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Invasion of the Body Snatchers(1956)
Mistaken for insane, a man arrives in San Francisco to inform the world that strange aliens have arrived on earth to overtake human life.
For more about Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the Invasion of the Body Snatchers Blu-ray release, see Invasion of the Body Snatchers Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on June 19, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, Larry Gates, King Donovan, Carolyn Jones, Virginia Christine
Director: Don Siegel
» See full cast & crew
Invasion of the Body Snatchers Blu-ray Review
Does Round-Up work on Pod People?
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, June 19, 2012
There are some films that make such a strong first impression they virtually imprint themselves into the subconscious at an almost unfathomable level. I can't say for sure when I first saw the Don Siegel version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, only that I was very young—probably only six or seven—and had stayed up way past my bedtime to see it on some late show airing that my eldest sister repeatedly warned me not to. (Any child psychologist will tell you not to argue so vociferously unless you actually want your child—or pesky little brother—to do what you're arguing against.) At any rate, I remember to this day watching transfixed with horror as poor Kevin McCarthy recounted the nefarious happenings of his bucolic and seemingly perfect little American town, where all the inhabitants were slowly but surely being replaced by pod people. The one salient piece of information I took away from that first, primal viewing is that I must never, ever fall asleep under any circumstances, and so I lay in bed that night trying with all my six or seven year old might not to drift off to slumberland. Of course I failed, and I awoke the next morning with a violent start, wondering if I were still the same kid or had been replaced by a slimy pod version of myself which no doubt had been growing in the dank climes of my bedroom closet. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one of those films whose cachet grew considerably in the years after its initial release, a release which in fact received almost no significant notice at the time. But slowly over the course of several years, and aided by those very late night broadcasts that first ensnared me in the fear of sleeping, the film has emerged as one of the most iconic horror – science fiction offerings of the mid-fifties. Invasion of the Body Snatchers has been endlessly debated in terms of supposed subtextual elements, including its supposed allegorical treatments of Communism and McCarthyism, but the bottom line is, every possible subtext and/or allegory can be stripped away from this film and there's still one of the most disturbing depictions of incipient paranoia ever caught on celluloid. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is just downright scary in a way few if any modern day, "show it all and then some" horror flicks ever are.
Along with the ubiquitous critical analyses peering into the supposed hidden layers of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (layers the filmmakers as well as original novelist Jack Finney deny), an almost equal amount of trees have bit the paper mill dust in articles decrying the fact that director Don Siegel and producer Walter Wanger were forced to tack on a framing device to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, bookends which if not exactly providing a happy ending at least don't send the audience out into that good night wondering if creepy crawly pod people are about to replace them. One thing that is uniformly overlooked in this probably rightful disparagement is the fact that our first glimpse of hero Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) is one of an apparent pop eyed, crazy haired madman. Miles is ranting and raving about his town having been taken over by duplicates and a consulting psychiatrist has been brought in to examine the harried and apparently insane man. What's so striking here is that we're introduced to this man in the throes of an apparent psychotic episode, one which contrasts brilliantly with the buttoned down, ultra professional doctor we ultimately meet in the flashback which makes up the bulk of the film.
Miles has been called back from an out of town convention to his sylvan little California burg because a rash of people have shown up at his waiting room unwilling to discuss their ailments with anyone but him. That's his first clue that something is amiss, a clue that is magnified by a young boy almost getting hit by Miles and his nurse on the drive home from the train station as he runs panicked from his mother. Once he returns to his office, Miles has the chance to catch up with a former love interest of his, Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter), a beautiful young woman who has just returned to Santa Mira after having spent the last few years abroad. But Miles and Becky are products of recent divorces, and there's little doubt there's a romantic spark being rekindled between the two old paramours. Becky confides in Miles that her cousin Wilma (Virginia Lentz) is suffering from a delusion that her Uncle Ira isn't really her Uncle Ira, and Miles agrees to look in on her. At almost the same time, the little boy who was running in the street shows up with his Grandmother, hysterically insisting that his Mother is not his Mother. Obviously something is not quite right in the State of California.
Miles shrugs off the weirdness but finally is awakened (no pun intended) to the reality of what's going on at the home of his good friends Jack (King Donovan) and Teddy (Carolyn Jones). The two have discovered something rather disturbing which they share with Miles and Becky—it's a weird, plantlike "version" of Jack that is growing but hasn't yet reached maturity. Miles tries to take fingerprints and heads off to do further investigation, while Teddy suddenly sees the doppelganger open its eyes, at which point she insists that she and Jack get the hell out of Dodge. In the meantime, Miles discovers what looks like a plantlike version of Becky growing in her cellar. He begins to put two and two together with regard to all the paranoid fear by townspeople that their loved ones are being replaced by doubles, and the central part of the film is underway.
