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Dreams Are What Le Cinema Is For: Invasion of the Body Snatchers - 1978

Feb 16, 2017



    Smart movies are hard to come by. Smart remakesnear impossible. Why?Well, maybe its because Hollywoods attitude towards remakes is built on a kind of Catch-22 logic: If a film is poorlymade and flops at the boxofficeprecisely the type of film, one would assume, to best benefit from being remadeHollywood wont touch it. However, if a film is accomplished and financially successful (leaning towards classic-status), superfluous existence aside, Hollywood cant seem to wait to get a crack at churning out a remake.

    Wholly motivated by a studios desire to repeat an earlier triumph and capitalize on brand recognition without havingto break a sweat, most remakes are cynical, dumbed-down affairs tricked-up with new technology and a paucity ofinspiration. The lazier, more arrogant cousin of the sequel, remakes (which, by definition, presume an improvementover the original) have been responsible for some of the most painful moviegoing experiences Ive ever had; e.g.,The Stepford Wives (2004), The Haunting (1999), and The Women (2008). Just to name a few.

    Yet, as if to prove the rule by exception, every now and then, when a remake is inspired by an idea rather than anaccountants ledger, the results can be surprising, fresh, even transcendent. Such is the case with Phillip Kaufmansshrewd and remarkably effective remake of the 1956 sci-fi/horror classic, Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

    Donald Sutherland as Matthew Bennell


  • Brooke Adams as Elizabeth Driscoll

    Jeff Goldblum as Jack Bellicec

    Veronica Cartwright as Nancy Bellicec


  • Leonard Nimoy as Dr. David Kibner

    The original Don Siegel film was a little B-movie masterpiece of paranoia and dread which, intentionally or not,tapped into Americas ambivalence to post-war conformity and anxiety over the anti-communist panic ofMcCarthyism. Staying true to the core story line of the original, Kaufmans remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers(a deliciously pulpy title Im glad the remake didn't abandon) is about an invasion of plant-like organisms from spacethat duplicate and replace human lifesans emotions. Life continues as before, the sole casualty (and ultimatetragedy) being a loss of personality and individuality.

    The timeless appeal of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (its been remade at least two other times) may have a lot todo with the fact that were a culture which clings to the notion of individuality in the abstract, yet values conformity inthe concrete. Even a cursory glimpse at the comments section of any Internet news site reveals that tolerance foropposing points of views and ways of life is not exactly Americas strong suit. Yet that doesnt stop each of us fromharboring, deep within our democratic bosoms, the romantic belief that we honor, above all else, the individualsright to be just that: an individual.

    What's HE doing here?Robert Duvall's unbilled cameo as an unidentified priest suspiciously eyeing

    Brooke Adamsas she picks one of the flowers that figure so significantly in the plot, was

    appropriately mysteriousenough to seriously unsettle 1978 audiences when the film premiered

    WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILMWhat makes this Invasion of the Body Snatchers such a chilling delight is how acutely, and with such perceptive wit,it captures the mood and preoccupations of a particular point and place in time, and uses it to breathe fresh life intoa familiar horror tale. The late Ira Levin (with both Rosemarys Baby and The Stepford Wives) was a master at this


  • sort of thing: creating tension out of tapping into the core anxieties lying at the center of a shifting cultural climate.

    Instead of the small town setting of the original, the 1978 film makes the most of its Me Decade angst and takesplace in that most defiantly individualistic of American cities; San Francisco. Which is, conceptually speaking,perfection personified. Where better to rage a war against conformity than a city which prides itself on being ahaven for the eccentric, the unique, and the idiosyncratic.

    San Francisco's Transamerica PyramidThroughout the film, shots are composed that juxtapose the unique elements of

    San Francisco'sunique "personality" with the threat of impending dehumanization and a loss of


    For those too young to have experienced the '70s firsthand, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is an affectionate, butnonetheless spot-on, skewering of a certain West Coast sensibility. I was attending an arts college in San Franciscoin 1978, and this film captures the feel of the time so authentically, it tweaks serious pangs of nostalgia every time Iwatch it. Seriously, most of the people I attended class with at The San Francisco Art Institute were likethe characters played by Cartwright and Goldblum.

    The San Francisco of Invasion of The Body Snatchers is the post-"hippie movement" San Francisco when theaging, free-love crowd had to make room for the navel-gazing yuppie. It was an age of alternatives: alternativemedicine, alternative religion and alternative thinking. The media was full of cults, causes, conspiracy theories, esttraining, and best-selling pop psychologists. Communal living and fighting for social causes was replaced by pride inownership (restored Victorian apartments became symbols of yuppie affluence) and a reverence for privacy andpersonal space (as exemplified by the high-tech stereo headphones worn by the character, Geoffrey). Ecologybuttons replaced peace signs, and a 1973 book titled The Sound of Music and Plants by Dorothy Retallck(detailing the effects of music on plant growtha point referenced humorously in the film) was just part of a largerexaltation of urban plant life and vegetation in general.

    As in all times of social realignment, unacknowledged social anxiety and unease is part of the adaptive culturallandscape. It makes sense to me that in a city as welcoming of change as San Francisco, the perceptive observermight also notice a distinct edginess and uncertainty behind the city's composed veneer of blissed-out broad-mindedness.


  • This barely perceptible nervousness is precisely what director Phillip Kaufman and screenwriter W.D. Richter seizeon in Invasion of the Body Snatchers to provide a contemporary kick to the sci-fi, body-switching horror. The threatappears to come from deep space, but when it comes down to it, whats most frightening about the whole body-snatching idea is the possibility that what we most cling to in an interdependent way among friends and loved ones(our individuality), is what is least valued about us from a societal perspective. It hardly feels unintentional that the pod people taking over San Francisco are undetectable precisely because oftheir behavioral similarity to the urban professionals whose infiltration had been threatening the citys loosey gooseyvibe since the early '70s. Nor are we meant to ascertain unequivocally whether or not the psychobabble of LeonardNimoys paperback psychologist is pod-talk or just the new language of the New-Age.

    PERFORMANCESIt always puzzles me the way so many directors of horror and suspense films overlook the obvious fact that theeffectiveness of any horror film rests in whatever investment the audience has in the fate of the protagonists. Taketime to flesh out the characters and theres no telling how far an audience will go with your premise.This is especially true with a film whose plot pivots on that intangible quality known as humanity. Invasion of theBody Snatchers appears to have been cast with an eye