Wasn’t planning it this way, but I guess my viewing of Abel Ferrara’s Body Snatchers, and last year’s SHOCKtober screening of the 1956 original (and I suppose The Invasion) were all prelude to this wonderful Alamo screening of the best Body Snatchers movie. It loses the 1950’s prudishness, ramps up the energy and paranoia (and humor, when Jeff Goldblum is onscreen) and lands on an even bleaker ending than the original tried to imply. It could almost be a sequel instead of a remake – the 1956 ends (not counting the dumb framing story) with Kevin McCarthy screaming on the highway, unheeded, and early in this version McCarthy appears on a city street yelling “We’re in danger – you’re next!” just before getting killed.
“A disquieting paranoid thriller informed by the conspiracy theories of the period and the jaded cynicism that followed the death of the counterculture movement,” per Adam Cook.
Donald Sutherland is our new McCarthy, a San Francisco health department investigator and the boss of Elizabeth (Brooke Adams: The Dead Zone, Shock Waves). Donald likes Liz but she’s married to Art Hindle (lead dude in The Brood), who is the first to be invaded – not counting their psychiatrist guru friend Leonard Nimoy, who was probably a pod from the start. While uncovering the plot and figuring out what to do about it, they huddle with friends Goldblum and his wife Nancy (Veronica Cartwright, in The Birds as a teen, later Alien and Witches of Eastwick).
The Shaun of the Dead trick of pretending to be a zombie and walking among the others seems to work, until Donald and Liz get shocked by something and scream. Donald spotted a pod next to a homeless dude (and his dog) and kicked it – a few scenes later the dog is walking around with the dude’s face. As in the original, Liz is only left alone for a few minutes when she falls asleep and gets replaced, melting in Donald’s hands as her pod version rises up, telling him to join them.
Screenplay by W.D. Richter, later director of Buckaroo Banzai with Goldblum. Fun angles and shadowplay, and perfectly balanced tone of terror and action – no wonder a couple movies later Kaufman’s The Right Stuff got eight oscar nominations. Sutherland was later in the quite bad Puppet Masters, in which Earth is invaded by mind-controlling alien parasites, and McCarthy would reprise his role yet again in Looney Tunes: Back in Action.
Visually, the movies couldn’t differ more. Siegel’s unadorned black-and-white has yielded to Kaufman’s lyrical color, tilts, handheld shots, and high key lighting. Michael Chapman’s photography is both lustrous and penumbral, with deep shadows and crowded, mobile frames. Annexing the genre’s salient mood of engulfing dread, he has made the new Body Snatchers a film noir in color.