs), he was but a wannabe actor- watch for his brief appearance as Ralph, the meter reader