Super '70s Sunday - Seeing Double

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978)

Every so often I get an urge to watch something like this, something bleak and unsettling and very much of its time. Each time the results are very much the same. The same few thoughts will cross my mind, things such as ... 'it's 2o'clock in the morning, why am I watching this again?' Certain movies always seem to retain that kind of affect, although it's a rare occurrence. A mark of something special, or truly horrible. There's particular sense of dread to be found here, an all pervading gloom that I can't look away from. Maybe it's because I'm just a sucker for this era of science fiction releases. But at the same time I can't help but wonder what it is that draws me into such a disturbing experience, a real waking nightmare distilled into less that two hours.


Of course the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a truly great movie. But it's also a inescapably, intensely creepy movie. Right from the outset it rarely leaves you time to relax despite a few bits of character humour and humanity early on. There are a few gags about the rodent problems that Donald Sutherland's health inspector comes across, and a little respite when other actors like Jeff Goldblum and Veronica Cartwright are introduced as a couple of kooks running a mud spa. Poor Veronica! The casting of Leonard Nimoy has clever implications later on as things progress but all these moments feel like fleeting glimpses of warmth, as all the compassion of the world is drained away.

The look of the film adds a lot to this desolate feeling. It's the poster child for weird washed out 1970s film stock, it's grey and murky with night time scenes offering seriously dark blacks. So long  classic '50s and '60s Technicolor, and welcome New Wave grit and nihilism! Even some of the basic investigation sequences early on feel tense claustrophobic as people sneak around acting strangely. It captures the overall mood of the story perfectly with a sense of both gritty reality and alien nightmare fuel. If Star Wars was an attempt to push away from from the depressing tone of this decade in cinema, then this is pushes back twice as hard.

As many will know they follow along with that whole downbeat ending rule from this decade, but for any newcomers this is a must see the first time without any kind of fore-warning. There's a special place in hell for the idiotic graphic designer who put a big spoiler for that climax on the menu of certain releases of this on DVD, and also on the packaging itself. It's from a period where they claim interactive menus are a special feature I suppose. But all I can say is are you kidding with this kind of shoddy work? What were they thinking? Most viewers will probably know about the whole clone pod people idea through mainstream pop culture osmosis, but a non-spoiler approach is still essential here.


Outside the look of the film there are a lot of elements that contribute to making it all so unnerving. It goes without saying that much of this is because of several scenes of pure gross out body horror. The sight of alien plants birthing grotesque duplicates and as the original host is left to dessicate and dissolve leaves little to the imagination. The whole thing is also packed with unsettling camera angles (this is what Dutch angles are supposed to do, Thor) and a there's a lot of generally creepy noise in the soundtrack which brings everything together.

It's true there are a few traditional tunes in the score but wow, this other stuff really puts you on edge with its buzzing, warped sound effects and all those juddering, pulsating synth notes - it's altogether otherworldly in the true sense of the word. Just to let everything sink in the credits are completely silent, leaving you to reel in your seat after the experience is over. This is hardly sci-fi in the usual sense, but it's right up there with Carpenter's The Thing in terms of how to do a remake that stands with it for sheer paranoia factor alone - as well as one that is full of intricate and disgusting practical effects.

Maybe with Cronenberg's The Fly they can be looked at as a trilogy of greatest and slimiest remakes. As soon as you see the gelatinous spores arrive and begin to take root you know a lot of weird stuff is inbound. From the slimy parasites in the opening to the tendril sprouting pods later on, it's all great work which really stands up to the test of time. Some moments lose their shock factor on repeat viewings and a certain pet appearance is almost comical if you're expecting it, but I'm hard pressed to find a film that I simultaneously enjoy and avoid as much as this one. How fitting a major idea in the story is not falling asleep - it's sure to make anyone feel restless. Late night TV has a lot to answer for.

5/5