Home Video Hovel: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, by David Bax
Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers is as good an argument as any to never dismiss remakes of classic movies out of hand. Though Don Siegel’s 1956 original (based on Jack Finney’s magazine serial turned novel) remains an unparalleled classic of smart and scary genre filmmaking, the 1978 version is a marvel all its own. Kaufman and screenwriter W.D. Richter don’t attempt a straightforward retelling, instead updating the setting to the then present day and approaching it from a new angle. Richter’s dialogue and Kaufman’s direction are at once more naturalistic and also more quirky than the previous film. The color palette—from no less than the great cinematographer Michael Chapman (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull)—is cold, urban slate gray, imbuing the movie with a harsh realism. Yet there’s still room for oddball visuals like, say, Robert Duvall as a priest on a swing set staring menacingly.
Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams star as Matthew and Elizabeth, respectively, San Francisco health inspectors. Along with Robert’s new age, spa owning friends, the Bellicecs (Veronica Cartwright and Jeff Goldblum) and celebrity psychiatrist Dr. David Kibner (Leonard Nimoy), they discover that the people of their city are being replaced by affectless lookalike alien pod beings. Their quest to reveal this plot and bring it to an end is eventually replace by a basic pursuit of survival. Still, Matthew and Elizabeth find time to fit in a pretty good love story.
Body Snatchers, like most horror movies, has plenty to say about the nation’s contemporary fears and preoccupations. And just like the original, which could be taken as anti-communist or anti-McCarthyist among other interpretations, Kaufman’s version would only be reduced by trying to pin its metaphors to one target. Yet the movie repeatedly strikes gold when it turns its attentions to the self-help craze of the time, which would continue into the 1980s. The prone seekers of spiritual enlightenment at the Bellicecs’ spa make easy targets. And, in perhaps the best sly joke in a movie full of them, Nimoy’s Kibner initially takes people’s newfound dull placidity as a sign that his treatments are working.
One change between the first film and this one—slight at first but more pronounced as the movie proceeds—is the indication that the invasion is already well underway by the time we join the story. Thus the narrative takes on elements of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. The people of Earth may have been killed and replaced but they are now living in an inarguably safer and more peaceful society. Our protagonists, in their attempts to undo this, then become the threat. Once a culture has turned a corner into something awful, it’s the few still in their right minds that become the invaders. With this in mind, please vote for Hillary Clinton before the normalization of Donald Trump is past the point of no return.
Scream Factory’s transfer is solid. Chapman’s cinematography is well presented in terms of color and there isn’t too much difficulty navigating the darker scenes, of which there are many.
There are a ton of special features, many of them new. Those include an interview with Adams, an interview with actor Art Hindle (who plays Adam’s boyfriend), an interview with Richter and an interview with the composer of the excellent score, Danny Zeitlin, as well as a commentary with film historian Steve Haberman. The pre-existing features include a commentary by Kaufman, a retrospective featurette, featurettes on the special effects, the sound effects and the cinematography and an episode of Science Fiction Theatre from 1955 with a story based on Finney’s novel.