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Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)


Today's posters just can't capture what they could back then...
Today's posters just can't capture what they could back then...

Genre: Sci-Fi Horror

Starring: Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1979) • UHF), Dana Wynter (AirportSink The Bismark)

Directed By: Don Siegel (Dirty HarryEscape From Alcatraz)

Overview: A doctor discovers that his small town’s inhabitants are being replaced by alien creatures.

Dr. Miles J. Bennell (the still-young Kevin McCarthy) lives in small town America. The only thing that seems to put any weight at all on his mind is the return of an old flame, Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter). As their romance rekindles, he hears strange rumours. It seems that many of the townsfolk are having the sinking feeling that the people around them aren’t quite right. Some even say they’ve been replaced. When his friend Dr. Danny Kauffman (Larry Gates) finds what looks like a life-size wax figure, they watch it to see what happens. Turns out they’re facing some kind of invasion by alien body snatchers, but the TITLE RUINED THAT FOR YOU ALREADY.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is fun. It’s light. It’s scary but not too scary. When you see where the monsters come from for the first time, it’s impressive. The special effects are kitschy cool in that Them! way, but overall… Eesh. The characters’ motivations and the plot are so forced to create additional drama that goes beyond forcing suspension of disbelief – it goes straight to weak, bad writing.

With gaping plot holes that confuse, with logic that assumes you only know about medicine, law, and physics what small town American knew in the 50s, and with acting that occasionally raises your eyebrow from its astonishing camp, Invasion of the Body Snatchers can’t possibly escape the land of B-Grade cinema. Unlike King Kong and Shock Corridor, Invasion of the Body Snatchers doesn’t have an intelligent idea that transcends its station – there isn’t a surprisingly genius moment of cinematography that astounds us into taking it seriously; there isn’t one thing that pops and makes us say, “yes, this is important”.  

The other sad thing, and I know it’s my own issue, but this is also a bookended story. It begins with a wildman coming in and telling the story of how he survived. For me, those touch upon the spoiler. There’s a large chunk of suspense cut out of a story when you know the people who will survive the ordeals they’re recounting. It’s not a big thing, but it is one more thing that I didn’t like about the ’56 Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I’d much rather recommend Them! to those interested in cautionary metaphorical tales.

If you blink, you'll miss this moment of serious acting.
If you blink, you'll miss this moment of serious acting.

Performance: 7 Cinematography: 8 Script: 5 Plot: 6 Mood: 6

Overall Rating: 64% (Not All That Captivating)

As always, I see this 1001-list film in the context of ‘why did it make the list’? Since I never read the tome’s entry until after I see the film, I couldn’t rationalize what made Invasion of the Body Snatchers so special. In fact, it was so plain-old-Wednesday-fare that I plan on watching the 1978 Donald Sutherland version as well as the 1993 Meg Tilley version just to get something out of it… to make it more of a ‘study’. Then I opened the 1001 books and read the reason it was on the list; what sets Invasion of the Body Snatchers apart is that instead of freakish and frightening monsters, the nemeses in the film are the neighbors, the people all around our paranoid characters. Today this isn’t an original concept - The Thing being one of the all-time best terrors with that theme - but thinking back to 1956, I could see this concept as relatively ground-breaking science fiction, not to mention having a strong streak of the political themes of Communism and/or anti-McCarthyism.

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