Classic sci-fi/horror film from 1956, adapted from Jack Finney's novel The Body Snatchers
and directed by Don Siegel.
Miles Bennell is a doctor in the small town of Santa Mira whose patients start accusing their family and friends of being impostors. They can't explain their suspicions — there are no physical or behavioral changes — but they are still convinced that the people they suspect are no longer themselves
. Bennell and his colleague, Kaufman, initially assume this is merely mass hysteria, a diagnosis which seems to be confirmed when the patients start recanting their accusations.
However, Bennell soon discovers that the patients were right. The people of Santa Mira are being replaced by alien doppelgangers, identical duplicates grown in pods, which replaced them while they slept. Behind their perfect mimicry of humanity, including emotions, is a soulless void. The pod people have no culture of their own, only what they have copied from humanity, and they have no goal beyond survival.
The film ends with Bennell, who has just had to kill his love interest's doppelganger, screaming a warning to heedless motorists.
A relatively happy ending, in which it's implied that the FBI
will stop the invasion, was added to the film by meddling executives
, but is now usually omitted. In the original book, the pods eventually give up, frustrated by human determination, but in the film the ending seems truly hopeless.
Usually interpreted as a metaphor for Communism
, although some view it more as an indictment of McCarthyism
and small-town insularity and conformity. There have been countless homages
and three remakes:
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) starred Donald Sutherland as Bennell (now named Matthew instead of Miles) and transferred the setting to The City (San Francisco), working in an effective theme of urban alienation which, in some respects, actually reverses the theme of the original. At one point, a character expresses her paranoia that she keeps witnessing people recognizing each other, isolation being such a feature of city life that excessive human contact itself is suspicious. This version also focused on the "malaise" of The Seventies and cranked up the Body Horror; appropriately, three of the film's stars (Brooke Adams, Art Hindle and Jeff Goldblum) all went on to do films with David Cronenberg. Thanks to its critical acclaim and high performance at the box office, it is considered one of the best horror remakes ever made, with many people ranking it up there with — if not ahead of — the 1956 original.
- Body Snatchers (1993) was a gender flipped (and teenage) version set on an Army base and starring a young Gabrielle Anwar. More personally focused than the earlier versions — significantly, the heroine's step-mother is one of the first to be duplicated, and the family dynamic plays a big part in the movie. The film also got some mileage from its military setting and the fact that the protagonist herself was already somewhat detached from the community.
- The Invasion (2007), another Gender Flip version with Nicole Kidman, is regarded by most as being the worst of the lot. Amongst many other changes, they dropped the idea of alien replacements entirely, going for a simple and reversible version of The Virus. It also worked in The War on Terror and, with it, questions regarding The Evils of Free Will.
Not to be confused with the horror movie The Body Snatcher
These films include examples of:
- Adaptation Distillation: The 1978 version shows the invasion taking place in a colder, more impersonal "I'm OK, you're OK, everyone's OK" national culture that often openly questioned whether its best years as a country were behind it. In such an environment, the invasion succeeds.
- Alien Invasion: Sounds like it. From the name.
- Assimilation Plot: All of them. Discussed in the 1978 version.
- And Then John Was a Zombie: The 1978 version.
- Bittersweet Ending: the 1956 version, along with the 1993 and 2007 ones
- Body Horror: The 1970s remake answers the question of what happened to the people whom the pods replaced. They crumble into ash.
- The Cameo: Quite a few in the 1978 film.
- The star of the 1956 version, Kevin McCarthy, plays a man crying, "They're here!" just like at the end of the 1956 film.
- The 1956 version's director, Don Siegel, plays a cab driver.
- Robert Duvall plays a priest near the beginning of the film.
- Jerry Garcia can be heard on the soundtrack playing the banjo.
- Cassandra Truth
- Cleanup Crew: The garbagemen in the 1978 movie.
- Covered in Gunge: The 2007 version.
- Creepy Child: Two of Oliver's friends in the 2007 version. Both were infected by the virus.
- Downer Ending: Oh, boy.
- But not in the book, where the pods leave for space because Earth people are willing to fight right up until the last minute.
- Also not in the 2007 version, when a cure is discovered in time.
- Also not in the 1956 version, although, like it states below, this was a result of Executive Meddling.
- Dutch Angle: The 1978 remake features many bizarre camera angles to emphasize disorientation and isolation.
- Evil Twin: Kinda.
- Fore Shadowing: Early in the 1978 remake, a man is shown running through by the Health Department and a pod scream can be faintly heard.
- Funny Background Event: The 1978 version has a few of these, especially at the book signing:
Dr. Kibner: Matthew! You closed my favorite restaurant, Henri's! Where are we gonna find a decent place to eat?
- Heroic Sacrifice: In the 1978 remake, when the group are being chased by the Pod people, Jack and Nancy sacrifice themselves to the pod people as a distraction to allow their friends to escape.
- Hope Spot: The "Amazing Grace" scene, in the 1978 version.
- I Never Told You My Name: In the 1978 version, Matthew is surprised that Washington already knows who is calling them.
- Informed Ability : While the pod-duplicates are certainly not as emotional as Humans, their claims of emotionlessness need to be taken with several grains of salt. If they are so, then why (beyond the plot and dramatic needs) do they taunt and gloat over the uninfected about the inevitability of their victory? The stepmother and Forrest Whittaker's replaced co-workers in 1993 almost seem angry or giggling over how they can't be beat. They're all more like recent converts to a movement, which is somewhat the point, but if you have no emotions, you don't need to say it so damned often.
- Invisible Aliens
- It Was Here, I Swear
- Meaningful Background Event: In the 1978 version you'll often see garbage men in the background and as the movie progresses they're throwing more and more of the black end result of pod transformation.
- Mythology Gag / Remake Cameo: The 1978 remake had Kevin McCarthy reprise his performance from the ending of the original, banging on the protagonists' windshield and screaming, "You're next!" Later on in the film, Don Siegel (director of the original) appears as an overly-suspicious cab driver.
- The 2007 version had a woman reprising the Kevin McCarthy performance, and then getting hit by a car.
- Never Sleep Again: The Pod People can only replace you when you sleep.
- Only Sane Man: By the end of the original film, Bennell, and no one left unaffected believes him.
- Puppeteer Parasite
- Replicant Snatching: The entire premise of the series.
- Silent Credits: At the end of the 1978 version.
- Stepford Suburbia
- Twist Ending: The 1978 (Matthew was transformed) and 2007 (the alien virus is curable) remakes.
- The Virus: The 2007 version. It still causes a pod people transformation when the victim sleeps, though.
- We Are Everywhere
- You Are Too Late: invoked by one of the first pod people in the 1993 version:
Where you gonna go, where you gonna run, where you gonna hide? Nowhere... 'cause there's no one like you left.