Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) movie poster

director Philip Kaufman
viewed: 09/27/2015

It’s tempting to think that every generation gets its own Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  Though it’s really this version of the film that even brought that into being, the first re-make of the original adaptation of Jack Finney’s 1955 novel “The Body Snatchers”.  The 1956 film by Don Siegel, echoed explicitly here in Philip Kaufman’s re-make, loaded with Red Scare paranoia of one kind or another was certainly a thing of the 1950’s.  But what is the working metaphor here, in the late 1970’s?

Whatever the subtext, Kaufman’s film is a terrific horror tale, developing the scares and paranoias through a subtly building freak-out where the regular people are getting replaced with vegetable doppelgangers, lacking emotion, but able to accusingly point and howl menacingly as all get out.

The film stars Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams, features a cruel pop-psychiatrist Leonard Nimoy, a young Jeff Goldblum and an always evocative Veronica Cartwright.  And, perhaps notable as well, a damp and gray late 1970’s San Francisco, whose muted exteriors are not the stuff of postcards but of mundane nightmares.  Vividly captured as well.

Kevin McCarthy, star of the 1956 film and Don Siegel, director of that classic, both appear in brief cameos, McCarthy’s as an almost continuum of where the older film left him in 1956 suddenly still freaking out on cars threatening the doom of “They’re coming!  They’re coming!” like that was all he’d been doing for 22 years.  Siegel interestingly has joined the dark side as a cabbie with ulterior motives.

So it’s not Communism, nor is it the fear of the Red-baiting Commie haters. It’s a gelatinous space seed blown on solar winds, not seemingly tied to one ideology or another.

The effects are more gruesome, in full color, though not necessarily the key to making this film compelling.  The most striking image of the film (perhaps besides the howling, pointing people) is the human-faced dog, a thing of nightmares.  This freaky image seems to have been handled in the most simplistic of ways.  It seems a mask of a human face on an actual dog, and the kicker, the creepiest moment, when the dog’s tongue runs out of the mouth and licks its face, it was probably just a dog…licking the mask.  Still, so effectively edited in, it’s a standout shocker to this day.

Kaufman’s Invasion is rich and eerie work.  Subtext or no.

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