Subtext or allegory aside, what's so fascinating about Invasion of the Body Snatchers is how fiendishly, almost black humorously, it deconstructs the conformity of the fifties by positing two scared people who don't want to give in to the "peer pressure" of toeing the pod person line. What's incredibly interesting here is how it's downright difficult to tell who is a pod person and who isn't, something resulting from the very repressed atmosphere of mid-fifties America, and something that plays into the terror that Miles and Becky feel as they slowly become the only non-pod people in Santa Mira. This is a film that plays elegantly on the inherent paranoia of the nuclear age and, yes, even the incipient fear of Communists and other ghoulies who would deprive Americans of their right to—well, conform. And that's one of the central ironies of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It's as if the pod people were actually taking the American Dream to its next level and Miles and Becky are simply being churlish not to comply.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers was filmed on a relatively measly budget, but it rarely shows. Siegel frames everything brilliantly, and the lo-fi ethos of the piece actually blends in perfectly with the unassuming charms of small town Americana in the mid-fifties. There are some standout sequences in the film, including some really goofily scary moments with the pods coming alive in an overly oozing fashion, and, later, at the climax when Miles realizes that he may be all alone in the world, there are two fantastic close-ups that are simply riveting and which convey an incredible amount of terror with absolutely no violence or gruesomeness whatsoever. In fact, a lot of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is positively quaint, working up its patent paranoia from suggestion and implication rather than outright denotation.
Daniel Mainwaring's adaptation of Jack Finney's original novel is virtually flawless, even with the studio imposed bookending segments. Rarely has a growing sense of paranoia been so brilliantly portrayed on screen, and the fact that it all takes place in a seemingly calm and structured society makes it all the more terrifying. Performances are spot on throughout, with McCarthy and Wynter both extremely appealing as the leads. Trivia buffs should keep an eye out for a certain townsman, Charlie, the meter reader. That's none other than future directing legend Sam Peckinpah in one of his few acting roles. Despite the fact that Invasion of the Body Snatchers has been such an influential film through the years (even sparking two inferior remakes), it is still an incredibly bracing and fresh experience, a truly one of a kind thriller that does in fact work on several levels, but which admirably doesn't need any other than its fundamental elements to create its sense of encroaching foreboding terror.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers Blu-ray, Video Quality
Invasion of the Body Snatchers is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Olive Films with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.00:1. This somewhat unusual aspect ratio is the result of the film being repurposed prior to release in "Superscope", a short-lived widescreen process that producer Walter Wanger was vehemently opposed to since he felt it deprived the image of clarity and fine detail. Interestingly, Superscope was a post-production process which converted nonanamorphic source elements to an anamorphic format. The result is that there is a certain softness to some aspects of the film and this transfer, specifically with regard to midrange and far shots. That said, this high definition presentation is remarkably crisp most of the time, with very pleasing fine detail in the many close-ups, and decent if occasionally problematic contrast and some very deep and convincing black levels. The elements here are in remarkably good condition, though eagle eyed videophiles will notice some very occasional damage, including some odd cloudly black mars that crop up on the far right side of the frame a time or two (look closely in the sequence when Miles is talking with "Uncle Ira" early in the film for a good example). Olive continues its tradition of releasing product that does not appear to have been even slightly digitally tweaked, so this retains a very natural filmic appearance. This is certainly heads and shoulders above the previous DVD releases, and despite some niggling problems should please the film's ardent fans.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Invasion of the Body Snatchers features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track that sounds surprisingly full, considering its age and its built in narrowness. Dialogue is very cleanly and clearly presented and the track reproduces the wonderfully effective score of Carmen Dragon beautifully. (Trivia alert number two: Dragon's son Daryl is The Captain of pop group The Captain and Tennille.) Fidelity is excellent throughout the track and there isn't even any really noticeable hiss or other age related issues.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Unfortunately there are no supplements on this Blu-ray disc. This is certainly one film that could have used a commentary or retrospective featurette, especially since previous DVD releases had at least some minimal supplemental features.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Invasion of the Body Snatchers has achieved its enviable reputation for a reason. This is one of the most startlingly effective films of its era, a beautifully wrought exercise in growing paranoia that achieves substantial chills without egregious violence or overly hyperbolic plot machinations. In fact the most salient thing about this film is how eerily calm it all is, even as Miles and Becky find themselves cornered by invading alien pods. Very smartly written and impeccably well directed, this is one of the great science fiction films of all time and it is one of those "must see" films that any classic movie aficionado should include in their personal viewing experience. This Blu-ray features generally excellent video and very good audio, and even without supplements, this release comes Highly recommended.
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