Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) — Accept no substitutes

“We adapt and we survive. The function of life is survival.”

Justin’s rating: We really could be saved by weed killer?

Justin’s review: When and if an alien invasion ever does happen on our planet, what will it look like? Since the ’50s, Hollywood has often envisioned it as flying saucers and little grey men, but that’s certainly not the only possibility. The Body Snatchers franchise posits a different approach: plants. Plants that grow into pods. Pods that send out tendrils to latch on to a person. Tendrils that help facilitate a copy while the original is destroyed.

Invasion by facsimile.

I said a while back that I’ve long been a fan of the underrated ’90s edition in this series, Body Snatchers. But the truth with that goes along with that fact is that until now I never saw the much more famous 1978 forebear. So I figured I owed it to myself — to the remnant of humanity, really — to give Invasion of the Body Snatchers a go. And what I found was the scariest plant horror movie since The Happening. That’s supposed to be a joke but let’s move on, eh?

It doesn’t take long for this movie to establish a sense of paranoia that makes this series so delicious. When you don’t instantly know who’s a copy and who’s an original, when you’re not sure where the plants are going to try to get you next, when you don’t have a clue how widespread the invasion is… it gets really hard to wrap your head around it all. Makes the viewer just as twitchy as the poor sods that are on the screen.

Public health department workers Matthew (Donald Sutherland) and Elizabeth (Brooke Adams) gradually became aware that there’s a whole lot of weirdness in the city as people start acting quite different than usual — and friends and loved ones accuse each other of not being the real deal. Matthew and Elizabeth’s realization isn’t fast enough to outpace the silent invasion (everyone seems to bend over backwards to come up with alternate reasons why people aren’t people), which snarfs up the population into copy-and-paste pods with at an exponential rate.

I think this kind of tale connects hard with us because there are always moments that we suspect that other people aren’t who they say they are. That everything is — if only for a day or an hour — off. Even that the whole world is against us and we’re the only sane people left. If that was made actually true, it would be awful beyond imagination.

For a B-movie story, Invasion of the Body Snatchers impressed me with its talent in front and behind the camera. There are a lot of big names that pop up here — including Leonard Nimoy, Veronica Cartwright, and Jeff Goldblum — and the practical effects are as creepy as they are cool. But can we talk about the movie’s biggest flaw? Aside from Sutherland’s unfortunate perm, that is? It’s the score.

This soundtrack is mired in the worst of the ’70s orchestral scores, and every time it decided to blare up, I wanted to give the whole planet over to the plant aliens. I mean, they can have it if this is the best that we as an artistic society can do.

The fun of these movies is actually getting to see an alien invasion succeed. There’s never any real hope that the humans are going to mobilize to win the day, so really it’s a somber documentary on the end times. This is the way that the world as we know it winds down and passes the baton to a new dominant species.

I don’t really know or care to declare this or Body Snatchers as “better,” only that both are really captivating as we watch it spool out to its terrible conclusion. It’s fascinating to see where some of these major pop culture touchstones — pod people, the unnatural scream — while still being impacted by the whole experience as it should be. So yeah, this is worthy of the classic status that I’ve heard and a great viewing from start to finish.

Didja notice?

  • That does not look like a friendly alien planet to visit
  • Robert Duvall as a priest on the swings
  • “It’s a rat turd!” “A caper!”
  • Elizabeth’s crazy eyes
  • The silent communication the aliens have when they look at each other
  • Mud baths, could’ve done without seeing that naked fat guy get out of one
  • The alien screams can be heard early in the movie if you pay very, very close attention to the soundtrack
  • The dog-person!
  • The use of feet in telling a moment
  • That iconic tunnel also seen in Terminator and Back to the Future Part II
  • Five pills of speed, that’s healthy

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