“Look, you fools. You’re in danger. Can’t you see? They’re after you. They’re after all of us. Our wives, our children, everyone. They’re here already. YOU’RE NEXT!”
So spoke Dr Miles Bennell, a small town doctor who stumbled onto the pod people conspiracy back in 1956. Plantlike pods from outer space were killing the townsfolk, replacing them with emotionless replicants, all of whom were intent on converting the entire human race into more robotlike people who were all the same: like peas in a pod.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers has been remade no less than three times. Tonight we’ll be watching the 1978 remake directed by Phillip Kaufman – his first big film and one that respected film critic Pauline Kael of the New Yorker called the best American movie of that year. So what is it about this concept that got under our skins, so to speak, to demand multiple remakes and a cult following?
Horror films can be accurately read as manifestations of the society’s current concerns and fears – after all, we can only scared of, well, what we’re scared of. In the early 1950s, mass hysteria over communism was infiltrating America. The ’56 version of Body Snatchers clearly reflects this. Characters were slowly coming to the realisation that something just wasn’t right about their loved ones. The pod people moved amongst us – they could be your next-door neighbor or a prominent Hollywood screenwriter. And what was wrong with the pod people? What did Miles see happening as the a result of “malignant disease sweeping the whole country affecting people I’d known all my life”? A complete lack of individuality – of individual freedom. The pod people did not experience any pleasure and existed only to work, tirelessly, to replicate themselves in some fairly impressive collective gardening efforts. Conformity was the enemy, individualism was the solution.
In 1978 times had changed, and the remake we’re about to see reflects this. The tone is more of a subtle horror that grows in intensity, reflecting the heavy, moody paranoia of the time. Between Watergate and the aftermath of the Vietnam War, faith in government was at an all-time low, reflected in the 1974 voter turnout of just 38% compared to a 60% turnout in 1968. You’ll see in this film how its not just the pod people that can be feared, but red tape and bureaucracy, as the characters struggle to get their fears heard and believed. The fear isn’t just that something terrifying is happening, but that no one else believes that it is.
Leonard Nimoy’s self-help guru offers an amusingly cynical take on the 70s ‘me-generation’, the explosion of individualist, inward-looking thought.
Like the ’56 film, tonight’s film features an excellent ensemble cast including a young Jeff Goldblum – hello – and Donald Sutherland as lead Matthew Bennell. Brooke Adams and Veronica Cartwright play our leading ladies of Elizabeth and Nancy, and again, reflecting the changing times, both have jobs unlike their beautifully helpless housewife counterparts of the 50s.
As we’re pre-CGI, another thing to watch out for is extremely effective sound design, and the part it plays in creating the wonderfully disgusting creation of the pod people. Oh, and if you’re a fan of cameos, that’s the director of the original ’56 film, Don Siegel, driving the taxi when Matthew and Elizabeth try to flee the city at the end.
But that’s it from me. Now all you have to do check the person next to you still has a full range of human emotions and enjoy Invasion of the Body Snatchers.