Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Horror Movie Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Starring: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, and Leonard Nimoy

Donald Sutherland finds out he has more to fear than rat turds...Directed By: Philip Kaufman

Written By: W. D. Richter based on the novel by Jack Finney

Production Company: Solofilm

Release Date: December 20, 1978

Awards: Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films: Saturn Award for Best Director and Best Sound

Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival: Antennae II Award

In 1956, director Don Siegel and screen writer Daniel Mainwaring brought to screens Invasion Kevin McCarthy has more to fear than gophers...of the Body Snatchers, a film that the American Film Institute ranks #9 of the 10 greatest sci-fi films.

22 Years later, Philip Kaufman and W. D. Richter remade Jack Finney's story of alien pod people taking the place of humans.

Science fiction is fascinated with the idea of an alien invasion. Usually the invasion comes in the form of ships and saucers swooping out of the sky to devastate us with their superior technology before we rally, find their one weakness, and win. Or animalistic, savage aliens swarming over the populace like locusts. Jack Finney's concept, "The Body Snatchers", published as a seriel in Collier's Magazine in 1954, is a more insidious invasion. Seeds drift through space and descend on Earth where they grow "pod people" as people sleep, and these "pod people" take on the appearance and life of their victims. An almost perfect plan except the pod people do not show emotion.
Jeff Goldblum as Jack Bellicec
Kaufman and Richter's version takes the Pod invasion from the small town of Mill Valley to San Francisco. The effect creates a feeling of paranoia due to the unfamiliarity of people's lives in the city versus the more familiar small town life. Interestingly, some of the scenes of city people are just random shots of anonomous city people moving about their daily routine, and yet the natural shots still carry an eeriness.

Donald Sutherland plays the lead role of health inspector Matthew Bennell. Sutherland carries the movie with ease. His final scene easily sets the 1978 version apart from the original.

Playing Bennell's paramour, Elizabth Driscoll, is Brooke Adams. Adams gets upstaged by Sutherland, but she pulls off a decent performance. Interestingly, in the original, Driscoll was recently divorced and a former lover of Bennell, while in the remake, Driscoll is still married and cheating on her husband with Bennell.
Brooke Adams as a pod. Just wait until she's fully developed!
Jeff Goldblum plays unsuccessful Jack Bellicec. Goldblum is his typical character that dances precariously between annoying and endearing, but dives head first into being overly judgemental. But Goldblum is able to give Bellicec an extra layer of personality when we see, from a tear down his cheek, that his arrogance hides a self-confidence problem and fear of failure.

Veronica Cartwright plays Nancy Bellicec, Jack's wife. She gives us her full frantic glory with her doe-eyed looks of panic and quivery fearful voice.
Leonard Nimoy as David kibner...No that's not an outtake.
Leonard Nimoy beams in as Dr. David Kibner. It was fun seeing Nimoy in a role other than Spock. He played the psychiatrist with a soothing smile and pat answer to people's problems spot on.

When the original film came out, many tried to say that it was an allegory for the supposed Communist infiltration of America. However, Siegel, Mainwaring, and Finney all said that no allegory was intended. It was just a thriller.

Kaufman's version, though, seems a bit more allegorical about the isolation of city life, but that may just be a result of Nancy Bellicec's tirade about pollution, which fits her character, and the pods explanation that they drained their planet to a dry, barren world. While many times these political messages distract me (I'm looking at you The Arrival), they weren't so overbearing or central to the story.

Kaufman creates an upsetting film of paranoia with more action and gore than the original. No comment necessary...Some scenes near the end seemed prescient of recent zombie films like 28 Days Later. His use of odd angles helps to create a feeling of familiarity with a sense that something is not right.

And we get to see Brooke Adams nipple! The movie's rated PG so I was startled to see Brooke's breasts with nipples not completely obscured! So, there was a nice bonus.

Another bonus was a cameo by Kevin McCarthy who played Dr. Miles Bennell in a scene very similar to the end of the original with McCarthy running into the street shouting, "They're here already! You're next!" Though I flashed to his role in Caddyshack rather than the original movie.

Veronica Cartwright has more to fear she doesn't.This is one of the few cases where the remake includes smart changes that actually influences the film creating a separate movie experience from the original unlike many remakes that seem to just want to follow the same script but with modern equipment (I'm looking at you 1998 Psycho remake).

The 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers may not be selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry like the original, but it's still a very good film in its own right. Check it out.

Where Are They Now?
Apparently the first anniversary of cheating is the Pod Anniversary.
Donald Sutherland: Sutherland's most recent horror/thriller is Puffball with Miranda Richardson. Powerful supernatural forces are unleashed when a young architect becomes pregnant after moving to an isolated and mysterious valley to build a house. And when the neighbouring farmers turn against the unborn child, it's her very survival that is threatened. The British film had a limited release in the US on February 29, 2008 after going through the film festivals, starting in Cannes. It had a public release in Britain on July 18, 2008. Sutherland is currently working on an animated adaptation of the manga series Astro Boy. When a scientist's young son dies, he secretly creates a powerful robot child to replace him, however the robot uses it's incredible powers to become a world famous super-hero, and faces his biggest challenge when an alien race threatens Earth. The film is scheduled for release in 2009.

Brooke Adams: Adams's most recent hooror is the 2006 The Legend of Lucy Keyes in which an urban family leaves city life behind for the confines of rural New England. Little do they know that their new home once belonged to the Keyes family, a clan who experienced the tragic loss of their daughter some 250 years ago. Her next film is an as of yet untitled comedy about a News Magazine called Just the Facts that uses surveillance footage, personal interviews, and reenactments to tell the story of Beatle Boyin, a tow truck driving assassin hired by Athena Klendon, the estranged daughter of a billionaire, to kill her.

Jeff Goldblum: When I think of Jeff Goldblum and horror, I immediately think of another remake, the 1986 version of The Fly. He hasn't appeared in any horrors recently and has nothing currently in the works. His most recent film is Adam Resurrected. In the aftermath of WWII, a former circus entertainer who was spared from the gas chamber becomes the ringleader at an asylum for Holocaust survivors.

Veronica Cartwright: For another great sci-fi horror starring Veronica Cartwright, check out Alien. Most recently she appeared in the most recent remake of Invasion of the Body Snatcher simply called The Invasion in which Nicole Kidman stars as Carol Bennell. Her next horror will be The Yellow Wallpaper. Charlotte and John Weiland, along with Charlotte's sister Jennie, find themselves destitute after a fire claims all of their belongings, their money, and their only child, Sarah. A solicitor rents them a large, remote house in the countryside where they attempt to recover from the aftermath of the fire, and the death of their little girl. Charlotte soon believes her daughter is in the house, and alienates herself from her husband and sister by retreating to the strange yellow wallpapered attic.

Leonard Nimoy: Nimoy will appear in the 2009 Star Trek movie as "Old Spock".

Kevin McCarthy: McCarthy recently appeared in another sci-fi film about invading aliens, Trail of the Screaming Forehead in which a small town infestation of crawling alien foreheads that begin attaching to people and taking them over collides with a scientist's experiments to extract foreheadazine and things go horribly horribly wrong. His next film will be The Ghastly Love of Johnny X, a sci-fi musical comedy with the tagline, They Sing! They Dance! They're Teenagers from Outer Space!

Donald Sutherland poses for a caricature.

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