[Last Films I Saw] Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and (1978)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers poster

Title: Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Year: 1956
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Horror, Sci-Fi
Director: Don Siegel
Writers:
Daniel Mainwaring
Jack Finney
Music: Carmen Dragon
Cinematography: Ellsworth Fredericks
Cast:
Kevin McCarthy
Dana Wynter
Larry Gates
King Donovan
Carolyn Jones
Virginia Christine
Kenneth Patterson
Ralph Dumke
Jean Willes
Whit Bissell
Tom Fadden
Sam Peckinpah
Rating: 7.3/10

Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956

Title: Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Year: 1978
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Horror, Sci-Fi
Director: Philip Kaufman
Writers:
W.D. Richter
Jack Finney
Music: Denny Zeitlin
Cinematography: Michael Chapman
Cast:
Donald Sutherland
Brooke Adams
Jeff Goldblum
Veronica Cartwright
Leonard Nimoy
Art Hindle
Robert Duvall
Kevin McCarthy
Don Siegel
Rating: 7.7/10

Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978

A thrilling double-bill of this classic tall-tale of alien bodysnatchers, based on Jack Finney’s novel, for latter-day audience, perhaps we can still recall the latest remake THE INVASION (2007), as a star vehicle for Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, which was dead on arrival as a major flop and presages their next colossal box-office fiasco THE GOLDEN COMPASS (2007).

Fortunately these two earlier versions are considerably better than the ill-fated mega-star paycheque product, the original 1954 film is directed by Don Siegel (DIRTY HARRY 1971), within a condensed 80 minutes, it delineates the absurd story with a gripping pace and impressive monochromatic cinematography.

Miles Bennell (McCarthy) is a small-town doctor, who has just reunited with his sweetheart Becky Driscoll (Wynter), they discover that many townsfolk are progressing into a widespread hysteria and claim their relatives have turned into emotionless where as their pretence remains the same. Soon with another couple Jack and Teddy (Donovan and Jones), they come to grasp that human beings are being duplicated during their sleep by unspecified alien species, things goes downhill quickly, they have to differentiate aliens among people they know, flee for help while try their best to resist the overwhelming sleepiness.

Due to the curb of special effects development and budget, the supposedly bone-chilling scenes with human replicas are visibly mannequins covered with foam, and the extraterrestrial seedpods are equally below the groundbreaking line albeit the eerie and intense atmosphere is rendered in full throttle. McCarthy exerts sizeable effort to maintain the intriguing momentum meanwhile manages to squeeze time to ignite the moment of romance with Wynter, although appearing on screen for most of the screen-time, whose role is inclusively subsidiary, merely as a gorgeous love interest and a shorthand of a secretary. The rest of cast is serviceable but there is no room for any showboating in the taut storyline.

Wisely, the film probes into the analysis of humanity-depravity process, even disregard the reference of the purported metaphor for the McCarthyism at then, the sudden action of draining away humanity into a void robot shed an urgent light to our mundane procedure of dehumanising our personality in a far slower but equally toxic manner.

The film starts with a flashback to the horrifying happenings, and the ending echoes Mile’s narrative with a more encouraging upshot, which conveniently slackens off the impact of a no-way-out despair when Miles finally reaches the highway, no one stops to listen to him and overtly the seedpods have already been transported to elsewhere to indicate a thorough duplication of our entire race is ominously under way. Plus, one inexplicable mishap is that there is no explanation of what happens to the original body when his or her inexpressive clone comes into life (thankfully, in the 1978 version, it is explicitly demonstrated).

The 1978 colour version is directed by Philip Kaufman (QUILLS 2000), the story is transposed to a metropolitan San Francisco, Matthew Bennell (Sutherland) and Elizabeth Driscoll (Adams) are fellow health inspectors, while Elizabeth is living with her dentist boyfriend Geoffrey (Hindle), screenwriter W.D. Richter upgrades the romance to the mutual attraction between two colleges after Geoffrey firstly being replaced.

One striking feature of this remake is to visualise the aliens in a more graphic picture, ever since the opening credits, beholders are fully witnessed how the unearthly life forms arrive and thrive on our planet. Using lurid palette and tilted camera angle to evince that the abnormality is threatening (with a cameo of Robert Duvall), these two stunts are further manoeuvred to produce the omnipresent weirdness with the hypnotising sound effect. From the floral embellishment, to the spooky mud bath, to the paranoiac street mania, Kaufman does modernise the original concept up to the hilt, it is also more scarier and disturbing by default.

Sutherland crafts a slow-burning exigency of being a reluctant hero under a rampant panic, the utile assault he is wreaking on the primitive clones and a final howl guarantees his leading status in this overhaul of a telling fiction. 1978 is a breakthrough year for Brooke Adams, starring both Terrence Malick’s DAYS OF HEAVEN (1978) and this Sci-Fi remake, her Elizabeth is more intuitive and has more initiative to get to the bottom of the mystery, the chemistry between her and Sutherland is also given a full-extent development. Leonard Nimoy, brings a solid supporting role as Dr. David Kibner, masks his ulterior motive instead of being conspicuously opinionated as Larry Gates in the original movie. A youthful Jeff Goldblum is offered very few to perform, whereas Veronica Cartwright, who would be best remembered as a regular in Sci-Fi or fantasy productions (ALIEN 1979; THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK 1987), assumes the most sleep-resistant character in the climactic finale.

The ending is essentially different from the original and the novel itself (where the aliens voluntarily retreat), with its silent end-credits, it surprisingly evokes a sublimated sensation of shock value. Also worth mentioning, Kevin McCarthy and Don Siegel’s cameos are signs in homage to the original. Generally speaking both films are of excellency to be viewed by newer generations and personally, I give an edge to Kaufman’s more comprehensive achievement.

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