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The F*cking Black Sheep: Body Snatchers (1993)!

THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!

"Where you gonna go, where you gonna run, where you gonna hide? Nowhere... 'cause there's no one like you left."

BODY SNATCHERS (1993)

DIRECTED BY ABEL FERRARA

For the record, if we were to hit y’all with an Original vs. Remake polling preference, which version of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS would you say you dig more: the 1956 or 1978 version?

Well, while both iterations no doubt kick all kinds of ass, the fact y’all didn’t even consider Abel Ferrara’s iniquitously glossed-over 1993 incarnation of BODY SNATCHERS, a trenchant metaphoric horror tale of militaristic brainwash, damn near makes the case for us. Indeed, if ever there was a F*cking Black Sheep among both the intergenerational Body Snatchers canon and Ferrara’s fecund oeuvre alike, it has to be the all but forgotten 1993 version. Hell, the flick was actually slated to be released in October of 1992, but given the oversaturated horror climate at the time, Warner Bros. decided to push the flick back many times all throughout 1993 until it was unceremoniously released in just a few dozen U.S. theaters in January of 1994, culling a paltry $428,868 in the process. So, even in the eyes of its own studio, BODY SNATCHERS has been perceived from jump-street as a largely forgotten, dismissed and oft-panned horror afterthought. Which is unfortunate, because the movie is not only on a qualitative par with its celebrated predecessors, but even as a standalone horror flick, BODY SNATCHERS is a tautly tethered terror of poignant allegorical dread. For all the mindless drones that slept on this movie for the past 25 years, y’all ain’t human!

The first thing to consider about BODY SNATCHERS is its potent horror film pedigree. Originally slated to be directed by the films co-writer, the great Stuart Gordon (RE-ANIMATOR, FROM BEYOND), when Abel Ferrara (BAD LIEUTENANT, MS. 45) took over, he brought along his longtime scribe Nicholas St. John (THE DRILLER KILLER, FEAR CITY) to amend a script already polished by Larry Cohen (IT’S ALIVE, THE STUFF) and Gordon’s longtime scribe Dennis Paoli (GHOULIES II, THE DENTIST). So right off the bat, we have a classic horror tale in Jack Finney’s feted source novel, adapted by a handful of the sleaziest and most perverted purveyors of cinematic exploitation working on the outskirts of the Hollywood system. What the hell could go wrong? As for said story, one of the most brilliant aspects of this adaptation is setting the film at an Alabama military base, thereby shifting the entire metaphor of the movie. Whereas the 1956 original was a grand metaphor for communism and conformity and the 1978 version a sweeping allegory for Vietnam-era fear and paranoia, the 1993 iteration is a direct rebuke for the brainwashing practices of the U.S. military. We’ll dive into that further, but first backtrack a bit to encompass the plotline for those in the know not.

Marti Malone (Gabrielle Anwar) is a teenage girl forced to relocate to a military base in Alabama, where her chemist father, Steve Malone (Terry Kinney), conducts testing on behalf of the U.S. government. Along with her mother Carol (Meg Tilly) and little brother Andy (Reilly Murphy), Marti settles in to her new surroundings. She meets a cool punk chick named Jenn Platt (Christine Elise), daughter of General Platt (R. Lee Ermey), as well as a hunky young Tony Danza lookalike soldier named Tim (Billy Wirth). Almost as soon as the Malones arrive, Carol is subsumed by an alien being, which kills her host body and immediately duplicates her appearance. Andy witnesses his mother’s head crumble into a desiccated pile of dusty flesh and bone, warning Marti that their mother is dead. Incredulous at first, Marti begins experiencing similar phenomena where people act lifelessly numb, listlessly dumb, without any individuality whatsoever, but merely conforming to one staid mien of soulless comportment. Carol in particular appears to be in a creepily sedated fugue-state throughout the flick, reminding me of the scene in FULL METAL JACKET (also starring Ermey, mind you), in which Private Pyle’s (Vin D’onofrio) 1,000 yard stare also illustrates his mental vacuity en route to becoming a thoughtless, abject killing machine.

Anyhow, as the base is overrun by alien beings, swapping human bodies for extraterrestrial pod people, Marti must figure out who to trust and who to bust, and do so fast before truckloads of pods are dispatched to military bases throughout the country. Credit Ferrara in this regard, as he only shows half of the victims being physically overtaken onscreen, meaning it’s up to us to discern who’s been consumed off-screen. Of course, what this dynamic does is heighten the paranoia, ratchet the suspense, and puts us in the precautionary position of suspecting every single character of being other than who they claim to be. One of the best facets of this conceit is how Marti interacts with her father and little brother. In one scene we Steve witness General Platt, in full alien mode, hinting that he’s still human. But in the very next scene Marti somehow susses that Steve has been overtaken before even the audience has, which adds a great deal of unpredictable surprise when revealed. So too is the scene with Andy, who separates from Marti in the frenzied final reel of the film. When they reunite, we assume the boy has been left untainted, but after a gnarly helicopter fight scene in which Tim realizes Andy is an actual alien, Marti shows no hesitation to throw that little sumbitch out of the chopper at once. It’s Ferrara through and through, always pushing the limits of palatable tastes!

And aside from that harrowing helicopter sequence, there are at least two additional standout scenes that deserve mention. The first is the one in which Marti is attacked by the spaghetti-stranded alien pod while falling asleep in the bathtub. Rather than emerging up out of the water, a la ELM STREET, as soon as Marti nods off, these disgustingly thin, noodly tentacles of the alien slither down from the rafters, dip into the bubble-bath, then coil and swaddle Marti’s head, face and neck until she resembles that of that poor gluttonous fat man in SE7EN, face down in a large plate of linguine! When she comes to in the nick of time, Marti realizes what she’s up against, and that falling asleep is the key. And while the metaphors for communism, paranoia and militarism pierce the moviegoing consciousness of those who’ve seen each BODY SNATCHERS edition, let’s not overlook how sleep itself is used as a body-snatching symbol, a state of alienation and isolation that every single person experiences but can’t quite articulate. Abel Ferrara beautifully and dutifully fuses the two maddening metaphors to explore what it really means to engender a mind, body and soul.

And not for nothing, but we’d be remiss not to mention the screen presence of the finest actor in the film, Forest Whitaker. He plays Major Collins, and there’s one really fantastic scene he has in which he credibly retains his soulful dignity. Holed up in his office, untrusting of anyone, Collins gives an animated speech to Steve about being consumed. Then General Platt and his alien-minions slowly cordon Collins and force him to make a decision: either live as a selfless part of the collective race, or die with dignity as an individual. Collins opts for the latter, heroically blowing his own brains out and painting the wall a dark crimson. The use of shadow in the scene, and throughout the film for that matter, much like the jarring canted angles and disorienting camera framing, adds to an overarching sense that things aren’t quite right. Something’s slightly off.

The bottom line is this: there’s no way a movie this good should have made less than half a million dollars at the box-office. Between its financial underperformance, it’s dismissive comparison to the equally stellar 1956 original and 1978 remake, and its impressive pedigree of uncompromising horror auteurs – Cohen, Ferrara Gordon – there’s simply no excuse for BODY SNATCHERS to be this severely slept on. No winder so many are brainwashed!

GET BODY SNATCHERS ON BLU-RAY HERE

Source: AITH

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