Genre: Sci-Fi Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 55 min.
Release Date: December 22nd, 1978 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Philip Kaufman Actors: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, Leonard Nimoy, Art Hindle, Lelia Goldoni, Kevin McCarthy, Don Siegel, Tom Luddy
lien spores from a distant planet make their way onto Earth’s surface, sprouting flowerlike pods, which are mistaken for a rare grex plant by Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams). Her boyfriend Dr. Geoffrey Howell (Art Hindle) is the first victim, sleeping a bit too close to the blossom placed in a glass. The following morning, he begins acting very strangely, running off to a secretive meeting and speaking coarsely with Elizabeth. His emotions are way out of whack.
Elizabeth has no one to turn to but her coworker, stringent Department of Public Health deputy Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland), who certainly isn’t liked by the chefs and staff of the restaurants he routinely threatens. He suggests visiting his psychiatrist friend David Kibner (Leonard Nimoy) to help Elizabeth sort out her suspicions. Coincidentally, he’s heard countless stories from his patients that their significant others have become less human; but soon, it becomes frighteningly obvious that everyone in San Francisco has been replaced by soulless doppelgängers intent on substituting the population with freshly grown, otherworldly entities.
Unlike more modern approaches to horror films, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” builds characters first, designing relatable, sympathetic, and believable personas before elaborating on the scares. Veronica Cartwright (a year before her stint in “Alien”) and Jeff Goldblum as the couple who initially witnesses an alien counterpart transformation are particularly engaging. And the elements of terror are quite effective, creating striking unease through expressions, subtle actions, disturbing sound effects, and superb camerawork that creates a sense of unpredictability – as if something is going to jump into the frame at any moment. Disorienting angles and inky shadows similarly mirror the uncanniness surrounding the botanical extraterrestrials. The film further utilizes the gimmick of characters being unaware of their surroundings, activities taking place on one side of the frame just out of view of victims, and, of course, the sudden revealing of creepy imagery.
Capitalizing on the themes of paranoia, isolation, and alienation, every background role and random glance appears distrustful or out of place. Disbelief is also aggravatingly pertinent and taxing, especially as the proof keeps inconveniently disappearing – and allies are quickly converted. The idea that sleeping is the key to initiating the alien’s cellular generation/absorption – resulting in alarmingly futile attempts to combat an inevitable activity – is a ceaselessly petrifying scheme, which would be used to even more gruesome levels in 1984’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” Here, the updated, graphic visuals (with more bodily destruction, ooze, and even brief nudity) separate this 1978 remake (or re-adaptation of the Jack Finney novel “The Body Snatchers”) from the classic 1956 version, even as the story stays about the same. The climactic escape from outnumbering antagonists is drawn out, a few twists are added for audiences familiar with the previous take (such as Elizabeth disappointingly hurting her foot while fleeing, the defining of a specific behavior for blending in with the infected, and a few explosions for good measure), and the ending is altered for a slightly different direction of thrills – but cinematizing a sensational science-fiction work, even if repetitive, doesn’t disappoint.
– Mike Massie