Film: Invasion of the Body Snatchers
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 flee from 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.
The original film also provided inspiration for the 2005 ABC series Invasion
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.
- Ambiguous Ending: The 1993 version. The surviving characters are about to land at another military base, after bombing the pod convoy and knocking out the original base, but the "Where you gonna go" line is repeated for the audience—suggesting the pod people have already taken that base over. Marti's narration also notes how a person can only stay awake for so long—possibly suggesting she and her companion are resigned to being replaced.
- 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
- Bolivian Army Ending: the conclusion of the first film, which ended with the doctor believing Bennell and calling the government to warn them. The pod people are still out there, but they're going to get a fight.
- Body Horror: The 1970s remake answers the question of what happened to the people whom the pods replaced. They dessicate and then implode whilst crumbling into ash.
- It also shows us some of the "foetal" duplicates, which are partially formed, slimy, blood-and-snot hued variants covered in hairy filaments.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: In the original film, Bennell shouts at the camera "You're next!"
- Brick Joke: In the 1978 film, Matthew first appears giving an inspection on a French restaurant, where he finds a rat turd in some soup and plans to throw the book at the owner (but not before they throw a bottle of wine at his car). It's later revealed that Dr. Kibner wasn't too pleased.
Dr. Kibner: Matthew! You closed my favorite restaurant, Henri's! Where are we gonna find a decent place to eat?
- The Cameo: Quite a few in the 1978 film.
- The 1956 version's director, Don Siegel, plays a converted cab driver.
- Robert Duvall plays a priest on a child's swing set near the beginning of the film.
- Jerry Garcia can be heard on the soundtrack playing the banjo.
- Remake Cameo: Kevin McCarthy (Miles Bennell) appears as a man banging on cars and yelling about the pod people.
- Creator Cameo: Director Philip Kaufman is the impatient man who knocks on the phone box Matthew is using, along with the voice of one of the officials Matthew calls.
- Cassandra Truth
- Cleanup Crew: The garbage men in the 1978 movie are implied to be this for when the duplicates fail to develop. Garbage trucks are also glimpsed in the '93 version.
- Covered in Gunge: The 2007 version.
- Creepy Child: Two of Oliver's friends in the 2007 version. Both were infected by the virus.
- Divorce In Reno: In 1956, divorce wasn't a topic for polite conversation, whether it be a quickie divorce in Reno or any other kind. Cue the following euphemisms:
Becky:: I've been in Reno.
Becky:: Reno. Dad tells me you were there, too.
Miles:: Five months ago.
Becky:: Oh, I'm sorry.
- Downer Ending: In the 1978 version only. It sure does pack a punch. Basically, the alien invasion wins, something made clear when Nancy, the only survivor, tries to meet up with Matthew, only for him to pull a horrific Nightmare Face and let out the distinctive scream of a pod-person.
- Driven to Suicide: In the 1993 version, a group of aliens corner the already crazed Major Collins in his office and try to talk him into accepting them. He ultimately shoots himself in the head.
- Dutch Angle: The 1978 remake features many bizarre camera angles to emphasize disorientation and isolation.
- Dying World: In the 1978 version, this is where the pods originate from. About midway through the movie, one of the pod clones explains this to Matthew to try and convince him that there is nothing wrong or evil in allowing the pods to replace humanity.
- Evil Twin: Kinda. The pod people are exact physical and mental duplicates of the originals, but are coldly logical and driven to ensure their species survives by converted all of humanity.
- Foreshadowing: Early in the 1978 remake, a man is shown running through crowds by the Health Department and a pod scream can be faintly heard.
- Giving Someone the Pointer Finger: In the 1978 version, the pod people do this whilst opening their mouths wide and screaming horrifically to point out unconverted humans.
- 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. Nancy is able to evade capture, but Jack isn't.
Jack: Here I am, you pod bastards! Hey, pods! Come and get me, you scum!
