When Jack Finney wrote his seminal sci-fi story, The Body Snatchers, an allegory for the paranoia surrounding Communist Russia and a general cautionary tale about mindless uniformity in 1955, he couldn’t possibly have known what a fervor he’d create. It led to the feature film Invasion of the Body Snatchers in 1956, which is still hailed as one of the best Cold War-era science fiction films of all time. But when it came time, 22 years later, for a remake, no one could have expected it to be somehow better, scarier, and even more of the time.
Philip Kaufman’s 1978 version of the film follows the same basic plot and premise of the older movie and book, but certain changes amped up the scares and made the invasion feel omnipresent, even more difficult to overcome, and on a massive scale. The biggest of these changes was moving the action from a small town in the desert outside of Los Angeles to a big city — San Francisco. As writer W.D. Richter said in the Scream Factory Blu-ray’s supplemental material, in the ’50s, the idea of the small community being overrun was the scariest; Eisenhower’s America was all about the quaint houses, picket fences, and simple American lifestyles. In the late-70s, that ideal didn’t exist anymore, and city living was much more the norm. If an invasion was able to take down a major city, then we really were hosed.
The new version also introduced the idea of mass infection (possibly a reference to HIV) and the self-help mentality as a way for people to deal with their emotions, something which submitting to the Pod People overlords would eliminate. Donald Sutherland isn’t a physician like in the original, but a health inspector, and his love interest (Brooke Adams) is a lab tech at the Health Department. Jeff Goldblum plays Sutherland’s friend, a struggling writer whose wife (Veronica Cartwright) runs a mud bath day spa thing. Goldblum hates Leonard Nimoy’s character, a leading psychiatrist in the field of dealing with emotional problems. These archetypes all existed in the original but they’re brought in because people in the ’70s are a lot more incredulous. They can’t just be regular people, they have to be intellectuals, people of the turtleneck and tweed variety.
The original film was meant to end on a very chilling, sobering moment of that film’s star, Kevin McCarthy, shouting “You’re next! They’re coming for you! You’re next!!!” into the camera, while characters in the film ignore him entirely, but it was decided a framing story of McCarthy relaying the events to a doctor and police officer, and then ending with his claims being ultimately proved correct, was needed to give the movie an “up” ending. This movie definitely doesn’t have that. It’s apocalyptic in nature. It feels increasingly impossible for the heroes to stop them, or even escape. McCarthy has a cameo, essentially playing his same character, but screaming “you’re next” at Sutherland and Adams as they drive away, only for him to be engulfed by a horde of pod people and killed. Nobody can help. And being made in the age of much better effects, the pod people growing from pods are much grottier and visceral. And when the originals become husks that shrivel away and crumble? Guh-ross. In the best way, of course.
Great cast, great script, great direction, great movie. ‘Nuff said!
The new Blu-ray from Scream Factory has a brand new 2K scan of the interpositive, new interviews with actors Brooke Adams and Art Hindle, writer W.D. Richter, composer Danny Zeitlin, and a new audio commentary by author and critic Steve Haberman. The rest of the features are from earlier releases — including a commentary by director Philip Kaufman and a hefty making-of documentary — so, as usual with Scream, you’re getting the most bang for your buck. Highly, highly recommend.
Image: Scream Factory