Every so often certain thoughts will cross my mind, such as ... "it's 2o'clock in the morning, why am I watching this again?" Certain movies have that kind of affect, although it's a rare occurrence. A particular sense of dread, an all pervading gloom. Maybe I am 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 truly, intensely, creepy movie. Right from the outset it rarely leaves you time to relax despite a few bits of character humour early on. You get a few gags about the rodent problems that Donald Sutherland's health inspector comes across, and a little respite as other characters like Jeff Goldblum and Veronica Cartwright are introduced as a couple of kooks running a mud spa. Poor Veronica! The casting of Mr. Spock himself has clever implications later on as things progress but all these moments feel like fleeting glimpses of warmth, as the humanity of the world is drained away.
The look of the film adds a lot to this. It's the poster child for weird washed out 70s film stock, it's bleak and murky with night time scenes offering seriously dark blacks. So long 50s and 60s Technicolor, and welcome new era nihilism! Yes as most know they follow along with the downbeat ending rule from this decade. But on that note I have to mention an unknown designer; the person who put a big spoiler for that ending on the menu for the DVD and also on the packaging (which shows said menu from a time that alone was supposed to be a special feature) all I can say is are you kidding with this, what were they thinking? Luckily I first saw this pretty much knowing nothing of what was to come besides the whole pod people idea which has become a fairly mainstream pop culture idea. Late night TV has a lot to answer for.
Outside the look of the film there are a lot of elements that make it so unnerving. Of course there are several scenes of pure gross out body horror with alien plants birthing grotesque duplicates and leaving the original host to dessicate. 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 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 it's buzzing, warped sound effects and juddering, pulsating synth notes - it's altogether otherworldly. Just to let everything sink in the credits are completely silent. This is hardly sci-fi in the usual sense, but it's right up there with 1982's The Thing in terms of how to do a remake and stands with it for sheer paranoia factor alone as well as on the front of intricate and disgusting practical effects. Maybe with The Fly they can be looked at as a trilogy of best / slimiest remakes.
As soon as you see the 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 stands up to the test of time. Some moments lose their shock factor on repeat viewings and a certain dog appearance fans will know is almost comical if you're expecting it, but I am hard pressed to find a film that I like and avoid watching at the same time as much as this one. How fitting a major idea in the story is trying to stay awake, it's sure to make anyone restless.