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Invasion of the Body Snatchers (original)/Review

From The Grindhouse Cinema Database

< Invasion of the Body Snatchers (original)

The 1950’s are considered the golden age of sci-fi movies. We all know that they didn’t have mind-blowing special effects or intense plots back then, but everyone loves them since they were highly influential on the movies that came later and because they tried to prove that sci-fi wasn’t merely kiddie stuff. For instance, take a look at both The War of the Worlds and The Day The Earth Stood Still. These films aren’t just exciting sci-fi thrillers, they also contain crucial messages in terms of religion and politics. And speaking of politics, the 50s was also the time when the infamous Red Scare was still going on. That’s why critics later cited many alien invasion movies as having a “US vs. Communists” message. Now, some are good and some are bad. Luckily, there’s one film in this category that stands out, even by today’s standards, and that is Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). At face value, it looks like just another generic sci-fi movie with the anti-Communist message. Well, after I watched it for a second time I found out that this is actually a rare case. It can be viewed as BOTH anti-Communist and anti-McCarthyism at the same time.

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The tale is told in a flashback from the perspective of Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy). He tells us the horrifying story that happened in a small town called Santa Mira. When he returned to the town, he began to notice weird things that he couldn’t explain. He was told by many people that their relatives were acting strange. At first, he thought this was mass hysteria but a short while after, Miles, his ex-girlfriend Becky, and his friends (Jack and Teddy) found a replica of Jack’s body in his own house! To make things worse, Miles later found out that there was a duplicate body of Becky at her house as well. So Miles called the police and, unfortunately, the bodies dissapeared. Nobody believed Miles and Jack's bizarre story at all. The next night, however, things got a little more terrifying. Miles found clones of Becky, Jack, Teddy, and himself had emerged from pods in his greenhouse. After Miles destroyed the pods, he went directly to his co-worker's house….only to find out that almost everyone in the town, including the cops, were not the same anymore and began chasing him and Becky across town (since they both learned of the pods).

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So what exactly are the pod people? Well, someone in the film explains it pretty well:

“Less than a month ago...Santa Mira was like any other town--people with nothing but problems. Then out of the sky came a solution. Seeds drifting through space for years...took root in a farmer's field. From the seeds came pods...which had the power to reproduce themselves...in the exact likeness of any form of life. So that's how it began...out of the sky. Your new bodies are growing in there. They're taking you over cell for cell...atom for atom. There's no pain. Suddenly, while you're asleep...they'll absorb your minds, your memories and you're reborn into an untroubled world. “

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Although it was made for under $450,000 and it has only few special effects sequences (there’s no flying saucers or aliens walking around), the film still gives me goosebumps thanks to the brilliant soundtrack and clever storyline. The film doesn’t reveal the whole mass hysteria aspect at first. Then, it slowly reveals more and more shocking truths about what's occurring. From finding mysterious bodies to watching the pods give birth to replicants, the intensity increases as Santa Mira's citizens start chasing our heroes since they know the secret and are the only two people who haven't become pods yet. It’s a perfect combination of sci-fi and psychological thriller. However, I think the opening and ending shots are basically useless. According to the director Don Siegel, the studio forced the crew to do this which destroyed the creepy atmosphere, especially in the famous “You’re next! You’re next!” scene since that’s how the film should've ended: scare the audience right up to the last minute.

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Now, let’s talk about political subtext here. In the beginning I said that this is both an anti-Communist and anti-McCarthyism film. How is this possible? Well, it depends on how you interpret it. For the anti-McCarthyism angle, the pod represents the ruthless attitude of Sen. Joseph McCarthy who had the strong anti-commie (known as the Red Scare) opinion at the time. This turns the citizens into a group of people who will destroy anyone who’s different from them. Not only do they have no love and emotions, they have the full force of police authority to help them track down “bad” guys. That’s kind of similar to what was going on in that era, in which McCarthy accused many people as being Communist sympathizers. This created a long list of people who were wrongly accused or had little to no relation to the Communist Party. Sure, some of them were connected to it, but many of them weren’t. On the other hand, this can be an anti-Communist flick as well. The pods can be symbolic of Communism. It turns everyone into an emotionless being without a sense of individualism. They never love anyone. They have no feeling towards anything (possibly implying a blind patriotic love for the country) and they want to capture everyone who remains free from becoming like them. It’s supposed to show the worst case scenario of what could happen if Communists infiltrated the country.

But no matter how you interpret it, this is one of the best Sci-Fi films from the 50s and one of my favorite films from the era as well. There's pure thrills with an interesting subtextual message that captures the chilling cold war atmosphere pretty well. Highly recommended.

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Nuttawut Permpithak is a Thai student who's spending his final year in university studying marketing. In his free time he watches exploitation films...or any films from the past, writing articles, taking photos and reviewing films for the GCDb.
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