Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

The late 70’s and early 80’s were no strangers to horror remakes. The Thing came out in ‘82, The Fly released in ‘86, and before both of those, Philip Kaufman directed a remake of the 1956 classic, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. All of these examples are counted as some of the best remakes the genre has ever seen, and if you want to know why, let’s start by recommending you just go watch the fucking movie(s). We talk (and write about) horror movies while drinking heavily, so chances are you’ll be your own best source of truth, hombre. HOWEVER, you should do yourself a favor and dive all the way into things by also checking out our spoilerific podcast through the link below and reading our newly formatted and more abbreviated than ever review right here. Have fun.

Reviewed by: Jake

 
 

Plot Synopsis

Gelatinous space plants rain down onto the San Francisco bay area and begin infecting people via pretty pink flower pods that folks just can’t help but gift to each other. The alien plants propagate by assimilating with a human and creating a cloned version that looks like the original but lacks emotion and simply carries forth the reproduction of the species by seeking to continue cloning all of the human race (and potentially all other living organisms).

Food health inspector Matthew (Donald Sutherland) is thrown into matters when he begins hearing of people acting strangely, first from his friend Elizabeth (Brooke Adams) as she complains about her husband, and soon from many, many others. In short order, the problem goes from mystery to complete catastrophe as more and more clones begin to appear. Matthew and Elizabeth soon find themselves on the run from the clones, as the body doubles set to continue propagation of the alien race by assimilating with the straggling humans in San Francisco and full-on industrializing it’s reproduction by shipping pods out to other cities/countries/continents. It’s a disaster.

Matthew and Elizabeth infiltrate a warehouse distributing the pods and he blows the fucker to kingdom come before escaping. That night, unfortunately for Matthew, he too is infected and replaced by a pod. The movie ends with a scene of Matthew’s double walking through San Francisco and witnessing that it is now completely run by the aliens, implying that humanity is quite fucked. Quite fucked, indeed.


What the Movie Does Right

There is a common element to the movies I mentioned earlier as being considered some of the best horror remakes of all time. Each has incredible practical effects. Invasion of the Body Snatchers has some excellent scenes of body swappery in action, with the most notable being an extremely elongated scene of an alien flower pod full-on birthing a human clone. It’s not a gory film like The Thing and it doesn’t have the same detail as The Fly, but there is an attention to detail here that aids in creating the unsettling feeling the film exudes. It’s not just the visual effects, either. These are aided throughout the movie by an off-kilter score and some bizarre audio effects, from the alien plants borrowing the noise of an actual ultrasound to a measured reduction in organic noise as the film progresses to subtly convey how the aliens are taking over. Combined, the effects really put on a show in this film and are the prime aspect of what it does correctly and why you’ll enjoy watching.

 
 Ah. The miracle of life.

Ah. The miracle of life.

 

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the cast in the film in this section. Donald Sutherland carries the banner in his lead role admirably, and we are also treated to one of Jeff Goldblum’s earlier roles. Leonard Nimoy is even in this thing in a predictably weird role where he wears one fingerless glove. It’s outstanding.

 
 Murderer’s Row, folks...

Murderer’s Row, folks...

 

What the Movie Does Wrong

The main problem with Invasion of the Body Snatchers is that it’s over 2 hours long. This isn’t an inherently bad thing, but for a movie that focuses on building paranoia, it toes a fine line for quite some time in terms of pacing. It’s slow. Plain and simple. However, there’s just enough going on in many of the movie’s more quiet moments that keeps you involved so even this length issue does not completely derail the film. I would encourage people to give this a watch with plenty of time and in a setting that will allow for it to seep into their psyche. That is not every setting, and because of this, I’m not sure I would jump all over recommending this to anyone and everyone. The problems presented by its runtime and presentation are effectively to create for a very situational watch. Again, I’m caveating what I’m placing here more than normal because this movie does a lot right but it is worth mentioning.

That being said, there really should have been more liberal cuts made to the film. There are entire sequences that could be trimmed up to maybe half their length and the movie really wouldn't lose anything for it. It is kind of a puzzling choice and I’m not sure why it was made.


Ratings (1-10)

Story: 6.5 - It’s hard to credit a remake too much when it comes to story. The base conceit of the movie is really the same as in the original 1958 version. That being said, this is a film that brought a story about paranoia to a new generation in a very effective way that feels contemporary to the time in which it was released. That is a boon for the movie and keeps it from being a lower score where we pot the basic rehashes.

World-Building / Immersion: 7 - The word built here feels like 70’s era San Francisco and carries some of the city’s grime with it, which makes for a great backdrop. Additionally, the touch to have the organic noise reduce to nothing over the course of the film really is a great way to transform the world and also plays a large role on the overall feeling of paranoia the film conveys throughout, which is one of its main strengths. However, this movie is also 2 hours long and is quite slow, at times barely keeping your attention. The important thing is that it manages to not lose you in those moments.

Scare-Factor: 6.5 - This movie is scarier than you think it’s going to be. It’s about people being cloned away by aliens, sure, but the removal of resources and safety nets over the course of the film is very effective. It’s a little too long and slow to keep you on the edge of your seat, but the creeping dread of the situation is pervasive and effective.

Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 7.5 - I’ve mentioned this already. This movie looks great and sounds great (except for the voice recordings, which basically no movie in this era had down). You’re watching this thing for the effects because they are weird and wonderful, even if they don’t look totally “real”.

Overall: 7 - Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a pure, unmitigated classic that you should watch, but I’d recommend doing so when you have an evening to yourself where you don’t have to bring in a full crew to enjoy it with you because this one is not necessarily the length or pace that you’d want in a group setting. Still a great flick and an awesome example of how to do a remake the right way.