Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is currently available on Amazon Prime.

Haiku Review: Great scary movie; pods, paranoia, worse still:; McCarthyism

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) – Not Rated

Something evil has taken possession of the small town of Santa Mira, California. Hysterical people accuse their loved ones of being emotionless impostors; of not being themselves. At first, Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) tries to convince them they’re wrong…but they’re not. Plant-like extraterrestrials have invaded Earth, replicating the villagers in giant seed “pods” and taking possession of their souls while they sleep.”

“That way madness lies”

There are so many ways to enjoy this movie. Howard Hawks’ The Thing from Another World is just a straight-forward monster movie, albeit an excellent one. Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers can be taken at face value, viewed as a statement on the oppressiveness of government, or better still interpreted as a polemic against the then rampant scourges of McCarthyism and Communism.

After a brief interlude at the asylum, Dr. Bennell tells his story. I really liked that his story was not omniscient. The titular invasion is well under way by the time we flashback. Real stories don’t have neat beginnings (or often endings). I appreciate a story clearly set in a universe that was there before the start of the story.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers works best when it is portraying paranoia. Another aspect that worked really well was that Dr. Bennell couldn’t believe his patients who complained that family members were not themselves. Naturally Dr. Bennell has a tough time convincing others once he comes around.

Invasion is Kevin McCarthy’s star vehicle. He has 205 imdb credits but this is his signature role. I can always picture his penultimate scene and not just because of a similar scene in the remake. Dana Wynter does a fine job as Becky Driscoll. King Donovan and Carolyn Jones are also good as Jack and Teddy Belicec. Carolyn would go on to fame as Morticia on The Addams Family.

Even though he isn’t listed in the credits, genre veteran Whit Bissel is instantly recognizable as Dr. Hill. The prolific Bissel also appeared in The Time Machine, Monster on the Campus, I was a Teenage Werewolf, I was  a Teenage Frankenstein, Target Earth, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Lost Continent, Soylent Green, and was a regular on The Time Tunnel. In essence if you watched science fiction in the 1950s, you knew Whit Bissel.

The other asylum doctor, Dr. Bassett, is played by another genre stalwart, Richard Deacon. Deacon appeared in everything Bissell missed: Them!, This Island Earth, Invaders from Mars, Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy, The Birds and Piranha.

The ending for the movie is better than the ending for the book. Better still is the original ending of the movie – simply ignore the first scene (pre-flashback) and the final scene and you will see that this classic could have been even better. It still rates as a culturally significant film in the National Registry and is one of the best science fiction movies of all time..

People Watch: Look for future filmmaker Sam Peckinpah in a small role as Charlie.

Remake-itis: Philip Kaufman remade Invasion of the Body Snatchers in 1978, transplanting the setting to San Francisco and altering the main theme to alienation. Donald Sutherland and Leonard Nimoy headline this excellent remake. Kevin McCarthy has an excellent cameo.

Abel Ferrara adapted the story in 1993 as Body Snatchers. He streamlines the story and makes the action quite fast-paced. Look for Forest Whitaker to steal the show in a small part.

Oliver Hirshbiegel remade the story yet again, this time as The Invasion (2007). In spite of Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, and Jeremy Northam, this is easily the least of the adaptations.

Creature from the Black Lagoon – Classic Horror Week

Creature from the Black Lagoon is currently available on instant Netflix.

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

“A legend in the history of B-movie fare. How many female scientists travel the Amazon bedecked in bikini-wear calculated to charm an anaconda off a branch? That’s what happens when Julie Adams and fellow scientist Richard Carlson happen upon the black lagoon and the amphibious creature inhabiting it. Casting a gimlet eye on Adams in backstroke, it’s love at first sight for the scaly beast.”

“We didn’t come here to fight monsters, we’re not equipped for it. “

What was Universal to do? They had made a series of iconic monsters in the 1930s and then proceeded to milk them to death in the 1940s with various match-ups and finally making them the butt of Abbott & Costello’s jokes. Not only the monsters but the horror icons themselves had been used up.

Thank goodness for science! In addition to the Creature series, Universal made Tarantula (1955), Cult of the Cobra (1955), The Mole People (1956), The Deadly Mantis (1957), Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), Monolith Monsters (1957), The Land Unknown (1957) and Monster on the Campus (1958). Perhaps because none of these spawned sequels, they are not as celebrated today.

Director Jack Arnold did a fabulous job keeping Creature from the Black Lagoon tight and exciting while also exploiting the 3-D and underwater sequences. The previous year, he had directed the 3-D movie, It Came from Outer Space and the following year he would direct the 3-D Creature sequel, Revenge of the Creature. He would go on to direct Tarantula, The Incredible Shrinking Man, and Monster on the Campus.

The Netflix version of Creature is not in 3-D. The restored version on Universal’s pricey Blu-Ray horror collection does have a 3-D option but I am not sure it adds much to the experience. Arnold gets things moving swiftly. No sooner do we see the remains of a creature’s hand then we see the hand of the titular creature while experiencing the familiar theme music. While it is just a tease, that occurs at the three minute mark.

Kudos to Milicent Patrick for her design of the eponymous creature. Ricou Browning does a fantastic job in the suit underwater and Ben Chapman does a good job on land. Chapman gets a little less kudos as he did not have to hold his breath for up to four minutes while acting. They did correct this design defect for the next film.

Richard Carlson and Julie Adams are just fine here as the romantic leads. Genre stalwart Whit Bissel (I was a Teenage Werewolf, Target Earth, Invasion of the Body Snatchers) plays his usual scientist self. Nestor Paiva has a fun time playing Lucas.

Sequel-itis: As with most of the Universal monsters, Creature from the Black Lagoon spawned some sequels. Revenge of the Creature came out in 1955 and The Creature Walks Among us in 1956. Revenge of the Creature is notable for being the debut of noted chair-whisperer Clint Eastwood as Jennings. The Creature Walks Among Us not only drops the 3-D but also changes the suit.