Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Synopsis: The original nightmare that threatened the world.

Something evil has taken possession of the small town of Santa Mira, California. Hysterical people accuse their loved ones of being emotionless imposters, 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. Soon the entire town is overwhelmed by the inhuman horror, but it won’t stop there. In a terrifying race for his life, Dr. Bennell escapes to warn the world of the deadly invasion of the pod people!

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) 8.5

A doctor comes home from a convention to find that the people in his small town are troubled. As he reconnects with them, he hears more and more paranoid tales of friends and family having changed mysteriously. Methodically, he starts to piece together a puzzle that finds him increasingly alone, unable to help his friends and loved ones.

Remade three times (’78, ’93, ’07), duplicated (‘The Puppet Masters’) but never bettered, this sci-fi classic is a product of its era and is best watched contextually, with the political climate of the time in mind. Created at a point when American fear of Communist infiltration and nuclear holocaust were at their peak, the film can easily be taken as direct political commentary.

Director Don Siegel, lead actor Kevin McCarthy and even original author Jack Finney have consistently denied any such intentions, but critics and fans alike have remained incredulous – and with good reason, as there are so many explicit messages strewn about the film. Siegel would also have to deny making political statements with ‘Dirty Harry’.

The film is severely dated stylistically; the dialogue can be a bit theatrical and the movie is buried in a constant orchestral score that is particular to low budget thrillers of the day. As well, the bookends of the film, which were tacked on after the fact by a jittery producer who thought the film was too dark, are real party poopers – the film would have been far better without them, as they destroy the original dramatic build-up.

Despite these grating flaws, Siegel managed to build tension consistently from beginning to end. The story does most of the work, of course, in that the lead character slowly discovers that his individuality and very humannity are under attack – and that, as the mystery unfolds, he finds himself progressively more and more alone. Still, Siegel paced the film in support of the material.

The incremental lack of trust that builds up in the lead character can’t help but be felt by the viewer: really, what do you do when all your friends and loved ones slowly turn on you, when you’re completely alone in the world? What do you do when you know something’s wrong and no one will do anything about it – and even try to silence you.

It makes one look at those lost souls on our streets who ramble to themselves incoherently, seemingly detached from reality, in a different light. And what about those “crazies” who spew paranoiac mumbo jumbo that doesn’t make sense to us? What if they’re right? What if they know something that we don’t?

‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers ‘ has been deemed as the #9 best sci-fi film ever and 47th on a list of 100 most heart-pounding films of the last 100 years by the AFI. Taken contextually and as more than a one-dimensional thriller, it richly deserves this praise.

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