Posted by: philosopherouge | August 31, 2007

Invasion of the Body Snatchers or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace Horror

Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956

I loved this film, sure it’s a little cheesy, but it is also downright creepy. The idea of pod people is endlessly disturbing, and raises many interesting questions about conformity, among other things. I was planning on writing an entire essay on this, but I unfortunately lack the time because of school. So briefly, a few points and questions. Not all are directly linked to Snatchers, but horror films and the political landscape today.

– According to the director, the film is unintentionally an allegory for McCarthyism. Is this a case of people looking too analytically into the film, or is the story born out of situation, however unconsciously, it is linked to the communist scare?

– Horror is a genre in which allegory has thrived, even in literature it has raised interesting issues and questions that would not otherwised be asked outright for fear of persecution, among other things. Is this because horror is neglected as a less valuable genre, or do the convention of horror film lend themselves better to allegory than comedy, drama, crime films, etc.

– Not having seen the new (and apparently abysmal) remake, what in today’s political climate relates to the fears presented in the film, or the original. Why does Invasion of the Body Snatchers continue to fascinate and captivate audiences, when on the surface it seems to be such a product of it’s time?

I’ll see what I can do about answering these as well, I’d love opinions and answers 🙂



  1. This movie has been on my must-see list for over a year. How I haven’t seen it yet, don’t ask. *smacks head*

    I like the questions.

    You started school? How’s it going?

  2. Don Siegel made Invasion of the Body Snatchers without narration, without the opening and closing scenes of Kevin McCarthy relating the story flashback in the psych hospital. Those elements were added on by the producer who felt Siegel’s vision was too creepy. (Unavailable on DVD or VHS, the director’s version went into limited release theatrically in the late 1970s and, as far as I know, hasn’t been seen since.)

    Without those scenes, the lead character returns to his hometown after a few days away to find that the locals are inexplicably conforming to some invisible force. This was Siegel’s interpretation of McCarthy’s effect on the American public, that we’d blindly follow a directive against individuality and free thought.

    The excellent 1978 version, directed by Phil Kaufman, is a commentary on post-Vietnam capitalism and sham spiritual movements. When a woman’s husband is taken over by the pods, she simply surmises that he’s “become a Republican.”

  3. PS: In Siegel’s original version, the very last image is McCarthy running down the highway screaming, “You’re next!” Then, fade to black. A very different mood from the reassuring wind-up in the producer’s version.

  4. You write:
    “Why does Invasion of the Body Snatchers continue to fascinate and captivate audiences, when on the surface it seems to be such a product of it’s time?”

    This is an anachronism. It’s so captivating because it’s such a product of its time. Greater specificity leads to universality. This is my answer to your second question as well. Horror films–like fantasy novels, etc.–are ripe for allegory because they tell ultra-specific stories within a particular circumscribed universe. Once you know the rules of the genre, taking a film’s plot and extrapolating its significance in relation to current world events is alluringly easy.

    Did that sound too bitchy?

  5. Mango: School is okay.

    Flick: Thank you for that, I had no idea. I just read on IMDB trivia that Siegel denies the allegory, I hope they release the version on DVD someday. I’ll also check out the 1978 version.

    Ed: Not bitchy at all :p Thanks for the explanation because honestly I rarely look at films in genre classifications, and when I do I realize I’ve barely scratched the surface of them. I do agree with you on specificity in relation to universality though. Films that try to reach out to as many people and themes are possible often fail, whereas it’s the moment in time, specific stories that are far more effecting and often have the longest effect.

  6. You write:
    “Films that try to reach out to as many people and themes are possible often fail, whereas it’s the moment in time, specific stories that are far more effecting and often have the longest effect.”

    Exactly. I think I was first alerted to the importance of specificity in my own art, and how it’s the only way to lead to true universal communication, in William Froug’s ZEN & THE ART OF SCREENWRITING.

    My problem with many recent films has been due to trying too hard to be “universal.” I’m thinking of SYRIANA, BABEL, or CRASH (not the Cronenberg.) I like some of those films quite a bit (not CRASH, which has many other problems besides) but they fall flat by reaching too high.

  7. I have only seen Crash from those you mentioned, but it’s the first one I thought of in relation to films that try to hard. Modern films are particularly guilty of this, I don’t know if it’s a trend or a yearning to win awards… but it’s become fairly prevelant. People forget a film about racism or corruption is far more affecting when you are dealing with individual experience than a wide reaching idea that we all are guilty. The subject has been dealt with far more effectively in films that barely touch the subject like in Sirk’s Imitation of Life or A Raisin in the Sun. Instead of trying to put accross a wide reaching message they focus on the individual turmoils and experience, which in the end is far more powerful than anything than Haggis could come up with.

  8. I love both the original and the 78 version. Flickhead, I thought you were going to say it but you didn’t so… In the 1978 version in the first reel when Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams are driving in downtown San Francisco Kevin McCarthy appears out of nowhere banging on their hood screaming “You’re Next!”

    Also Justine, the remake is great satire. There are moments in it that are truly hilarious and other that are eerily insightful. Leonard Nimoy’s psychobabble alone is priceless. For what its worth Pauline Kael famously defended it to Tom Snyder on his show in 78 as the best movie of the year.

    Also, one last thing. The remake has a great cameo by Robert Duvall right at the beginning. According to the director’s commentary on the DVD Duvall happened to be in Frisco for another production and Kaufman had him suit up and go to the playground. It makes for a very creepy intro.

  9. While we’re at it, one of the New York critics (it may have been Amy Taubin or Carrie Rickey) felt the ’78 version lacked punch because San Francisco already was, in their words, “pod city.”

    The Nimoy character was loosely based on Werner Erhard. From Erhard’s website:

    More than thirty years ago, in 1971, Werner Erhard introduced the breakthrough notion of “transformation” to the American public – a notion that created a clear distinction between change within an existing paradigm (no matter how significant) and creating entirely new paradigms. The notion of transformation later came to be seen as a powerful, practical, and relevant resource in contemporary society.


  10. I love the comment about San Francisco already being a pod city. Kaufman said much the same thing in his commentary that that is why Frisco was chosen because of its preponderance of new age ideas.

    He also mentioned how they get the Transamerica building into as many shots as possible to try and create a subconscious effect of it being “Pod Central.”

  11. Also note the ’78 version’s continuous flow of garbage trucks (to pick up exhausted pods)…Polanski had a lot of garbage trucks in Frantic, too!

  12. Meanwhile, JL, your comments have persuaded me to put the Kaufman film on the top of my Netflix Q.

    So heated by this Pod Fever, I was actually looking forward to going out tonight to see the new Nicole Kidman version (no matter how poor it may be), but it’s no longer playing! Didn’t it just come out last week?!?

    (Living in the country, our choices are limited: one multiplex with seven screens. The next theater is 45 miles away.)

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