But the first full-length film I saw on HBO to completely scare the hell out of me (aside from Jaws) was the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I mean, even the poster freaked me out. So when I saw the DVD for $5 at Music for a Song (right next to The Late Show), I brought it home to see if it still had the same effect on me as a grown-up, 30 years later.
Plot: Pod people, man. Pod people. From space.
Our visitors first arrive as innocuous, pickable little flowers covering other plant life. After Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams) – assistant to health inspector Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) – brings one home, it wastes no time “getting” her husband (Art Hindle) in his sleep. From there, Matthew and Elizabeth steadily notice (through phone complaints to their office and observing people on the street) that people aren’t themselves.
After Matthew’s married friends (Jeff Goldblum and Veronica Cartwright) discover a half-developed pod person in her mud spa, they call over Matthew and Elizabeth, and begin a quest for help – which, after realizing the pod people are increasingly taking over, becomes a quest for survival.
Director Philip Kaufman makes good use of long shots down hallways and shadowy lighting from all angles (backlit, side lit, from below) to create an atmosphere of isolation, paranoia, and the unknown. By the second half of the film, your own paranoia of who’s who bubbles to the surface, and it’s hard to shake (John Carpenter mined the same shade of paranoia in his remake of The Thing four years later).
The special effects in Invasion are, without exaggeration, the stuff of nightmares. Seeing and hearing pod people hatch, especially in an extended sequence near the end, is completely unnerving. (The film has impressive FX for its time.) And the squealing screams of the pod people, when they identify someone who’s still human, are even more nightmare-inducing than the creatures’ whispers from Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. (Invasion’s sound FX were created by Hollywood veteran Ben Burtt, whose latest accomplishment was this year’s WALL•E.)
Kaufman also uses the screenplay by W.D. Richter as a blueprint to make Invasion a final sounding bell for the ‘70s. As a film of the “me decade,” it probably hit audiences hard watching the characters being turned into “one of them.” In another touch of the times, Leonard Nimoy appears as a best-selling, overbearing New Age psychiatrist, who tries to rationalize Elizabeth’s growing fear that her husband is not himself (literally).
And without giving anything away, this film has one of the best shocker endings ever. God bless the nihilism of ‘70s filmmaking.
So yes, Invasion of the Body Snatchers still has the power to creep me out after all these years. This 1978 version is widely regarded as the best of the remakes (even better than the 1956 original, some say). If you’re a fan of the sci-fi/horror genre, die-hard or casual, I would make it required viewing.
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5).
Will your kids want to see it?If you have small kids, I don’t think they’d even know about this film…which is fine, because despite my high marks, I would keep it away from pre-teens. (See my aforementioned traumatization.) Beyond that age, just a heads-up that there are many intense sequences and several icky moments involving the pod people, plus some brief nudity near the end.
Will your FilmMother want to watch it?As I say in my other reviews of horror films: If you have a FilmMother who digs the genre, by all means she should see this. Otherwise, I can’t say for sure. But it’s a great film to get her to grab your arm and hold you tight. ☺
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
* Director: Philip Kaufman
* Screenwriter: W.D. Richter
* Stars: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, Leonard Nimoy, Art Hindle
* MPAA Rating: PG (intense scenes, adult language, alien sliminess and gore, brief nudity)
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