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Invasion of the Body Snatchers

****
1956

‘…the rising terror of the nightmare depicted here is very much in tune with 2021’s on-going state of fear and loathing between previously trusting neighbours…’

‘Uncle Ira isn’t Uncle Ira…’ Somewhere along the line, this critic has learned to stop worrying about  remakes and just love the cyclical nature of film; Don Siegel’s 1956 classic spawned two great remakes, in 1978 and 1993, and one dud one (in 2007). Ignoring the fourth one, each film has something meaningful to say and about the social and political world of the time, and manages to be far more than a horror/sci-fi movie. So I’d be happy to see this film remade every year; whatever your political, religious or sexual persuasion, there’s always opportunities here to dress up your commentary in the trappings of low-budget sci-fi.

So send in the aliens, or rather, don’t bother, they’re already here. Dr Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) returns to his community in Santa Mira, California, to find lots of patients who seem to be losing their minds; they suspect friends, relatives, even immediate family like Uncle Ira to have somehow changed, and seek the doctor’s advice. “An epidemic of mass hysteria,’ one character diagnoses, ’caused by worry about all the troubles of the world.’ Even more strangely, these same patients soon change their minds, laughing off their previous state of paranoia and assuring the good doctor that all is well. But all is not well, and the discovery of giant alien pods, used to gestate human duplicates, sends Bennell and his girlfriend Becky (Dana Wynter) on a breakneck escape from the faceless hoards of Santa Mira, for whom all resistance is futile…

Each film offers a slightly different variation on the lore featured in Jack Finney’s original story; in this version, it’s notable that the aliens take human form perfectly, not just looking identical, but also capturing every memory in their minds, making them indistinguishable from humans. The only way that Miles can tell them apart is when the aliens demonstrate their objective otherness; not responding to a tragedy or joke because they lack the ability to understand or create inferences. Some have considered Siegel’s film to be about McCarthyism, but that comparison only goes so far. The aliens are good citizens, mow their lawns, smile and wave; if anything, Santa Mira is better off for their presence, and a lifestyle with ‘no more tears’ sounds attractive enough. But the invaders lack personality and character, and that’s what gives them away. The creatures aren’t communists, capitalists or political in any way; they are bland automatons, consumer slaves, and adhere to a hive mentality; replacing a live musical band with a jukebox is their brand of progress.

A wrap-around opening and closing sequence were forced on Siegel to create an upbeat ending, one which is completely at-odds with the films general pessimism and paranoia. More chilling scenes see Miles and Becky watch from a window as their community as “people I’ve known all my life’ line up in the village square fulfillment centre; if anything seems to be satirised here, it’s the war effort from the previous decade, and the idea of the individual working together on goals set by the government. Individuality, whether Republican, Democrat or otherwise, is the commodity that is in increasingly short supply here, and those who stand up for themselves are those most likely to be crushed. Looking sharp in this new restored print, Invasion of the Body Snatchers belies a 50’s B movie title to be the horror movie for the thinking person. While the story is solid enough to bear all manner of re-interpretation, it’s also cleverly constructed to mean almost anything to everyone, and that’s why the 1956 Invasion is a classic of imaginative cinema.

This timely BFI reissue comes complete with a variety of extras, including a feature length audio of Siegel in conversation with Barry Norman, a visual guide to Santa Mira, past and present, and several informative films about the film’s making and influence. It’s a great blu-ray package which should remind us all that cinema has a key role to play in exploring our social anxieties; the rising terror of the nightmare depicted here is very much in tune with 2021’s on-going state of fear and manufactured loathing between previously trusting neighbours. Uncle Ira might be a conspiracy theorist today, but who are the aliens amongst us?

Released on Blu-ray in the UK just in time for Halloween, from 25 October 2021.

Thanks to the BFI for blu-ray access to this title.

https://shop.bfi.org.uk/the-invasion-of-the-body-snatchers-blu-ray.html

 

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  1. This was a brilliant starting point for the paranoia thrillers – the bad guys/corporate villains were already here. It was a massive success in film clubs in the 1960s when “The Man” was in complete control.

    • It’s a film that created ripples that still rock the boat today. Interesting to hear about it in 60’s film clubs, it was a tv staple as well, and a great early horror film for kids growing up; yes, it’s a PG, but it’s chilling stuff too, and potentially dangerous if misread….

      • Fabulous film. Odd though how it took Siegel so long to make his mark. He would have a wee hit then disappear and another wee hit. Not until Dirty Harry did he look as though he was here to stay.

  2. I have not seen the ’93 version. I will have to remedy that. This is one story that I also like seeing remade because every incarnation shows something about the era it is from.

    • Totally. We are in complete agreement. The 93 version has a military flavour, and it probably the most underrated.

        • I really don’t trust this notion of buying a collection of digital films. Since very few people have the mega storage required, you’re actually just buying a paper licence, one that can be revoked without notice. Streaming is fine for people that don’t care what they watch, but old dangled discs are still the best way to own a film and share it with friends. More modern is not always better.

          • I completely agree. I was looking at amazon’s terms and if they get their rights to stream something yanked, there goes your license to view it. Stops me cold from ever “buying” digital…

            • And who is building a digital library? Outside of the US, you can’t even merge your libraries into one place. They have wrecked this for themselves out of pure greed.

              • Ha. Even here things can’t be in one place. Several places have tried but then each studio has horned in and Disney has led the way. I had a bunch of digital movies from those codes you get when you buy a bluray but they were through Flixster or somesuch and then it got moved to somewhere else, then moved again and now I have zero idea as I’m not creating new account after new account to “keep” the digital versions.

                I’ve looked at a program called Handbrake (I think) that lets you rip your dvds to digital, but I don’t think it works for bluray and besides, like you noted, who has the space?

                • So I DID manage to get my stuff off flickster and into my you tube account, but it was a long and lonely road and my iTunes library is a separate thing. From the content creator’s POV it’s a good idea because I can’t share it and my library dies with me. My response as a consumer was, like you, to give up.

                  The result is that we all slowly fall out of love with our favourite films and franchises. And with cinema seemingly in death throes right now, no parts of this machine are working. This isn’t a case for govt intervention, it needs joined up thinking to provide the consumer with something they want.

                  They stopped putting disk drives in laptops to stop you uploading your music onto iTunes, and look how well that turned out. iTunes is dead. Everything is increasingly disposable, art, ideas, entertainment, people. Streaming a film does not involve stores, warehouses, staff, cleaners, foyers, screens, and yet it somehow costs more. They charge what they think they can get away with to people who can’t keep track of what they bought. It’s all broken. Sigh.

                  • Man, I can totally feel that sigh all the way over here.
                    And I hear you.

                    The day ebooks get some sort of unbreakable drm will be the day I buy a highquality scanner and something to chop the spine off of new books.

                    • Microsoft deleted their e library two years ago. Who are we trusting the future of our great books, music and films to? People that can’t organise a credible tax return?

                    • You have to do things yourself. I use Calibre for my ebooks and if I were to ever digitize all my movies and anime, I’d have to look at some sort of movie software organizer.

  3. I know they’re a charitable organisation, but does BFI make any money off of these special DVD releases? Criterion still does DVDs but they’re clearly moving toward an all-streaming model.

    • DVD production isn’t cheap, but it’s not that expensive if you know what you are doing ie glass masters and the like. The BFI steaming service is great, but some people will always prefer physical media.

      • I think the BFI’s streaming is good value for what it is; access to a wealth of great films for the price of a DVD a month.

        • Your info about streaming put me off streaming. I do like to go back to old pictures and would hate to think the online library I thought I owned had just disappeared.

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