It just wouldn’t be “Aliens and Monsters Week” without Invasion of the Body Snatchers now would it?
Now, there have been a lot of versions of this tale over the years. And while I can appreciate the original 1956 film, in my heart of hearts, there’s just no topping the ’78 version starring Donald Sutherland. It’s bleaker. It’s spookier. It is, in many ways, a post apocalyptic film, with alien pod people instead of zombies chasing down our survivors and trying to turn them. I love it to death, it’s one of my all-time favourite sci-fi flicks. Plus, not only do we get 70s Donald Sutherland with his charming fro…
We get young, foxy Jeff Goldblum. Who can complain about that!
Basically, aliens have landed and are taking over the world, one person at a time. They are able to duplicate any living thing and take over their lives. The first such victim is the boyfriend of Elizabeth, our female lead and work wife to the Donald Sutherland’s Matthew. Elizabeth thinks Geoffrey has changed. As time passes, she now thinks everyone has changed. She is worried she’s going crazy, so Matthew sends her to his psychiatrist friend.
He tells her it’s just her trying to find an excuse to get out of this relationship. Psychiatrist of the year, folks. While Elizabeth starts doubting, Matthew’s friends Jack and Nancy find a little surprise waiting for them in their mud baths.
And so begins our four plucky protagonists’ fight for survival. Matthew finally catches on that Elizabeth isn’t crazy and that this is an alien invasion. Now they must try to stay alive and keep the invasion from spreading – not an easy task.
One of my favourite things about this flick is the invasion itself – the idea that aliens could invade us as quietly as through a rainstorm.
Who says they have to be our size, or command impressive intergalactic spaceships? An organism as small as a raindrop can fuck plenty of shit up without a laser gun. And how would you fight it? The elegance and simplicity are what make it so terrifying. As one character points out, “Why not a space flower? Why do we always expect metal ships?” Though, to be fair to dear Goldblum’s Jack, he immediately responds that he NEVER expected metal ships. God I love him.
There are so many moments in this flick that I love. Including!
* Robert Duvall has the smallest cameo as a priest on a swing.
Apparently, he was paid for that cameo with an Eddie Bauer jacket. I can’t tell you how delightful I find that.
* When Pod-Geoffrey takes out the garbage the next morning.
It’s eerie and you’re not quite sure why, and once you realize exactly what he’s disposing of there, it’s a little gross.
* I am really fond of Elizabeth and Matthew’s relationship. They are the epitome of work husband and wife.
I mean, sure, he has a bit of a crush on her but whatever. He doesn’t pine, he isn’t inappropriate, he is respectful of her relationship and her boundaries. And they can talk and laugh and make work easier and more enjoyable for each other. I mean, yeah, once they realize her live-in boyfriend is a pod person and they’re on the run for their lives they totally fall in love, but that’s neither here nor there. I’m talking that initial comradery and friendship. That’s the dream, folks.
* The overwhelming feeling of paranoia in this flick is just delicious. I love watching Elizabeth spin into madness as she begins to doubt herself and everyone around her. And listening to her describe it, she sounds crazy – but we know she’s not. And when we walk through her day and see what she sees, you completely understand her fear. Who can you trust?
* The garbage really, really freaks me out.
It doesn’t really look like anything, and yet…. you can kinda tell those are the dusty remains of people, right? You can see it? Or maybe it’s just me. I JUST DON’T WANNA END UP LIKE THAT, GUYS. I REALLY DON’T.
* Kevin McCarthy’s cameo. Not only is it a direct callback to the original ’56 flick, but the way it ends!
(ignore the subtitles, sorry)
The original film ended with, I won’t say an “optimisitic” tone, but the lead was at least still alive and trying to warn people. This time, it shows how long he’d really last with the pod people on his tail. Did I mention this one was bleak?
* Goldblum is at his Goldblum-iest best in his first appearance here. He is the quintessential tortured writer filled with pretension and bitterness. I want to marry him.
* The pods themselves are so gross and weirdly unsettling. Watching them birth a pod person is also creepy as hell.
* God damn I love those pod people shrieks. So much scarier then just the pointing for the original.
* Jack sacrificing himself to lead the pod people away is brave and beautiful and makes me love the Goldblum all the more.
* I always think, “I could fool those pod people, I’d be able to keep a blank face,” and then this part happens and I shout as loud as Elizabeth does:
* Matthew running to the boat, the strains of “Amazing Grace” blaring as he makes his way to what he believes will be their salvation, only to find…
So depressingly dreary. Such a bummer. And then he comes back and Elizabeth is taken and she crumbles to dust in his arms and her clone is beckoning him and ahhhhhh…
Favourite part/Scariest part:
They are one and the same: That ending. THAT. ENDING.
That perfect, awful, unhappy kick-in-the-ass ending. I love it. I love it so much. I love that it gives you hope, makes you think for a second that Matthew is just playing along. I love poor Nancy’s cautious, hopeful face as she approaches Matthew. I love his face when he screams. I love that it’s so grim, so final and just such a downer. I love the immediate credit roll with no score or musical accompaniment. I LOVE IT.
Why I love it:
I have this weird fondness for movies that don’t have a happy ending. I appreciate them. In school I remember friends accusing me of being a pessimist whenever I would shoot down their grand schemes for the summer or their unrealistic plans for the future. “I’m not pessimistic, I’m realistic!” I’d insist. And I think that’s why I dig this film. Not so much for the realism of aliens taking over the planet by cloning us, but the realism of, if that happened, if that actually did happen, we’d all be fucked. No one would believe it was happening until it was too late to stop it and by that point, when a whole city has been taken over, your own assimilation is just inevitable. You can try and pass as a pod person for days, weeks, maybe even months but eventually, they’d get you. And it’d all be over. That’s reality, baby.
How I reconcile this belief with my equally strong belief that I could survive the zombie apocalypse is a question better tackled by mental heath professionals than I.
Next! One of my all-time favourites: John Carpenter’s The Thing.