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Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

One of my all time favorite Sci-Fi/Horror movies is Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Now to clarify from the beginning, I like the original and the first re-make. So in discussing them, I will simply start at the beginning.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) produced by Walter Wanger and directed by Don Siegel is a thrilling, disturbing black & white classic! Listed in video stores and movie catalogs under science fiction, alien films, horror, thriller, and mystery, this film was one that made the 1950’s movie era such a grand treasure for fans like me. It is based on the story written by Jack Finney in 1955 titled “The Body Snatchers”

It begins with a disheveled physician, Dr. Miles Bennell (played by Kevin McCarthy), distraught and seeming to be psychotic, raving on about alien invaders. We are taken in a series of flashbacks to a few days earlier, through the events that tell the terrifying tale of a take-over of the town of Santa Mira, California. As the good doctor begins to realize that something is amiss, the plot elicits a genuine feeling of horror with slow-building tension. This is achieved even though there are no monsters (just indestructible plant-like pods), minimal special effects, no violence in the take-over of humans, and no deaths.

Between the suspicion of one's peers and the incredible tension created by the need of the characters to not fall asleep (the pods take over the moment one falls asleep, if only for a brief second), this is one of the most emotionally stressful films ever made. The moment when Kevin McCarthy looks into the face of Dana Wynter and realizes that she has drifted off to sleep for a brief second (this happens near the end of the film) is one of the best scenes in an early horror movie ever!

“Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1978) is my favorite version of the story. In this version writer Philip Kaufman, who is also the genius responsible for the scripts to “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981) as well as “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (1989), does great justice to an already fantastic tale. Starring Donald Sutherland (Matthew Bennell-food inspector for the health department this time around) and Brooke Adams. You also have cameo roles by Kevin McCarthy as a man running on the freeway and Don Siegel as a cabdriver. There is some awesome acting with the supporting cast portraying their characters, from the quirky and neurotic Jeff Goldblum to the intuitive and resilient Veronica Cartwright. And what’s this? It’s Leonard Nimoy! Not as Mr. Spock but as a contemporary therapist named Dr. David Kibner. The final scene in this version is of the best endings I have ever seen, twisted, eerie and downright scary making this one of the greatest psychological thrillers ever made.

The final version (so far) comes from director Abel Ferrara. “The Body Snatchers” (1994) – which revives the book's original title – stars Gabrielle Anwar, Meg Tilly and Forrest Whittaker. It is set on a Southern military base, which may have been its biggest flaw. Setting the story on a military base where through necessity human individuality is disallowed and where the newly introduced protagonists don’t know the other characters means we have a story that lacks compelling and terrifying drama. I suppose you should watch it just to compare for yourselves.

Grinding halt
Everything's coming to a grinding halt"