Friday, October 23, 2015

'70s Horror Poll: Invasion of the Body Snatchers

#14 - 8 votes

Philip Kaufman's 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers isn't usually listed among the decade's best paranoid thrillers, but it's as great as any of them. Transplanting the original's McCarthy-era paranoia to the Me Decade was an inspired move on the part of screenwriter W.D. Richter, as characters who suspect there's something not quite right with their friends and family members who have been replaced by pod people are instead encouraged to regard their suspicions as a projection of their own anxieties. As the city's population is quickly replaced, Kaufman does a masterful job of heightening the movie's own sense of anxiety by carefully including background actors behaving just a little strangely and other odd details at the margins of the frame, at first mostly unnoticed by the characters (Edgar Wright surely had the movie in mind when he made Shaun of the Dead). While it's less overtly political than The Conversation, The Parallax View or other celebrated '70s thrillers, it shares the same mounting sense of unease that, not only are sinister forces secretly running the show, but they're already winning.

From the opening sequence, which follows microscopic alien organisms travelling across the universe to our planet and slowly, almost imperceptibly replicating harmless-looking flowers, it's the rare movie about aliens that feels truly otherworldly. Cinematographer Michael Chapman favors naturalistic, largely practical lighting towards the beginning, only to include more expressionistic use of light and shadow as the characters realize what's going on. Along with Douglas Stewart's jagged, disorienting editing, Ben Burtt's sound design and Danny Zeitlin's unique electronic score, the movie creates an atmosphere of subtle but insidious and growing dread that still feels not quite like any other science fiction movies, then or now. The cast also deserves a great deal of credit for the movie's success - star Donald Sutherland (the most underrated actor of his generation?) and a great supporting cast including Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright and Leonard Nimoy keep their characters' anxieties frighteningly grounded and credible. 

The first time I watched Invasion of the Body Snatchers was late at night on TV-38's Movie Loft when I was eight or nine years old; it was the perfect way to experience the movie, as the movie's peculiar atmosphere did a number on my sleepy brain until I was suddenly jolted awake by moments like the fate of the banjo player and his dog or, especially, the final scene, one of the all-time best. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is fairly well-known today, but it doesn't seem to be as much of a Halloween mainstay as a lot of late-'70s horror classics, and it deserves to be.

U.S. Release Date: December 20, 1978 (Also released that week: Every Which Way But Loose, King of the Gypsies, The Last Wave)

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