"They're here already....you're next....you're next"
I remember seeing Invasion of the Bodysnatchers for the first time, back in my early twenties. It was part of a Sci-Fi season broadcast by the BBC early evening on Tuesdays in 1983. To my mind, it was the best film season ever - I’d only just bought my first VHS recorder, and here was a chance to collect and study some of the greatest science fiction movies ever made.
The season included Day The Earth Stood Still, War of the Worlds, Forbidden Planet, When Worlds Collide and a whole lot more, as it ran from early January through until Easter. But it kicked off with Invasion of the Bodysnatchers - a film which I’d read a lot about in retrospective articles featured in magazines like the late, lamented Starburst.
The film is a classic, textbook exercise in simple storytelling, conveying a mood that reflected the national mood of the time which was a heightened paranoia and suspicion. Another thing which caught my eye was that although it’s a black and white film (as were most sci-fi films, befitting their perceived "B movie" status) - it was filmed in widescreen, or, more accurately, "SuperVision" the screen ration which was the exclusive domain of full colour "A" movie epics.
The film opens with Dr Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) returning to his home town of Santa Mira, having been called back from a medical convention due to an emergency. It seems that several of his patients want to see him urgently, none of the other doctors will do - they need to see HIM.
On his return to his practice, the waiting room is empty and the townspeople are going about their daily business as though nothing had happened.
There does, however seem to be a creeping, delusional hysteria where people suddenly believe that their closest relatives and loved ones aren’t who they seems to be. The memories, the idiosyncrasies all seem to be there down to the last detail, but something’s missing.
Further evidence of something being seriously wrong against the idyllic small town background is the discovery of a body. The body is the same size and build as the person who finds it, but several details, like fingerprints, are missing. As though the final details have yet to be added before the body becomes a duplicate. The final touches come about as the victim sleeps and the body becomes a duplicate.
This is the simple storyline I mentioned. Alien seed pods have arrived on Earth. They produce duplicates of people when they sleep, sapping their life force in to replicas that are perfect in every way, except they have no soul, no emotion.
It was a popular notion of the time that the film, (directed incidentally by Don Siegel who’d later go on to direct several Clint Eastwood films, including Dirty Harry as well as John Wayne’s last film, The Shootist) was a metaphor for the rise of suspected communism and ensuing paranoia in America. It was, after all the time of McCarthyism (and I don’t mean Kevin McCarthy), the House of un-American Activities, Commie Witch hunts, Blacklists, all resulting from the Cold War. Communism was seen as the insidious anti-American, antidemocratic, anti-freedom cancerous lifestyle of the Russians - a threat to the lifestyle of the materialistic, post war affluent West. Personally, being of no political affiliations I didn’t quite see it that way. I mean, I could see how it could be read like that, but as far as I was concerned, the horror was more losing your humanity in your sleep than wondering of my neighbour was a Red Under the Bed.
Jack Finney, the author of the original short story, published in Colliers magazine, later confirmed this in a book called The Primal Screen by John Brosnan. Finney hadn’t written a political allegory about a subversive lifestyle, he’d written a story about alien seed pods. No politics, just a good horror/sci-fi potboiler. (Finney expanded his story into a book was printed as a tie-in when the film was remade with Donald Sutherland and Leonard Nimoy in 1978 with no political metaphors evident.)
The creeping paranoia is handled effectively as the invasion continues, there’s one of the best, most chilling lines I’ve ever heard in a film as Bennell decides to approach his nurse for help. Standing outside her window at night, he sees she has several visitors, one of whom asks is the baby’s asleep. She replies "No, not yet, but she soon will be and then there’ll be no more tears". They’re putting a seed pod beside the crib.
The final horror is the classic climactic sequence where Bennell and his girlfriend have run away from the mob of townspeople and are making their way to the interstate to get help. His girlfriend Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter) falls asleep for a second and succumbs. When Bennell returns, he kisses her and realises she too is now a pod person.
Stumbling on to the interstate screaming "they’re here already, you’re next, you’re next" he sees the seed pods are being distributed via the truckload. He’s already too late.
As a final note, one of my most prized possessions in my collection is a still from "Invasion of the Bodysnatchers" from that final sequence, hand signed by the late Kevin McCarthy (who sadly passed away last year) with his iconic line.
It’s kind of cool to be warned that the pod people are out to get me.
Copyright © 2010 - 2011 Robin Pierce. All Rights reserved.