Genre: Sci-Fi Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 27 min.
Release Date: January 28th, 1994 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Abel Ferrara Actors: Terry Kinney, Meg Tilly, Gabrielle Anwar, Reilly Murphy, Billy Wirth, Christine Elise, R. Lee Ermey, Kathleen Doyle, Forest Whitaker
ometimes things happen that we don’t understand…” Heading off to the southern military sector of the EPA, young Marti Malone (Gabrielle Anwar), along with her little brother Andy (Reilly Murphy), her scientist father Steve Malone (Terry Kinney), and her stepmother Carol (Meg Tilly), narrates her complete disinterest in the trip. At their first stop at a gas station, Marti is attacked by a hysterical soldier, who insists that “they get you when you sleep” – before vanishing into thin air. “If we’d known what was waiting for us, we would’ve run,” she reminisces, foreshadowing, without much surprise, the horror tale yet to come.
The housing wherein the family is stationed isn’t much better, sporting only two bedrooms, which means that Marti will be forced to share with her brother. And the military police seem constantly on high alert, pushing around the civilians and restricting their movements. But Jenn Platt (Christine Elise), the daughter of the base’s leader, refuses to be deterred, driving Marti around like a typical, rebellious teen (also evident by her red convertible and black leather jacket). In short order, chemist Malone conducts various tests on the toxic residue left by biological and chemical warfare weaponry – which could be responsible for the infirmary full of paranoid patients, afraid of their own family members and terrified to fall asleep.
“Body Snatchers” doesn’t bother to ease into the premise, but this is clearly because director Abel Ferrara’s take on the Jack Finney novel isn’t the first time this story has been adapted for the big screen. Instead, this version, written in part by Stuart Gordon (“Re-Animator,” “From Beyond”) immediately crafts an uneasy, unnerving tone, regularly hinting at the rigid conformity and drone-like replacements of the eventual pod-people revelation. But, of course, this update has better special effects and technology at its disposal, generating a few genuinely nightmarish images (including the collapsing skin of hollowed-out humans, a clever bathtub sequence as is often seen in horror films, and a swamp full of furry alien eggs).
Gore and creature effects are given a modern touch, with mutilated flesh and slimy tendrils mimicking the outrageously disgusting (but in a good way) look of something like John Carpenter’s “The Thing” or, at times, the extremeness of Clive Barker’s “Hellraiser.” Also in its favor is the strong cast of supporting character actors, including Forest Whitaker, who is never better as a dispassionate (and then delirious) medic, and R. Lee Ermey, playing the stern general of the base. The speed at which the hostile takeover occurs is comparably amusing, since certain members of the Malone family are taken over long before others. And when the inevitable confrontation arrives, it’s forceful and fearsome and violent. Sadly, though the look is upgraded and the tone more sinister than in previous iterations, there aren’t enough new twists to warrant yet another interpretation of the celebrated source material – especially since the multiple layers of social and political commentary are no longer pertinent here, even as the army base could have been useful for just such a purpose (or, at the very least, a stronger representation of blind, militaristic compliance, instead of the zombie battleground into which it turns).
– Mike Massie