Remakes are a modern blight on cinema, brought on by lazy Hollywood execs after a quick buck, right? The 1978 remake of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers disagrees with you.
Of course, the original remains a classic piece of 1950s sci-fi with an added dose of political paranoia if you want to read that into it (the makers remain insistent that it wasn’t their intention), but for stomach-churning tension and fear, it’s not a patch on this one.
Taking a different tack on the original novel, this Invasion is a murky affair, full of reflections and worrying camera angles and stars Donald Sutherland as a mumbling, unconventional hero who is almost as unsettling as the pod people he is up against.
Most significantly (SPOILER ALERT) it has a very different ending to the 1956 version, with film-makers in the 70s clearly getting more scope to be bleak and depressing. Rather than a tacked-on epilogue showing the authorities being notified, this ends with Sutherland’s Bennell as a pod person, unleashing an alien howl while the camera flies into his mouth.
It says a lot about how haunting and horrifying that iconic final moment is that it has such an impact, coming after at least 20 minutes of unrelenting dread, gloom and terror as Bennell tries to fight hopeless odds to stay alive and do anything to stop the invasion.
Special effects may have moved on, but you still won’t see many things as awful (in a good way) as Bennell clutching the disintegrating body of his kind-of-girlfriend Elizabeth, who literally slips through his fingers, while her pod double rises up behind him.
The irony of moments like this is that the film, on the most part, is a quiet and subtle thing that builds up the tension slowly. These aliens don’t take over the world through violence and explosions, those only happen at the hands of humanity’s last hope towards the end.
And that is what the aliens are after, a new order of emotionless ‘humans’ who will live a peaceful life of co-existance. No wonder Leonard Nimoy’s Dr Kibner is one of the first to change, it all sounds logical until you get to the melting part of it.
After building up this sense of unease and tension (helped by a nice cameo from Kevin McCarthy recreating his famous scene from 1956), it’s a really effective gear-shift when the remaining humans go on the run from a howling mob, while Sutherland’s brutal smushing of his pod person’s skull acts as a sign that things are going to a different level.
This Blu Ray release comes with a restored print and sound, but it’s a dark and grainy film to begin with, so you won’t be blown away by the clarity or shinyness. However, it’s packed with interesting features about the making of it and its themes.
So, if you’re looking for a deeply unsettling film for an autumnal evening and some proof that remakes really can be great films, then you owe it to yourself to give this a go. Especially if you want to see a dog with a man’s head, or Robert Duvall making a cameo as a priest on a swing…