Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Genre: Sci-Fi Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 20 min.

Release Date: February 5th, 1956 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Don Siegel Actors: Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, Larry Gates, King Donovan, Carolyn Jones, Jean Willes, Ralph Dumke, Virginia Christine, Tom Fadden, Kenneth Patterson

 


 

“W

ill you tell these fools I’m not crazy!” At the city Emergency Room, the state mental hospital’s Dr. Hill interviews Dr. Miles J. Bennell (Kevin McCarthy), who is clearly frantic, sweaty, and terrified. It all began last Thursday, when Miles returned to Santa Mira from a convention at the request of his nurse, Sally (Jean Willes). Narrating over the top of the events, general practitioner Bennell witnesses some strange behaviors, firstly from a young boy who refuses to go to school, and secondly from Sam the policeman, who brushes off a missed opportunity for an examination.

He also acknowledges the everyday mundanity of the citizens, along with the return from England of the exceptionally pretty Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter), whom Miles has always been fond of. When she mentions that her cousin (Virginia Christine) thinks her uncle (Tom Fadden) is an impostor, a pattern begins to form; for some odd reason, numerous denizens seem to think that their family members have been replaced by inexplicably empty, seemingly emotionless doppelgängers (curiously, the quality of emotionlessness is one of the elements that doesn’t always line up). “Something evil had taken possession of the town.”

It begins pleasantly enough, with a hint of mystery but a heap of potential romance (the one aspect that remains questionably persistent in the face of danger). Were it not for the title and the sensationally unnerving music by Carmen Dragon, the film could have been mistaken for a romantic drama. Instead, suspicions grow and the number of patients increases, even as Miles tries his damnedest to woo his conspicuously elegant counterpart. When longtime friend Jack Belicec (King Donovan) interrupts the doctor’s date to show him the most shocking revelation – a “pod person” corpse, lacking facial details, as if the extraterrestrial duplication process hadn’t reached completion, it becomes obvious that Santa Mira may be under attack from a most devious entity.

Dubbed a neurosis, an epidemic of mass hysteria, by psychiatrist Danny Kauffman (Larry Gates) – probably caused by worrying about things going on in the world (or, more specifically, the Second Red Scare in the United States, which this film’s plot is oftentimes analyzed to unsubtly parallel) – there’s a sensible approach to the outrageous premise that grounds the film in an unmistakable reality. This isn’t over-the-top science-fiction; it’s presented seriously and economically, with severity and no comic relief. Based on Jack Finney’s seminal magazine serial, which would continue to find adaptations and derivations in all sorts of media, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is one of the most original and potent of all sci-fi horror pictures. Its ideas and themes are exquisitely petrifying. “Sooner or later, you’ll have to go to sleep.”

The narration is largely unnecessary, as is the bookending of Miles’ fate (which spoils a bit of the anticipation concerning his survival), but the pacing is swift, the acting is outstanding, and the techniques for generating suspense are superb. From spooky camera angles, to the sudden movement of an otherworldly doppelgänger body, to spontaneous appearances by strangers, to frustrating disbelief by authority figures (blaming their dubiety on the likelihood of hallucinations), this is the kind of atmospheric horror that settles in carefully, gets under the skin, and then deceptively calms audiences before unleashing further chills. Characters act fluky, only to shift back to unexpected ordinariness after the assimilation is complete. And notes on vanishing identities and humanity, paranoia and distrust toward one’s closest allies, being outnumbered, and having no one to turn to for help are all expertly handled.

Plus, the special effects, primitive as they may be, are entirely convincing. With no precise explanations, no origins for the invading species, no discernible motivations, and no comforting resolution, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is a daring, tragic, influential, adventurous, utterly perfect blend of smart sci-fi and creeping dread. “They’ll never believe him.”

– Mike Massie

  • 10/10