Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Day three of the apocalypse, boys and girls, and isn’t it swell! I’ve always thought you could categorise films in four groups: eternal classics; enjoyable watches; trashy, yet watchable; and, obviously, complete and utter burning balls of fermenting garbage. But here’s a question: could a film possibly be all four? We may have a contender.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the 1978 remake of the 1956 horror, is about Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland), an employee of San Francisco’s department of public health, who assumes Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams) is simply going through marital problems when she complains of her husband’s unusual mood. However, when others begin reporting similar concerns, and his close friends Jack (Jeff Goldblum) and Nancy Bellicec (Veronica Cartwright) discover a growing body, Bennell tries to find out what’s going on.

I have something to admit: I’ve never actually watched the 1956 original. I know. So, unfortunately, I won’t be able to tell you which one is better – but, perhaps that’s for the best. We all know what happened that time I read Stephen King’s book before watching Kubrick’s film. Never repeat that mistake again.

Is this a good film? Sometimes, that question is easy to answer. In this case, less so. For a surprisingly good cast, Invasion of the Body Snatchers can’t pretend to be anything more than a cheap B-movie. Yet, despite being very outdated, it still holds some shock moments. I mean, what the hell was that dog? It’s a sci-fi horror full of incomprehensible contrasts and complexities that makes Invasion of the Body Snatchers one of most baffling enigmas ever made.

Watch this repeat a couple thousand times and all your dreams are sure to come true…

Well, first let’s try to focus on the good. Unlike it’s ’56 predecessor, which was mainly motivated by the Red Scare and the idea that if you join those darn Commies, you’re going to become a senseless, unfeeling monster with no individuality, the ’78 version is very much a 70s film.

Full of neurotic paranoia just like many of the greatest from the decade, Invasion of the Body Snatchers takes it to a new level. Aliens are invading, duplicating humans and living inside them – and only four people know. And, as the plot is so insane and unrealistic, no one believes this crack pot conspiracy. Not only that, people are actively working against them. Of course, they’ve massively misjudged the scale of this operation: everyone has been replicated into these aliens – and they’re next. It’s very well done: subtle, slowly growing and with the eventual big reveal.

Because this film is, actually, pretty scary. It doesn’t need violence or gore to create a feeling of claustrophobia, the feeling of helplessness slowly tightening and tightening towards the inevitable ending that you know can be the only reasonable conclusion to the story, but still deny.

Scenes like the eye-opening pod, the drug yielding Dr. Kibner, played by Leonard Nimoy on a rare appearance outside of Star Trek, or Bennell’s duplicate are all pretty creepy and tense. Unlike an Independence Day, with bloated special effects, big spaceships and violence, Body Snatchers understands the benefits of keeping everything on a smaller scale – and, because of it, in true 70s fashion, it feels rawer and realer.

And it’s worth coming back to the ending. Faced with an unconquerable challenge, it was predictable, sure, but very well executed. Even with the most uncompromising odds against our characters, we always expect they’ll overcome those challenges – so it’s a pleasantly realistic and chilling kick in the teeth when they don’t. Body Snatchers going with a happy ending would have been dodging the main themes the film is built on.

But look at that picture above. Without context, it looks – not almost, but completely – comical. Soon after, we head into the black cavern that is Donald Sutherland’s mouth. Why? Who knows. Critic Janet Maslin said upon it’s release:

The creepiness (Kaufman) generates is so crazily ubiquitous it becomes funny

Janet Maslin

And you can’t help but feel that she’s on to something. There’s something so absurd here that you feel you can’t take the film seriously. It’s not a well known case of ‘so bad it’s good’ – that would feel far too harsh. Yet… no, I couldn’t say it. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is very entertaining, and that’s what films are supposed to do, right? But sometimes it’s concerning when the entertainment comes more from swooning inanity rather than the horrors.

It hasn’t aged well either – it’s 43 years old, to be fair, but it’s worth remembering that visually arresting flicks like Star Wars: A New Hope and Close Encounters of the Third Kind came just a year before it. The Deer Hunter was released in the same year. Really, Body Snatchers is nothing more than a dodgy B-movie which somehow managed to garner a really good cast. I’m not a fan of the direction, and the editing and soundtrack is even worse. The opening scene showing the aliens drifting through space looks absurd today. The film ends up feeling cheap and tacky, only to reinforced by a formulaic script.

