Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

One of the best remakes you’ll ever see.

It’s rare that a remake can not only equal the original but become wholly iconic in itself, but Philip Kaufman’s supremely creepy version has become just as enduring an example of science-fiction. Don Siegel’s 1956 original was and still is a classic of the genre, but Version 2.0 is up there with the very best remakes, up there with John Carpenter’s The Thing and David Cronenberg’s The Fly. Ominousness and uncertainty is everywhere in this film – Kaufman and cinematographer Michael Chapman have an absolute ball milking paranoia and uncertainty from every potential moment.

Just like last time, mysterious plant life from outer space is slowly replacing humankind with sentient, emotionless duplicates. Right from the eerie opening credits, where unidentified alien life floats across the screen and towards Earth, the sense of icky, sticky foreboding is utterly tangible. It only gets worse/better from then on. In fact, the alien takeover happens more or less immediately, as Public Health Department worker Elizabeth (Brooke Adams) wakes up to discover that her lively, excitable husband has got out of bed with a seemingly different personality. Other people in the streets seem a little off too. Something’s not right. She confides in her work colleague Matthew (Donald Sutherland) and though he’s initially sceptical, there’s too much unprovable but uncanny evidence to suggest that San Francisco (although it’s unknown if any of this is happening elsewhere in the world, most likely methinks) really is being taken over…

Sutherland, an obviously well-known and well-loved yet fasinatingly unique leading actors, has a quietly authoratitive presence, and his chemistry with the warm and sympathetic Adams is wonderfully natural. You really feel the friendship and romantic tension between the two. Leonard Nimoy, as a psychiatrist whose calm, efficient demenaour means it’s difficult to tell if he’s already been turned, is weirdly unnerving – and that’s not just to do with the prospect of seeing Spock smile! Jeff Goldblum and Veronica Cartwright give great support as a couple caught up in the paranoia. In the pantheon of great cinematic cameos, the appearance of original star Kevin McCarthy, reprising his frenzied howls of ‘You’re next!!!’ has to be one of the all-time best. Keep an eye out fora genuine blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance from Robert Duvall. A more noticable mini-appearance comes from original Invasion director Don Siegel as a cab driver.

The now-famous pointing-and-screaming conceit is still wonderfully spooky (so much that the latest Blu-Ray artwork in the UK shows a certain character perform it, which is a bit a spoiler for those yet to watch the film), while the insane dog with a human face shock is still wildly weird (and a genuine reason for any character to break their phoney pod-person cover in surprised horror) and the plant effects are gloriously icky and freaky. Violence is sparse but when it comes it’s gooily effective, and the sight of a dispensed-with victim’s face caving in on itself is genuinely disturbing. One sequence as Sutherland is asleep in the garden and the surrounding greenery forms pods and human duplicates in a matter of minutes is absolutely gripping. Also, at times this film resembles a prototypical ‘running zombie’ movie, with effective scenes of the pod people relentlessly pursuing our heroes through the dead streets. The ending remains one of the most jolting and scary in SF/horror cinema – no music follows over the end credits. Sometimes silence is all that’s appropriate after a finale like that.

Two more versions would follow – the next in 1993, surprisingly directed by Abel Ferrara, was effectively creepy but not as well made as the first two. The last to date, simply titled The Invasion (2007) and starring Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman, is something I’ve not dared approach given how ‘meh’ it’s meant to be.

PS: Just like the last film I reviewed here, Race with the Devil, this was a PG when it came out in the US! Considering the extremely creepy tone, occasional gore and nudity, it just goes to show how crazy the ratings board was back then. Crazy in a good way, obviously. We were a lot more sensible/wimpy here in the UK – the film got an X.

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