Invasions of the Body Snatcherses (1956, 1978)
My advice to you is NOT to watch the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and its 1978 sequel back-to-back. For one thing, the fictional black-and-white town, "Santa Mira" (Holy Lookit?) comes across as an infinitely more appealing place to live than the muted, drab, realistic hellscape that was actual San Francisco in the late 1970s, which is wrong, just WRONG. For another, the Cold War really had teeth in the mid-50s and, although technically the "war" was still on in the late 70s, the concomitant hysteria had significantly ebbed by then, and the later film was forced to inject more exposition than the purer, earlier version required.
Every audience member knew when Kevin McCarthy ran blindly, hysterically through the streets in the first film, shrieking that an alien invasion was threatening humanity, he was talking about the creeping communist menace. And when he was finally believed, the implication was that the threat would be addressed and overcome. When the same, older, slightly puffier, 1970s Kevin McCarthy shrieked the same thing in a cameo in the sequel, the poor bastard is promptly and unceremoniously killed off.
Which is another problem with seeing the two pictures back-to-back. It's better to have the benefit of two decades and no Internet between you and the tidy, black-and-white hero of the first movie and the raving lunatic older actor who hurls at you out of nowhere in gritty 1970s muted color realism not one hour later. I mean, good for Kevin McCarthy and everything, but for Pete's sake.
So does anyone, at this point, not know what Invasion of the Body Snatchers is about? OK, on the off chance, here's the deal: Members of a close-knit community wake up one day and realize that some of their closest friends and loved ones are Not Themselves. After initial skepticism and unaffected friends making the whirly-index-finger-by-the-forehead sign, it becomes clear that the entire town is being taken over by emotionless, robotic lookalikes. This is achieved by a human falling asleep next to an alien "pod" (cell?) that takes over the human's body and memories, but not his or her feelings, killing the original human and the resulting duplicate going about the former human's business, but without the messiness of sex or love or jealously, but also no independence or liberty or anything.
In the (superior) 1956 telling, these changes occur under the nose of the town doctor, Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy), who, as a 1950s doctor is dismissive of what he thinks are the hysterical imaginings of those of his patients who are women and children. His love interest, Dana Wynter, is way ahead of him on this issue and is by the doctor's side when he finally comes around. Eventually, the entire town is taken over and these remaining two are driven to their existential limits. The terror in this film is in the uncertainty -- the quiet normalcy turned sinister and unfamiliar. Plus some very well-executed, menacing crowd choreography.
The second version of this story is told in San Francisco in the late 1970s from the point of view of a city health inspector, another doctor Bennell (this time "Matthew" and this time Donald Sutherland). His friend (and crush) Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams) has discovered a new plant in her backyard one day and a strange "distance" in her boyfriend the next morning. Matthew takes her to see his psychiatrist friend, Leonard Nimoy (does it matter who his character is?) who is (SPOILER) already a pod guy and ultimately (obviously) unhelpful.
The remake spends some quality title time telling us that the pod plants come from an unspecified place in space and that they adapt and replicate the crap they land on. Later on, we observe a few of the pitfalls of organism duplication when two higher beings sleep in close proximity (see man-faced dog). My favorite characters in this version are Matthew's friends, the impossibly beautiful and young Jeff Goldblum and his character's wife, my favorite science fiction actress of the era, Veronica Cartwright, who help him navigate the threat with varying degrees of success.
I dunno. It seemed to me that the later version spilled too many origin beans for it to be as scary as the first film. I saw the remake in the theater when it came out (having already seen the original), and my 14-year-old self had deemed it the better movie. But something about the second made me wonder about a city that had houses like the protagonists had -- one in an Alamo Square-ish zone and another in the Filbert Steps -- AND restaurants where rat turds could be mistaken for capers or crazy fuckers were *everywhere.*
What's not to love?
Just between us, 1978 was a terrible, terrible year for the Bay Area, particularly the month of November. Of course, it was just a coincidence that Body Snatchers (two) was released then, but I can't help wonder whether reality proved to be more disturbing than a remade threat of widespread doppleangerism.
Bottom line? See the first film for the story; see the second for perspective..
I'll do just about anything a movie tells me to do. Unless it tells me wrong...
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