- Hope Spot:
- The music Miles and Becky hear while hiding in the cave in the 1956 version.
- The "Amazing Grace" scene, in the 1978 version.
- At the end of the 1993 version, Marti's reunion with her brother, Andy.
- I Never Told You My Name: In the 1978 version, Matthew is surprised that police knew who was calling them, along with the phone operator intercepting his call to Washington.
- Infant Immortality: Averted multiple times in different versions, as children are either shown having already been replaced or about to be. One notable example comes from the '93 version with Marti's younger brother.
- 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: The pod people, technically. Their original alien forms are protoplasmic — they're sapient germs in the 2007 version — and they take over people by absorbing their memories, forming perfect replicas of the bodies, and destroying the originals, so they seamlessly step into the original's life.
- It Was Here, I Swear: Jack's pod body in the 1956 version disappears before the authorities can be called in.
- Also in the 1978 remake. Kibner arrives to Nancy and Jake's bathhouse to find no trace of the failed Jake-clone. Matthew returns to Elizabeth's bedroom with the police, and finds flowerpots in a vaguely human shape where the body was.
- Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard: In the 1956 version, they lock Miles and Becky in Miles' own medical office, and he uses his equipment to escape.
- Meaningful Background Event: In the 1978 version you'll often see garbage men in the background and as the movie progresses they're throwing away 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!". Shortly before being fatally hit by a car, likely driven by a pod person. 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.
- And Veronica Cartwright, who was in the 1978 film, has a small role in the 2007 film.
- 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. Ultimately, the psychiatrist realizes Bennell was telling the truth after some medics report having to dig a man out from under a wrecked truck full of giant seed pods.
- Orphaned Setup: In the 1978 version, Matthew is telling a joke to Elizabeth, but she cuts him off before the punchline. Director Philip Kaufman explained the joke on the DVD commentary:
"The English Camel Corp are trapped in the Sahara Desert. They've been surrounded by Rommel for forty days and have run out of food. The Captain makes an announcement to the men: 'Men, I have some good news for you and some bad news for you. The bad news is, we have nothing left to eat but camel poop. The good news is, there's plenty of it.'"
- Pretend We're Pod People: The 1956 version has Miles and Becky feign emotionlessness to walk through the pod-infested town safely. The other versions followed suit. Thwarted in the 1978 version, where a messed up clone that has a busker's head upon the body of his dog frightens the female protagonist so badly she gives the game away.
- Puppeteer Parasite: The Pod People in the 2007 version are changed to this, being microbial organisms rather than the duplicating plant-things of earlier films.
- Replicant Snatching: The entire premise of the series.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: In the '93 version, Marti and her Love Interest escape in a helicopter, which they later use to bomb a truck convoy carrying pods. Marti's narration makes it clear she's acting out of hate over what happened to her family.
- Silent Credits: At the end of the 1978 version.
- Stepford Suburbia: What happens to the city as the pod people take over. There's no fighting, fuss, crime or problems... but there's no laughter, smiling, or human warmth, either. The pod people, once in control, are like zombies of the old-school Voodoo style: fleshy automatons that just robotically do their tasks without any individual thought or drives.
- 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.
- Vampiric Draining: While not explicit, it is implied that in order to copy a living being, the Pods take something fundamental and necessary from the original as after duplication, the original disintegrates into dust.
- We Are Everywhere: How the films work; because the pods show up all over, by the time anyone has figured out what's going on, there are pod people in all sorts of positions, from lowly street people to police officers, phone operators, doctors, psychiatrists, everywhere. And of course the pods in authority can get even more people converted before they realise what's happening, so their numbers just keep growing, and growing...
- 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."
- You Have to Believe Me: Miles resorts to banging on cars, screaming like a lunatic. One of the pod people lampshades it, saying to let him go because no one will believe him anyway.
- Zombie Apocalypse: The 1978 version has shades of this. Most notably, when they are attacked at Matthew's house and the pod people are reaching around the gate.