Even people who aren't fans of horror and sci-fi (foolish mortals!) have heard of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS - but only the original 1956 version. The 1978 remake is not especially well known. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
The remake was directed by Phillip Kaufman (QUILLS) and written by W.D. Richter (NEEDFUL THINGS, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA) with a credit also going to Jack Finney, the author of the original novel. The movie opens with a barren planetscape harshly lit by a large, reddish sun. Gossamer objects jostle each other and then begin floating away from the surface, through space, toward standard picture of Earth #3. These web-like organisms end up as parasitic flowers on plants in what we soon see is San Francisco. Children play in a city park and flowers are everywhere. A suspicious looking priest stares at the children as he swings on a swing set. The priest - in the first of several interesting cameos in this movie - is Robert Duvall.
Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams: THE DEAD ZONE, SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK) picks a flower and brings it home. She shows it to her sports-obsessed boyfriend Geoffrey (Art Hindle: THE BROOD, BLACK CHRISTMAS) but his attention is focused on the game on TV.
Meanwhile, health inspector Mathew Bennell (Donald Sutherland: DON'T LOOK NOW, THE PUPPET MASTERS, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, VIRUS) goes through the kitchen of a French restaurant and gets in an argument over whether a small object floating in the soup is a caper or a rat turd. As he leaves he sees someone - presumably one of the kitchen staff smoking nearby - has cracked his windshield with a wine bottle. Later Mathew calls Elizabeth from work - she's a lab tech at the health department - and conversation makes it clear that they're good friends. On Mathew's desk a newspaper headline reads, "Webs shroud the Bay Area".
As Elizabeth and Geoffrey go to sleep we see she has placed the flower in a vase next to Geoffrey's side of the bed. The next morning Elizabeth wakes to find Geoffrey dressed in a suit and sweeping up the glass of the vase the flower was in. Apparently him being up and about so early is unusual, but stranger still is his statement that he gave away his football tickets and will instead be busy all night at a business meeting. He's almost emotionless as he says these things, then leaves for work, making a point to take the trash to the garbage truck stopped out front.
When Elizabeth sees her friend Mathew, she tells him, "Geoffrey is not Geoffrey."Mathew tries to comfort her but it's obvious he also wants to be more than her friend. He invites her to a book party where his psychiatrist friend David Kibner (Leonard Nimoy: Awww, C'mon! You know) will be making an appearance.
Later that day, before the party, Mathew has an odd experience when his dry cleaner tells him, "My wife is not my wife." The whole movie starts developing a paranoid mood as both Mathew and Elizabeth notice strangers staring at them. The anonymity of any big city becomes magnified here and developed quite well. Often people are behaving strangely in the background, unnoticed by the main characters.
On the way to the party Mathew and Elizabeth have another odd encounter. A crazed, white-haired man leaps on the hood of Mathew's car. The man pounds on the windows, shouting, "They're coming! You're next!" He glances behind him and runs off down the street, and we see he's being chased by a mob. As Mathew rounds the corner the man lies dead in the street, hit by a car. The man (in the coolest of the cameos) is none other than Kevin McCarthy, central character of the original INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS movie, reprising the scene at the end of the original where he screams unheeded warnings to passing motorists.
At the book party we meet Mathew's friend Jack Belicec (Jeff Goldblum: THE FLY , JURASSIC PARK), a lesser-known writer jealous of David Kibner's writing success. He tries to talk to Mathew about what a phony the very popular David is while Mathew tries to report the street incident to the police. Oddly, the police have no information about a car accident at the time and place Mathew mentions. Meanwhile Elizabeth listens while a woman frantically tells David that her husband is not her husband. David calms her with a big helping of 70's psychobabble and sends her on her way, making Elizabeth frantic because she's convinced the woman is in danger.
David's reaction to Elizabeth's fears is the same. He goes on and on about how the family unit is breaking up and people feel like they don't know anyone, drunk on his own pseudo-intellect and not really listening to what she's saying.
All these events set the right paranoid mood, but the first genuine evidence that something is wrong happens when Jack stops by the Belicec Baths, a steam and mud bath place he runs with his wife Nancy (Veronica Cartwright: ALIEN, THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK, SCARY MOVIE 2). Jack falls asleep in the bath and Nancy finds what appears to be a corpse in the very next stall. The corpse looks a lot like Jack
Okay, we all see where this is going. But before we get there it's time for a
Read this and all of our INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS Science Moments at - SciMo Invasion.
Aside from the science the real tragedy of the opening space effects is that they start off a good movie on the wrong foot. In the director's commentary on the DVD Phillip Kaufman says about the space scenes, "I knew we needed a sequence to show the genealogy of the pods." Well, he's made movies and I haven't but I respectfully disagree. This would have been an even better movie without what amounts to unneeded exposition. The pods should be as much a surprise to us as they are to the main characters.
The DVD commentary reveals a few more cool tidbits. Apparently when Kevin McCarthy was rehearsing for his cameo a naked homeless man (not unusual in San Francisco) was standing nearby. The homeless guy recognized McCarthy from the original version and said, "Weren't you in the first one?" When McCarthy said he was, the homeless man said, "That was the better one." There's also one more cameo. Don Siegel, director of the original, plays a cab driver that picks up Mathew and Elizabeth, and then radios in that he has two, "type H".
No offense to the naked homeless guy, but I wouldn't call this movie better than the original*. It is very good, though, which is why I give it four shriek girls.
*Naked Guy didn't say that. He said the first one was "the better one". That's what you wrote. - Feo
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