Friday, June 28, 2013

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Director: Philip Kaufman                               Writer: W.D. Ritcher
Film Score: Denny Zeitlin                              Cinematography: Michael Chapman
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum and Veronica Cartwright

This is a very, very, seventies film, but in a good way. Or maybe since I grew up in the seventies I just resonate more with these films, especially the ones I saw at the time. The Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a remake of the original, but with less of a Communist scare undercurrent and more of a science-fiction slant. This includes special effects that are still pretty effective, something the earlier film didn’t really try for. The other big change to the plot is that instead of the invasion being confined to the isolation of a small California town, it’s a big city that’s being taken over, San Francisco. Once the overwhelming fact of the invasion becomes clear, it makes the scare even more real because there’s no way to control it.

In the original story there are pods from outer space that wind up transforming people into clones, and their only purpose is to change everyone else on earth. In the updated version it is an unusual flowering plant that begins the transformation, creating pods that replicate the humans. After the person is fully transformed into the copy the original body is somehow turned to ash. The wonderful Brooke Adams, who would be so effective in The Dead Zone a few years later, is the key figure who realizes her boyfriend has changed somehow. But getting people to believe it is incredibly difficult. Her closest friend, a work colleague, is Donald Sutherland with incongruously curly hair. Like the original, by the time Sutherland and Adams figure out what’s going on, it’s too late.

The film has a terrific supporting cast. Jeff Goldblum plays an over the top writer who has an opinion about everything. His wife is played by Veronica Cartwright who would be so memorable in Alien. Leonard Nemoy plays a well-meaning psychiatrist who thinks it’s all in people’s heads but leads them terribly astray because of it. There’s also a fantastic cameo by Kevin McCarthy, who was the star of the original film, reprising his role and attempting to warn people of the takeover. In the tradition of great seventies thrillers like The Reincarnation of Peter Proud and The Stepford Wives, the paranoia in this film is palpable. Director Philip Kaufman, who would have more success as a writer than a director, does a masterful job of ratcheting up the tension and making Invasion of the Body Snatchers one of the all time great scare films.

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