Take a Drink: each time someone’s outed as a pod person.
Take a Drink: whenever they run away from something.
Take a Drink: whenever they have a drink (’56 version)
Take a Drink: whenever you see a pod.
If you want to get really wasted
Do a Shot: for each alien scream and a double for the last one. (’78 version)
By: StarvinMarvinMcFly (A Toast) –
The remake craze is just that – crazy. But as they say, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. You’ll strike gold if you keep at it and there are a handful of pretty great remakes out there, not the least of which being Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
I’m going to review both, because there’s really no loss in quality between either of them. Both are lean, mean, and effective. They both take a very brilliant premise and do amazing things with it. However, the key difference is where the subtext lies.
A Toast: to the landmark original!
The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers was produced in the late 50s as a black and white “B-horror” for all intents and purposes, though the plot elevates that label to new heights. The movie follows a town doctor (Kevin McCarthy) who starts noticing something odd with his patients. They have begun thinking that their relatives – an aunt here, a husband there – are not actually who they are. There’s something off. This is easily waved away as delusion, but then the claims start mounting, and, in a chilling development, everything is fine and back to normal after a day or two.
Soon the doctor realizes that his sleepy town is under siege from an alien race whose MO is to generate exact replications of you via large plant pods, wait until you’re asleep to transfer memories and consciousness, and then take over your existence with one wrinkle – you are not yourself, but an alien version, free of emotion. The rest of the movie consists of the doctor, his girlfriend, and a small group of survivors teaming up together to stay one step ahead of the aliens and do what they can to stop it.
A simple story and a terrifying film, but what struck an added chord was the historical context. Looked at as a social document, this movie contends with the era of McCarthyism, the Red Scare, and the Cold War paranoia that gripped the entire nation. Simply swap out “pod people” for “Communists” and there it is, clear as day. The loss of identity to become one of a whole is a universal fear or theme that was very strong in that era, as was the notion of a person you love suddenly turning into something still visibly them but at the same time, not. As such, it’s a film that’s very intimately creepy, but the ending leaves it on a broadly apocalyptic cliffhanger, albeit with an air of positivity towards defeating the evil.
A Toast: for the brilliant remake!
The remake didn’t have much to do but update the story for contemporary times (1978), but so much more was accomplished in doing so. The location was changed to San Francisco, immediately upping the stakes. The alien organisms were introduced almost right away, and the sketching of a back-story was provided. The subtext was relegated to the background while terror was dialed up through the immediacy of slowly losing your grip on sanity and humanity as the world around you slowly turned against you. Doing this made the remake more universal and, though it didn’t seem possible, way more scary.
The most important of these changes is the setting. Whereas the original dealt with a sleepy little town and the conquering of the world was only insinuated at the end, here the whole of San Francisco is dominated by pod people, and the main character Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) stumbles upon a port harbor with huge tankers full of pods being shipped to other ports around the globe. It’s full on apocalyptic horror here, and it’s all the more terrifying because of it.
A lot of the movie goes on at the fringes of the scene. A stray line of dialogue or a conversation continuing behind a closed door goes on to add so much to the mounting dread of what’s happening. Like the invasion itself, it’s incredibly subtle at first. The camera movements are top notch as well, utilizing handheld and smooth dolly shots in equal measure.
There’s a short and brilliant sequence where Bennell’s coworker Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams) is trying to come to terms with what’s happening. It’s a montage of her walking about the city as she voices her concerns, saying she feels like the entire city has changed and is plotting against her. The camera walks with her, becoming more and more frantic until it literally spirals out of control. This embodies the look and sound of textbook paranoia rather perfectly, and lures the audience into thinking that she really is simply neurotic (which nags at the back of your mind until the reality is confirmed, an amazing byproduct of the subtlety at play). But, to paraphrase a tagline from another lesser movie, “what if your paranoia is real?” This question is asked here, and not lightly, ensuring the implications of the film stay with you.
The masterstrokes for both of these works lie in the endings. The original ending for the 1956 version is vastly superior to the studio-mandated ending which, to be fair, only broadly accepts the notion of a happy ending. This was because to leave it as dire as was intended was something studios weren’t into at the time. If you end the movie where it was supposed to end, the effect is there and it’ll leave its mark, but as is, it’s the lesser of the two. The 1978 version goes full bore into the sort of nihilistic ending that they shied away from 22 years prior. It’s one of the legendary horror endings of all time, and I can imagine the audiences back then filing out of the theatre in complete silence. It’s that powerful.
Both films carry with them an impressive amount of horror and subtext that can speak to everyone. One’s is specific to a time and place, and in that sense it gives a great sense of history. The other’s is more timeless and universal. But both give two sides to a really scary coin – what if the one you loved was not their self anymore?
One beer for each.