Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

GENERAL INFO:
Director:  Philip Kaufman
Studios:  United Artists, Solofilm
Starring:  Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, Leonard Nimoy
Tagline:  Get Some Sleep
MPAA Rating:  PG
Genre:  thriller, horror, drama, science-fiction, psychological thriller, alien invasion, aliens
Scare score:  B+
Rating:  A

Plot overview:  After an alien species lands in San Francisco, many strange flowers begin to rapidly sprout up across the city.  Soon after, coworkers from the Department of Public Health Elizabeth Driscoll (Adams) and Matthew Bennell (Sutherland) begin noting strange changes in the actions and attitudes of people around them.  Growing increasingly concerned that a serious health concern has fallen upon the people of San Francisco, they team up with friends Jack (Goldblum) and Nancy Bellicec (Cartwright) to combat the aliens taking the forms of the city’s habitants.

I saw the 1956 original a few years ago, and I just realized I saw the 2007 remake in theaters, but tonight I felt like watching this remake.  After the fact, I must say I’m really pleased with my choice, as this selection was both enjoyable, pleasantly scary, and simply impressive.

The first thing I noticed was several familiar faces, from previous movies I’ve blogged about, namely with Art Hindle of 1979’s The Brood in the role of Driscoll’s partner Geoffrey and then of course Veronica Cartwright who played the memorable Cathy Brenner in Hitchcock’s 1963 The Birds.  We’re just starting to develop a little horror film family here, aren’t we?

As major plusses for the movie, we have good acting and good special effects.  The rapid growth of alien flowers on plants in one of the first scenes looked both realistic and interesting.  Later on we contrast the beauty of a flower with the growth of the large pods, which will both disturb and gross out the audience as they pulsate and ‘give birth’ to alien clones.  Throughout the film we are also treated to images of bodies covered in sinews and veins, as well as some blood, which are sure to make viewers uneasy.  Fun stuff, especially since I’ve seen worst effects in movies that have been released more recently.

As is typical in most horrors, during the whole film we are forced to follow the plight of the small group of protagonists as it seems the world turns against them.  Luckily we are following a group of likable actors and characters, which not only makes the film more interesting, but it also allows us to establish an almost emotional bond with these people and their situation, thereby causing us to stress over the final outcome and root for human victory (for the most part) up through the movie’s final seconds.  The beautiful Brooke Adams provides us with a fun and easily likable Elizabeth Driscoll, who is both smart and aware much sooner than the other protagonists concerning the alien invasion.  She is nicely complimented by Sutherland, who portrays Bennell both with humor and drama.  Smaller performances by Goldblum and Cartwright as man and wife add more dramatics and mystery, and the presence of Nimoy disconcerts us further as we debate who is good and who is bad.

What I probably liked most about the film is the psychological aspect.  From the get go we aren’t even really sure who is human and who the aliens have already got to.  I must give a big shout out to the extras in this movie, who made it silently terrifying as their presence of San Fran citizens is both omnipresent and threatening.  Even when they are still normal they seem off, odd, and potentially dangerous.  The mere plot of this invasion is a very scary concept: “my boyfriend isn’t himself; my wife isn’t herself; it’s my husband- but it’s not.”  We keep hearing this coming from panicked people, including our protagonists, throughout the movie, but it seems as though everyone else is ignoring them.  Could it be that the majority is already under alien influence?  We find ourselves questioning who is human and who isn’t every time we see or meet a new character: the uncertainty of this silent terror is brilliant.  Furthermore, towards the end, we even begin to question if it is worth fighting an innumerable foe, or is it easier to just peacefully give in?  You must decide.

As the alien invasion becomes more complete, terror grows even stronger for our protagonists and suspense grows even higher for us viewers.   This movie is sure to keep us entertained until the last seconds, without many dull moments to complain about.  The mystery persists long enough that, although we piece bits and pieces together ourselves, we don’t get major answers or gross, revealing images until far into the film.  With this tactic, the plot grows more complex, and victory seems just as possible as defeat.

Lastly, this film is enhanced by the eerie and suspenseful tunes of Danny Zeitlin.  Without remaining overly ’70s, it adds suspense and drama to many scenes of the film, starting in the first scene.

Final critique:  There isn’t much more I can think of to say about this film except that I really genuinely enjoyed it.  The terror is both subtle and outright, and the fear is both physical and psychological.  Good acting enhances a creative and always-questionably-possible plot that is sure to get audiences thinking, “what if?”  I recommend this remake for most crowds, though while only a PG film, there are several scenes that are sure to scare you, or at least disturb you a little bit *cue the high pitch noise the aliens make when alarming others*