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The Test of Time: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

07.31.2014by: Ryan Doom

We all have movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? So…the point of this here column is whether or not a film stands the test of time. I’m not gonna question whether it’s still a good flick, but if the thing holds up for a modern audience.

Director: Don Siegel
Starring: Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, and Larry Gates

It’s interesting to see which science fiction stories or concepts continually are remade. I guess all genres continually recycle the same tired idea over and over, but somehow it seems more obvious in sci-fi. Maybe it's because once a clever idea is used, it never seems as clever as the first time. 

Probably one of the most tired concepts comes from the idea of alien invasion, one in which those outer space dudes secretly replace people with exact duplicates. Just last week Quentin Tarantino suggested that his next movie might be a pseudo Body Snatchers remake, focusing on the good pod folk in place of the tired human story. Hell, the original movie has already been remade three times (not counting films like The Thing), with the last one back in 2007 as Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman made the mistake. The problem ends up that none could match what came first. However, can a 1956 flick still hold its own, or has the Test of Time beat it down back to the pod?

Under the examination: Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Now that's a good looking run.

THE STORY: A small town doctor returns from vacation only to discover a whole lot of weird shit going down. A little boy claims his mother isn’t really his mother and that same complaint starts to come from other people too. At first, he thinks everyone is overreacting and being really damn weird, but he quickly discovers something more. He finds pod people (or exact human duplicates) hiding out in people’s basements, ready to take over their lives as if everything is a-ok. Mass hysteria takes over and no one can trust anyone. Can the good doctor get outside help before it’s too late?

WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: For a 1956 horror movie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers still holds up pretty damn well with several frightening moments that still look and play great. My favorite is toward the end when Dr. Miles and Becky hide beneath boards in the floor of the cave, and they can only lay and watch as their former townsfolk run right over them. It’s a great looking, horrifying moment. The same could be said when Dr. Miles first discovers a pod in his girlfriend's basement or when one of the pod people first wakes. They play just as tense and frightening as ever.

Never trust a doctor who keeps a dead body secret.

Speaking of which, the black and white cinematography looks freaking fantastic, adding to the darkness of it all. Director Don Siegel (who went on to direct Dirty Harry and Escape from Alcatraz) really brings the dark shadows, allowing so much play on light and darkness that it creates a starkness that all the other follow-ups/remakes could never match. Sometimes certain movies or themes need that absence of color to truly work. 

One of the best elements of Body Snatchers comes from the frantic pace, which Siegel clearly used in most of his future films. For a nearly 60 year old movie, this thing doesn’t have any slow moments. Hell, even when Siegel builds Dr. Miles and Becky’s relationship, the pod people get in the way almost immediately. The paranoia is also masterfully done. Small town folk don't want to believe in any of this nonsense, and by the time they do, it's too late.  

If I was running from pod people, I'd at least put on sweat pants. 

WHAT BLOWS NOW: Probably the most dated element of the movie comes from Kevin McCarthy’s voiceover narration, which really doesn’t fit or is it needed. It sounds more like a film noir, which it isn't. Somehow I like the narration on something like Blade Runner, but that has elements of film noir, and this one sure doesn't. 

Also, the movie begins and ends with him stuck in the examination room of a nut house. Neither is needed. It’s funny, too, because only after I watched the movie and made note of that did I start  a little research on the movie only to find that Siegel was forced to include those elements to calm studio panic. They didn’t have a happy ending and they wanted one.. Originally, it ended (SPOILER) with Dr. Miles running through the streets like a madman, telling fine folks that plant based people from outer space are about to take over the world. Anyway, that’s the worst part. Go figure.

THE VERDICT:  Invasion of the Body Snatchers is even better than I remember. Clocking in at a tight 80 minutes, it doesn't have time to waste as the story dives straight into the problem and doesn't let up until the credits roll. This is a true horror classic that proves less is more with little to no effects. The thing doesn't have an inch of rust on it. On a quick side note, I love the drama behind the scenes with future director Sam Peckinpah, who not only has a small role here, but he claimed he rewrote most of the film, something writer Daniel Mainwaring was none to happy about and threatened action against him.. 



I love this photo for some reason.



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