Sunday, October 11, 2015

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (USA, 1956) - Black&White, Director(s): Don Siegel
MPAA Rating: Approved
[UK: PG]
Approx. 80 min.

Z-rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Cheese Factor: 1 stars out of 5

An alien invasion of any kind is far from an ideal situation but at least in an all-out war, we'd have an opportunity to defend ourselves. Mankind can put aside their differences and work together to give the mothership a computer virus or build giant robots to punch them in the face. The worst kind of invasion is a silent one where they infiltrate our society and act like they're one of us, secretly learning our weaknesses. The two ways they can go about achieving this is disguising themselves as humans, or worse, impersonating our loved ones. If they're able to imitate our friends or family, it would be nearly impossible to know who to trust.

In peaceful Santa Mira, California (a fictional town featured in various works of Sci-Fi and Horror that fans may remember as the home of the Silver Shamrock factory in Halloween III: Season of the Witch), a silent invasion is underway. Dr. Miles J. Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) returns home from a medical convention to find the town afflicted with an epidemic of mass hysteria. There have been various incidents of people accusing loved ones of not being themselves. They resemble, act like, and even share the same memories but lack any real emotion. There is a legitimate psychological disorder called the Capgras delusion where a person is convinced that someone in their life has been replaced by an identical impostor.

This delusion most commonly occurs in patients diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, which makes the situation even more difficult to read. Could friends or family really be getting replaced by an exact copy that shares the same memories? Perhaps you're the one suffering from a delusion? How can anyone be sure? At some point, you'd have to question your own sanity. Even if you were absolutely positive, how would you convince anyone else? Things take a bizarre turn when Dr. Bennell's friend, Jack, asks him to examine a body that's missing any defining features such as fingerprints. The body bears a striking resemblance to Jack but seems incomplete. Before they're able to provide the authorities with any concrete evidence, the body disappears and they're left questioning what they really saw. Not until they discover giant pods in Dr. Bennell's greenhouse that sprouted duplicates are they able to confirm their suspicions. Seeds that fell from space started growing pods, these pods have the ability to reproduce themselves in the likeness of any form of life. With their greatest fears confirmed, they try to escape Santa Mira and get help. The pods are already being loaded into trucks and headed for major cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle.

Some people see the film as commentary on individuality in the conformist society of 1950's Eisenhower-era America, others see it as an allegory for communist takeover and the loss of personal freedoms. These were very real concerns at the time but even if you're not digging that deep into the political allegory, the concept is inherently frightening and unsettling. The idea that something is impersonating your friends, family, and neighbors with no way of knowing who's "one of them" is something you see in many stories, TV shows, movies, and video games. Movies like Invaders from Mars, The Thing, The Faculty, and The Stepford Wives all share a similar theme. Pod people are a common enemy you encounter in the game Zombies Ate My Neighbor. The story has been adapted/parodied in various cartoons and kids shows like Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, Toxic Crusaders, and Archie's Weird Mysteries. Pod People and Body Snatchers have become staples in pop culture. This film was even selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1994.

Nudity: None.

Gore: None. Kevin McCarthy stabs his alien doppelgänger with a pitchfork but there's no blood. The impalement is shown but it looks like a fork going into a hotdog. 

Awesome: Pretty awesome. Kevin McCarthy is fantastic in this movie, he's great as a nervous wreck but also believable as a composed doctor. Carolyn Jones, who would go on to play Morticia in The Addams Family, is Jack's wife. Richard Deacon, most famous for playing Dick Van Dyke's boss on The Dick Van Dyke Show, makes an uncredited appearance as Dr. Harvey Bassett (he's also made appearances on both The Munsters AND The Addams Family). This film is a classic and has had a massive impact our on culture. My only complaint about this movie is about how the pod people take your place when you fall asleep. The movie doesn't really explain how that happens. I don't want to spoil the end but the last "body snatching" of the film didn't make any sense to me. That's not a big enough problem that I wouldn't recommend the film but it did bother me as I was watching it. Still, a highly recommended Sci-Fi classic.