But cast is great. Sutherland could be in anything and still put in a respectful performance; Brooke Adams walking through fire, naked, alien and making disturbed noises was her highlight; Jeff Goldblum really lets loose as an unhinged, temperamental writer; and Alien’s Veronica Cartwright is just as loony – to great effect – as usual.

So how does it do it? How can Invasion of the Body Snatchers be so interesting and thrilling but so outdated and corny simultaneously? I don’t have a darn clue. To be honest, this film has left me completely disorientated. I don’t know what to believe. It’s one of the most confusing conundrums I’ve seen, perfectly reflected a completely unexplained cameo by Robert Duvall on a swing dressed as priest at the beginning of the film. Why? Don’t ask me! I can only hope the original is less mind bending…

Invasion of the Body Snatchers – 7.5 out of 10

40 Comments

  1. Alex Good says:

    I thought the effects held up pretty well. It also fits in well with the ’70s cinema of paranoia and conspiracy theories, which Nancy Cartwright even mentions at one point. The actual politics of it are kind of confusing though. I gave it a shot here: https://alexonfilm.com/2021/02/25/invasion-of-the-body-snatchers-1978/

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Nice piece. Did it clear the waters for me? A little. Picking up on its freewheeling style and “70s assholes” was interesting. The final line rings true. But I also wondered what the whole point of this invasion was – guess it’s just left to the imagination.

      Like

      1. Alex Good says:

        Even in the book the Invaders aren’t really that ambitious. They’re basically parasites. They’ll take over and then just get comfortable doing whatever it is we do.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Haven’t actually seen this. It’s funny, in my ‘End of World’ movies I never would have picked your ones so far, funny our different interpretations.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. What would you have picked? Be interested to know. Tom Hiddleston? Clive Owen?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Alex Good says:

        Salad cream or ranch? We never settled that one.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. For the best, I think. But, obviously, salad cream wins. Ranch is yucky.

          Like

        2. Alex Good says:

          I had salad with ranch dressing for lunch today.

          On the question of movies I thought you might include: The Last Man on Earth, Panic in Year Zero!, A Boy and His Dog . . .

          Liked by 1 person

        3. One of those films was actually considered, but I couldn’t fit it in among the rest – maybe in the future. Tomorrow we’ll have a bit of change of tack, so I’ll look forward to your reaction to that one…

          Like

        4. I think my favourite is spicey mayo but that can change. I used to be a Hellman’s Mayonnaise fan, then had a fling with Caesar salad dressing, salad cream & ketchup mix always for prawns though.

          Liked by 1 person

        5. You’ve done the full experience!

          Liked by 1 person

        6. I am all about the sauce!

          Liked by 1 person

        7. As any wise person would be…

          Liked by 1 person

      2. Actually Children of Men would be on it, also Sunshine, The Day after Tomorrow, maybe Armageddon (I know,but.) These Final Hours, movies where the world itself is going to end, not just all the people. But you’re doing fine Otsy, I’m liking your take on it.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Armageddon? Yikes. But I see where you’re coming from. Looking forward, I’m not sure how many are like that – maybe one or two. Hopefully you’ll like the rest!

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Of course I will.

          Liked by 2 people

  3. I haven’t watched this film since the 80’s and you have made me curious to go back. I’m 44 years old to be fair and hope I’m more like Star Wars than Invasion of Body Snatchers haha enjoying this weeks reads 🤓

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Be interested to hear your thoughts on it. Like you, I’d rather be Luke Skywalker than the Department of Public Heath’s Matthew Bennell, but that’s just a personal choice…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Very good B-movie indeed, that terrified me when I was a child. Since that, I’ve seen the Siegel first version, so ambigous too (between red scare and fear of McCarthysm). The Ferrara version is very interesting too, I recommend, set on a military base.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ll have to complete the full package! It’s funny how they managed to make three versions of practically the same story.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There’s one more. I saw a version by a German director (forgot the name) with Kidman and Craig. No need to watch.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Bookstooge says:

    I enjoyed both the ’56 version and the ’07 “Invasion” with hottie Kidman.
    I have not seen this version but plan to some time for completeness sake. The idea makes for a great short science fiction story but anything more and you start to see issues like you did with this movie.

