US Release Date: 12-20-1978
Directed by: Philip Kaufman
- Donald Sutherland, as
- Matthew Bennell
- Brooke Adams, as
- Elizabeth Driscoll
- Leonard Nimoy, as
- Dr. David Kibner
- Jeff Goldblum, as
- Jack Bellicec
- Veronica Cartwright, as
- Nancy Bellicec
- Art Hindle, as
- Dr. Geoffrey Howell
- Lelia Goldoni, as
- Katherine Hendley
- Don Siegel, as
- Taxicab Driver
- Kevin McCarthy, as
- Running man
- Robert Duvall as
- Priest on Swing
Leonard Nimoy, Donald Sutherland and Jeff Goldblum in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers is that rarity in Hollywood; a remake that is generally considered to be equal – or even superior – to the original. This version updates the story from the 1950s to the late 1970s. Set in San Francisco it tells about two employees working for the health department who uncover a shocking truth! That the earth is under attack from an alien life-form and that human beings are being replicated and replaced by emotionless “pod people”. But just how widespread is the invasion and can anything be done to stop it?
Featuring a great cast, gritty direction, and a haunting score, Invasion of the Body Snatchers creates a mood of creepiness that never lets up. The final scene is a classic moment in both the science fiction and horror genres. The movie begins in outer space as gelatinous spores flee a dying planet. Propelled across space by solar wind they arrive on planet Earth. Some of the spores land on tiny plants in San Francisco where they quickly assimilate to form pretty pink flowers. The invasion has begun.
Elizabeth Driscoll (Adams) picks one of these strange flowers and brings it home. The very next day she notices changes in her boyfriend's personality. He seems distant and uncaring. Her colleague, Matthew Bennell (Sutherland) suggests she speak to a psychiatrist friend of his played by Leonard Nimoy. On their way to see him a man on the street runs up to their car in a panic shouting, “Help! They're coming! They're coming!” He runs off but they soon come upon his bloody corpse laying on the pavement, surrounded by a group of citizens who look on without any emotional reaction. The police, when called, seem curiously disinterested.
Eventually these two discover the horrifying truth after they both narrowly escape being replicated. The special effects hold up fairly well. The pods remain gross and scary. Matthew and Elizabeth quickly discover that the invasion has spread much faster than they expected, already reaching the top levels of the government. Their paranoia grows as these two desperate individuals must stay awake at all costs, as it's the only way to ensure they don't become pod people. All of this leading up to that iconic final moment.
Sutherland and Adams are terrific as the two leads. They are given good support from a young Jeff Goldblum and Veronica Cartwright as a married couple who own a bathhouse. Cartwright, as Nancy, learns to hide among the pod people by imitating their emotionless behavior. It is Cartwright who shares the famous final scene with Sutherland. Apparently she had no idea how Matthew was going to react to Nancy when she approaches him in the film's final moments.
There are a couple of famous faces in cameos. Kevin McCarthy, who plays the hysterical man on the street, was, of course, the star of the original 1956 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Also look for Robert Duvall as a priest sitting on a swing and Don Siegel, the director of the original version, as a cabbie.
The simple yet brilliant concept behind this story still resonates. The pod people can symbolize communism or any other threat from "out there". There's no doubt about it. Like the original movie, the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a true sci/fi-horror classic (the less said about the 1993 and 2007 versions the better).
Brooke Adams and Donald Sutherland in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
I've never seen the original 1956 film so I can't comment on how this remake compares to it. I can only say unequivocally how entertaining, creepy, and tense this version is and that no knowledge of the original film, or the source novel upon which they're both based, is needed to enjoy it. Interestingly, some have concluded that with the inclusion of Kevin McCarthy, from the 1956 film, the filmmakers are actually saying that this is a sequel and not a remake at all.
I'd never seen this version before now and so wasn't entirely sure what to expect from it beyond the general outline of the plot. I expected the science fiction angle since the plot is straight out of that genre, but the story unfolds like a mystery and is filmed like a horror movie. There's a tension that builds throughout and there's a genuine feeling of creepiness in much of it. The idea that everyone around you is part of a conspiracy and plotting against you is rife with possibility and director Philip Kaufman makes the most of it. The paranoia increases as the story goes on until it merely takes a glance from a passerby to create a feeling of dread.
As Patrick said, the special effects hold up remarkably well. The only effect that looks dated is the opening scene of the pods traveling through space. It not only looks cheesy, but it also gives too much of the mystery away from the beginning. It would have increased the mystery if the audience had to learn the origin of the pods at the same time as the characters. Other than that one blip though, the effects are quite good. The scene of the pods giving birth to the bodies that then grow on the lawn is realistically gross.
Sutherland and Adams are good in the leads and the supporting cast is equally good. The whole movie reeks of the 1970s, especially Sutherland's hair and mustache. The cameos are fine, except for the appearance of Robert Duvall, whose sudden, split second appearance is a bit startling and leaves you wondering what he's doing there.
Although the ending is considered a classic, I honestly didn't know where it was heading and it took me by surprise. I won't give it away in case there are others like me who don't know what it is, but suffice to say, it's a fittingly dark ending that stays true to all that came before it.
It's true that you can look for symbolism in the pod people, but there's no need to look too deeply. On the surface or below the surface, this is a hell of an entertaining film.
Donald Sutherland and a growing pod person in Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Like all great science fiction stories, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is clearly commenting on reality. It most definitely symbolized communism in the original 1956 film. Many critics of the time noted it in their reviews. For this remake, the metaphor is not as blatantly political.
Here it seems more about conformity. Look at how the pod people try to convince the humans how good it is to become one of them. A pod person tells them at one point that if they become pod people they will be free of anxiety and fear. It makes a deeper point by having some humans pretend to be pod people just so as to fit in and not stand out. Individuality and creative thought is non-existent and if you distinguish yourself from the crowd, you become a target of their intense need to assimilate you into their fold. Talk about some serious peer pressure.
As Scott wrote, this film works great as a mystery. Only we, the audience, know where the threat originated while the characters on screen slowly learn of it. Note how passionate and affectionate Elizabeth’s boyfriend is when she comes home at the beginning of the movie. He is cheering for a sports team that is playing on the television and he wants a kiss and hug from Elizabeth. The next day he is emotionless. He barely talks to her as he cleans up a mess and leaves for work without a simple, "goodbye."
Note how active the crowds are in the background of the film early on but as the movie goes the people on the street become more and more subdued. This leads to the feeling of unease that Scott described about not knowing who in a crowd may be watching them. Who is and who is not a pod person creates some eerie intrigue.
The tension starts right from the beginning when, as Patrick mentioned, Elizabeth picks that flower. It then builds one creepy moment at a time. We do not know where the story is going or what is going to happen to the four main characters. Although the ending is the film’s most famous scene, I did not find it completely satisfying. Other than the ending, which was changed from the original story, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is an entertaining piece of science fiction.
Photos © Copyright United Artists (1978)