SUB-GENRES: Horror / Thriller
DIRECTED BY: Abel Ferrara
WRITTEN BY: Stuart Gordon & Dennis Paoli and Nicholas St. John (screenplay); Raymond Cistheri & Larry Cohen (story); Based on a novel by Jack Finney
PEW PEW: Toward the end there is a great deal more action than normally occurs in a Body Snatchers film, but this one is mostly slow going.
CAT FOOD: The film’s original metaphor of political subversion is watered down and applied to the military and somewhat to school. It’s not nearly as deep this time.
Jack Finney’s novel The Body Snatchers and its concept left an indelible mark on me and, as such, the adaptations of the unique story always fascinate me. I believe that Invasion of the Body Snatchers and its subsequent remakes, however terrible some of them were, are staples of science fiction film. For my next several reviews, I plan to take you through all five of the takes on Finney’s idea.
While this third adaptation of the original idea isn’t by any means the best of them, it’s a lot better than I thought it was going to be, based on its regular availability in discount bins. It’s not the worst of the adaptations either, holding up a relatively sturdy middle ground between the first two takes and the last two.
Whereas the first two pictures mostly got right down to business, Body Snatchers is very slow going and it takes far too long to really get into what it should be getting into. It’s a far cheesier early nineties type flick that really could have picked up what it lacked in production simply by staggering the picture with gore and entertaining demises. Instead, the film attempts to be as deep and suspenseful as the others, when nothing interesting is really happening.
When teenager Marti Malone’s father is sent by the EPA to test a military compound’s effects on the surrounding environment, she must move with him, her stepmother and stepbrother into said base, much to her chagrin. Right out of the gates we have the cliched disconnect between teenager and father that is usually okay in a B horror flick, but this movie takes itself far to seriously and the use of the trope is kind of lame. I’m really surprised that Stuart Gordon’s name is attached to this, as his B movies are usually quirky and fun as hell. Then again, there are a million other writers attached to the thing.
Throughout the course of the film, we find out that seedpods drifting through space have landed near the military base and are producing exact replicas of its human population. When you sleep, the new body absorbs your thoughts and memories and eventually replaces you. The resulting replacement is identical in every way, except that it no longer expresses emotion.
Soon, Marti, her family, and a few friends find themselves outnumbered on the base and eventually attempt to escape and warn the outside world that the pod people plan to spread the invasion across the nation and beyond.
Don’t get me wrong, the film is mildly entertaining, but the real highlight is the actual ‘podding’ process that we finally really get to see. For starters, we get to watch several times as people are completely desiccated by tendrils attached to the pods. They eventually crumple into a heap of leftover matter. It’s really quite cool and provides a few shocks.
Even cooler than that, however, is the actual development of the pod person that we get to see. In the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, we watch Donald Sutherland’s double develop, but only really after it hatches. In Body Snatchers, the thing bounces around inside the egg as an embryo and eventually even forms a skull and other features. The effects here, unlike in most of the film, are absolutely stellar.
The film features no really notable actors in lead roles. The little boy Andy is actually quite well acted for a child, helping to sell his part of the plot. Of course, the film does include a neat performance from Forest Whitaker as a medical officer who takes on a sort of Miles Bennell approach by noticing strange paranoias exhibited by soldiers on the base. R. Lee Ermey also appears as an army officer, something he’s never done before… hehehe…
Compared to the other adaptations of Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers, this film’s visual is quite drab and unremarkable, aside from a very cool trip to an infirmary where people are put in hospital beds and forced to undergo the podding process. When you boil it all down, I don’t really care for the army base idea. While it is a very cool concept to apply the pod people metaphor to a place where conformity is pretty much mandatory already, I just don’t think the army is an environment that is particularly relatable for the common movie viewer. I thought it was more effectively done in 28 Days Later.
Of severe note, however, is a scene in the daycare, when all the other children paint the same identical picture but Marti’s stepbrother’s does not. It briefly made be think about how pod people would perform as artists and as students and this interested me far more than any military application.
Body Snatchers presents a menace that is far more violent, arrogant, and forceful than in all other previous incarnations of the idea. One character makes us feel that resistance is indeed futile as she asks where we’d run to when the world is full of pod people. When the officers approach another officer and attempt to force him to go to sleep, it takes a violent turn that is quite a bit more menacing than I was expecting. The fact that the alien menace is taking over the minds of aggressive military men trained to kill has obviously amplified the menace substantially.
As a standalone film, Body Snatchers is reasonably intriguing. As much as I complain about its faults, the thing is far from a waste of time. I was entertained. I do feel it would have been far better had its writers employed the same amount of riveting suspense that the previous film did. Instead, there are long passages where nothing happens besides some kind of cliched, macho, insta-romance. It’s easy to follow, though, and the heightened, more brazen menace and graphic podding scenes provide enough meat to make it worth your while to watch. Keep in mind that Body Snatchers does benefit quite a bit from lowered expectation.