    And ranch is great. It’s the only way I can eat carrots….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting. I agree with you – repeat something a certain amount of times, and it’ll likely break. If you liked the other two, it’s probably worth checking this one out.

      But carrots are lovely! What’s wrong with carrots? Americans and their ranch. Make some room on Mount Rushmore if you love it so much! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Bookstooge says:

        Vegetables are not to be eaten “as-is”. They must be covered in something bad for you. Can’t expect us to be healthy all the time! oh the horror….

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Oh yes, broccoli and cauliflower in 4 cheese sauce, carrots in honey and mustard….

          Liked by 2 people

        2. Bookstooge says:

          If God had intended for us to eat vegetables plain, He wouldn’t have allowed us to invent cheese sauces, dressings, etc
          😉

          Liked by 2 people

  6. I haven’t seen this one, but I love the original one, I find it really unsettling. We all know it was conceived thinking about Communism, but it has become a classic because it can adapt to any menace you fear in every different historic period or psychological state. Don’t watch 2007’s Invasion, that’s garbage! Now I’m half curious and half scared to see this one…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ll may follow your advice and stay away from the 2007 version, but the original I’ll have to search out! It looks good. That last sentence perfectly sums up how I feel about this film: I don’t know what to feel! Watch it at your peril…!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. beetleypete says:

    I’m old enough to have seen the original. Not in ’56, but on a later showning at the NFT in the late 60s. I liked it a lot, and still do, though is strangely feels almost like a dramatised documentary at times. The later remake is one of those -very rare- examples of a remake that holds up to the first film, and actually improves on it. (I would include ‘The Fly’ as a better remake too) I saw the Sutherland film on release, and didn’t think it was remotely comical or amusing. It is only in retrospect, given films like ‘Alien’ and TV series like ‘X-Files’ that we notice the flaws. I think it’s a solid 8/10, and I would give the same for the 1956 film, which simply has to be viewed in the context of its time, not as if it was released in 2021.
    Cheers, Pete.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m going to have to watch the ’56 version – I’m hearing good things.

      I think I see where you’re coming from. However, you also have to look at how well a film has aged since then. It’s longevity factor. Blade Runner feels just as prevalent today, and that’s too it’s credit. If you think Invasion of the Body Snatchers feels outdated now, what’s it going to be like in 2050? I mean, Janet Maslin, the journalist, said that quote when it was released. There were flaws from the start, and whether it’s been time or the own films quality, I think we should still acknowledge them.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. beetleypete says:

        I would watch the Sutherland film again, and still enjoy it. Have you seen ‘Don’t Look Now’? I read a review last year stating it hadn’t aged well, and seemed silly and melodramatic. For me, it still holds up. Might be my age! 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Hmm. I recognise it, but I can’t recall watching it. I’ll have to do a review to, for once and for all, decide our big debate…

          Liked by 2 people

        2. Well, I can see some of their concerns! It’s a very weird trailer!

          Liked by 2 people

        3. beetleypete says:

          It’s a weird film! Maybe you ‘had to be there’. 🙂

          Liked by 2 people

      2. scifimike70 says:

        I agree. No film and TV show classic is perfect. Not even any of the Star Treks. But we still acknowledge and often embrace them because as an intelligent audience, we have it in ourselves to recognize what truly matters in our entertainment. If the given flaws can’t damage that much, then it says a lot about how well we can always mature in our best understandings of film history.

        Liked by 3 people

  8. scifimike70 says:

    The 70s were a great decade for SF films on the darker end of the spectrum to challenge people somewhat overwhelmingly. After the brightest corners for the 60s thanks to Star Trek, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Doctor Who, SF fans maybe weren’t prepared enough, and the problematic reviews for THX 1138 and A Clockwork Orange were obvious indications. I for one can like the 1978 remake of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers for its courage to have its own identity and also of course for its persistent message.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Overwhelmingly is a good word for it. I still don’t quite know how to feel about this film. Although I can completely agree that 70s SF with a darker twist is a genre worth cherishing. I just wonder if this film is the best example.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. scifimike70 says:

        It can qualify as one of them I suppose.

        Liked by 2 people

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