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Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Director: Philip Kaufman
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, Leonard Nimoy
Certificate: 15
Running time: 115 minutes

Invasion of the Body Snatchers starring Donald Sutherland – perhaps one of the first remakes of modern times – was a critical and financial hit on release. It is a product of its time, coming a few years after the Watergate scandal and at the end of a decade that saw America hitting the floor hard after the flower power and trippy hippy sixties. A time of wholesale mistrust in authority figures saw Hollywood take a darker tone with its horror releases of the seventies. Ignoring the extreme or fantastical, this understated classic underlines the issues that everyone felt were synonymous with their everyday lives.

A great cast of well known names, including support from genre alumni, such as Leonard Nimoy and Jeff Goldblum, raised this modest production above mere remake status and if you watch the film now, it is impressive how well it stands up to its age. Considering it is over thirty years old, a death knell to many reality based horror films as special effects and tacky ideals are shown up on repeated viewings, there are few cracks appearing in the longevity of this production. The makeup is subtle, each body that is substituted is covered by a mossy gossamer. Arguably, the biggest issues that betray the origins of creation are the clothes and hairstyles, but even they don’t actually draw the viewer out of the story.

Philip Kaufman directed from W.D. Richter’s script and created a dark and dismal portrayal of paranoia within the richest country in the world – at the time. There are no clever monsters or great makeup effects. Instead, there are wonderfully crafted performances by the cast and a general feeling of unease as they grow distrustful of those around them that they have learnt to love and rely on.

The very fact that each character – each human being – is slowly replaced by a replicant, is an obvious riff on the sheep-like mentality of our race via consumerism and the general apathy that our lifestyle choices initiate. As the main characters stumble upon this realisation too late, it adds to their, and the viewer’s, dread.

Clever use of the soundtrack and locations, both internal and external, add to the melancholy atmosphere and you find yourself wondering who has been taken over already and who is still on our side. A previous ally telling you that life is so much better after the transition really shakes you. A deliberately unsubtle hint that the general populace is told to get in line and that those that govern us know what’s in our own best interests; a total mind-fuck. Horror fans are suckers for a good gut-punch of an ending, and apart from maybe Frank Darabont’s The Mist, there have been few productions with a more downbeat finale than this.

There have been further remakes by Abel Ferrera in 1993, a new twist added in Robert Rodriguez’s The Faculty and a more recent reimagining, The Invasion, starring Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman. A purist should go back and watch this again if you’ve forgotten it, or see it for the first time if you haven’t. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is on a par with other modern sci-fi / horror hybrids such as Alien and Event Horizon and well worth adding to your collection.

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