Invasion Of The Body Snatchers
A movie doesn't need crazy special effects, lots of blood, or even a big budget to be scary. Sure those things help, but a good story and solid acting trump any amount of severed limbs a movie can throw at the audience. A movie that allows the imagination to fill-in the blanks is smart and clever to do so. It doesn't take much to let the mind run wild and great storytelling gives the audience just enough of a push to make it happen.
Invasion Of The Body Snatchers is a 1956 science fiction horror movie adapted from the novel The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney. The movie begins with a distraught Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy, Death Of A Salesman, The Howling) being brought into the emergency ward of a hospital by police. Miles composes himself enough to explain to doctors why he is so franctic. A few days back, Miles, who is a doctor in the small California town of Santa Mira, begins receiving calls from patients insisting they were sick. Inexplicably, each patient cancells their appointments with Miles. People from around town also begin to express a strange fear of their loved ones, claiming they are no longer who they used to be. A former girlfriend of Miles, Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter, In Love And War, Sink The Bismark!) has a cousin named Wilma who believes her Uncle Ira is no longer the same man. Miles meets with her and sees Uncle Ira for himself, convinced that he has not changed. That evening, Miles' friend Jack Belicec (King Donovan) discovers a body that shares Jack's features, though not completely developed. Miles sees the body for himself and realizes that Becky might be in trouble since her father was acting strangely earlier in the night. Miles sneaks into Becky's house and discovers her duplicate in the cellar. He runs upstairs and carries a sleeping Becky out of the house. When calls Dr. Dan Kaufmann, a psychiatrist from town, Jack's duplicate has mysteriously disappeared. They then go to Becky's house and discover her duplicate gone as well. Dr. Kaufmann believes that both Miles and Jack are suffering from a mass hysteria that is the cause for all the strange behavior in town. The following night, more duplicates are discovered, this time emerging from giant plant-like pods. The conclude that the townspeople are being replaced in their sleep by these pod people. Miles and Becky hide out in his office and watch the people of the town load up trucks and cars with giant pods. Dr. Kaufmann and Jack corner them and explain that the pods are extraterrestrial seeds that crash landed in a local farm. By being replaced, they no longer have feelings or emotions, completely devoid of their human nature. Miles and Becky run for the California hills, evading the pod people. How will they be able to survive when everyone, even sleep, is an enemy?
Looking sharp is important, even during an alien invasion
The modern movie audience has come to expect the big summer blockbuster when it comes to an alien invasion movie. Invasion Of The Body Snatchers comes from a simpler time in movies when big explosions and effects didn't equal entertainment. Granted, the special effects from that era can't even come close to today's effects, but that's not the point. If you watch other science fiction movies from the 50's, there are space ships on strings and actors and goofy-looking rubber suits. This movie doesn't need that because the fear doesn't come from the aliens, it partially comes from friends and family. Much like a zombie movie, everyone can become an enemy. Your loved ones are no longer who they used to be, replaced by an unloving, uncaring monster. The other scare factor comes from the loss of self. The loss of free will and identity is quite unnerving and plays into the overall fear of the movie. Invasion Of The Body Snatchers can be seen through many different political scopes. Some may see it as a commentary on Communism while others see it as the homogenization of the United States after World War II. The allegorical subtext is evident, though the filmmakers stated that the movie has no strict political point of view.
The movie is a good mixture of science fiction, traditional horror, and thriller. The science fiction aspect is treats the audience with respect, as it never becomes too fantastical or cartoonish. The pods look like plants from Earth, just larger. Kevin McCarthy, who some younger viewers may recognize as R.J. Fletcher from Weird Al Yankovic's “UHF”, is particularly good in his role. He plays the everyman, strong and confident. Initially skeptical, we see that confidence start to slip as things become bleak. The iconic scene where Miles stands in the highway, yelling directly into the camera, “They're here already! You're next!” is downright fantastic. The audience knows the truth and aches when no one believes Miles, making us as powerless as he is. Unfortunately, the movie does not end there as the studio felt it was too dark. They book-ended the movie with a prologue and epilogue that hurt the flow of the movie, but added a slightly more optimistic ending. It's a shame, because the original dark ending fit the movie's overall despair far better.
Happy Anniversary, baby!
Invasion Of The Body Snatchers is a mixture of multiple genres that blend into an enjoyable and frightening watch. The science fiction aspect does not overshadow the rest of the movie. The story is simple, but very enjoyable with Kevin McCarthy having a fantastic performance. The writing is smart and the dialogue is believable. Invasion manages to be scary without relying on visual effects, violence, or even a big budget. There have been a few remakes over the years, including one starring Donald Sutherland and an adaptation starring Nicole Kidman. The film was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry for good reason. It is smart, scary, and entertaining.