Tag Archives: Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Scary Movie Alien Countdown #3: “They’re here already! You’re next!”

By Tom Kapr

The “they” referred to in Dr. Miles J. Bennell’s infamous rant are, of course, the emotionless pod people of the 1956 classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers, remade as another classic, to even greater effect, in the 1978 version. I wrote about these two films once before, for Day 17 of my 30 Days of Madness series this past October; the following is an amended version of my earlier article.

They really just want us to get our roughage.

Jack Finney’s novel The Body Snatchers, which started as a serial in Collier’s Weekly in 1954, has been adapted to film four times: first in 1956 by screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring (who also wrote the 1947 film noir classic Out of the Past) and director Don Siegel (the man behind the iconic 1971 Clint Eastwood crime-thriller Dirty Harry as well as John Wayne’s 1976 swan song The Shootist); second, in 1978 by screenwriter W.D. Richter (who also wrote one of my favorite camp comedies, Big Trouble in Little China) and director Philip Kaufman; third, in director Abel Ferrara’s Body Snatchers in 1993; and most recently, in The Invasion of 2007.

The 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a brilliant exercise in McCarthy-era paranoia (Joseph, not Kevin). The 1978 version is just as brilliant a horror film but with a less optimistic outlook on the future of the human race, replacing McCarthy-era paranoia with post-Watergate paranoia and adding a healthy dose of public health-focused parallelism. It is rare for both an original film and its remake to be so high and so close in quality (though this is the second time on this list that it’s happened).

The 1978 version is more committed to its concept, however–that concept being that a life form from outer space comes to Earth and spreads in the form of pods that grow another version of you that replace you while you sleep, another being that is identical to you in every way and even retains your memories. Much like in The Thing, it is an alien life form that assimilates your human form, but the difference is that this alien is not malicious. In fact, this alien has no feelings whatsoever. The alien in The Thing would kill you and then camouflage itself as you. The Body Snatchers invade under the pretense that they are making a better you. A you with no emotions and therefore no pain, no anger, no jealousy, no war, no maliciousness; no passion, no joy, no elation, no compassion, no love. I can think of no more frightening an invasion than one that would replace us all with unfeeling replicas, and in fact, Invasion of the Body Snatchers of 1978 may be the scariest alien invasion film of all time. (Yet there are two more spots left on this list….)

1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers also has the bonus of some absolutely astounding practical visual effects that, again much like The Thing, still hold up against anything released today. It contains some of the creepiest images ever created, and possibly the single most terrifying final scene in movie history. Watch it if you dare. But don’t fall asleep….

Next on the countdown: “I can’t lie to you about your chances, but… you have my sympathies.”

Scary Movie Alien Countdown #8: “I am the beginning. The end. The one who is many….”

By Tom Kapr

This month I’m looking at the best and worst that alien sci-fi cinema has to offer, beginning with my countdown of ten great scary movie aliens.

#8. “I am the beginning. The end. The one who is many….”

… I am the Borg.”

A weirdly handsome couple: Brent Spiner as Data & Alice Krige as the Borg Queen

It may seem strange to have a Star Trek film on this list, but the Borg are possibly the scariest intelligent force the crew of the USS Enterprise ever had to deal with. Not because they will kill you. There are thousands of things that can kill you. The Borg, though, hold no ill will. They are not malicious. They are here to assimilate you and your entire culture, to remove anything that made you or it unique or beautiful and to retain for themselves only your cold unfeeling technology. They are here to fuse you with that technology, to pull your flesh apart and fit you with circuits and steel. They are here to take away your humanity. And resistance is futile.

Star Trek: First Contact–the eighth Star Trek film (second to feature Patrick Stewart’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard and rest of the Next Generation crew) and widely regarded as one of the best, even by some as second perhaps only to the iconic Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan–is one of the most intellectually fascinating entries in the franchise yet still one of the most accessible to non-fans. Part of the reason for that (besides generally better writing and directing–props to regulars Rick Berman, Brannon Braga, Ronald D. Moore, and director/star Jonathan Frakes) may be because it is deals with that classic sci-fi/horror theme of having our identity and humanity stripped away from us by beings who see themselves as superior because of their lack of feeling, their lack of humanity, their lack of pain or sorrow or anger, but who also lack joy and passion and love. (See Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Matrix, even A Clockwork Orange, or any number of classic stories.) First Contact is even structured like a horror film.

Shouldn't have picked at it. (Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard)

This is not the first appearance by the Borg in the Star Trek universe. They had appeared several times on Star Trek: The Next Generation, perhaps most memorably in the third season cliffhanger finale “The Best of Both Worlds” and the fifth season classic “I, Borg.” But, much like the way in which the film Aliens builds upon its predecessor, First Contact introduces the Borg Queen. Also similar to Aliens, this queen has a definite, intelligent, unique identity as opposed to her hundreds of drones. But unlike Aliens, this Borg Queen is less an instinct-driven monster and more a calculatingly logical and powerfully sensual humanoid, played wonderfully by Alice Krige. The viewer is drawn to her and repelled by her at the same time. Her individuality, her sensuality, and her relationship with the android and Next Generation regular Data (Brent Spiner) add a fascinating new layer to the Borg mythology that gives new meaning to the phrase “resistance is futile.”

(Special mention of the Oscar-nominated makeup team for their insanely good job on this film and on the Borg Queen in particular. Can you believe they lost to The Nutty Professor? That Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences sure loves a fat-suit.)

Next on the countdown: “There will be no bargain…. I shall enjoy watching you die.”

Scary Movie Alien Countdown #9: “Nobody in here but us monsters”

By Tom Kapr

This month I’m looking at the best and worst that alien sci-fi cinema has to offer, beginning with my countdown of ten great scary movie aliens.

#9. “Nobody in here but us monsters”

This is one of those rare cases (though not the last to appear on this list) when an original and its remake are so close in quality that they deserve to be mentioned together. There are two versions of The Blob, 30 years separated from each other. The 1958 version is one of the best sci-fi horror productions, alongside other classics such as Them! (1954) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), from a decade better known for cheap (and cheap-looking) drive-in fare. It was not Steve McQueen’s first film, but it was the one that propelled him to stardom; that same year he began starring in the well-regarded Western TV series Wanted: Dead or Alive, and only two years later he was starring alongside Yul Brynner in the big-screen classic The Magnificent Seven.

The story of The Blob is engaging enough, and the characters feel so refreshingly above cliche, that any ways in which the film feels dated are easily overcome. The Blob itself is gelatinous mass hatched out of a meteorite and has only one driving force: to consume flesh. And every time it does, it grows exponentially. Many may deride this as being about as scary as Silly Putty, but real horror is often in the idea of an alien entity as much as in witnessing its carnage. A lot of the special effects may look dated, but overall they are pretty cool, and a handful of times are impressive even by today’s standards. Note, for example, the first time the Blob strikes. It is but a small glob no bigger than a grapefruit when an old man picks it up with a stick, but it wastes no time darting up the stick to engulf the old man’s hand and start digesting it. It’s still one of the creepiest moments in sci-fi cinema.

But if the Blob in the 1958 original is scarier in theory, the Blob of Charles Russell’s 1988 remake is absolutely horrifying in action. At just over an hour and a half, and much like its predecessor, it wastes no time in getting things going, and when they do, there is nowhere to hide. And much like The Blob of 1958 is a showcase of some of the most brilliant visual effects of the 1950s, this Blob is a showcase of some of the best visual effects of the 80s. It takes the horror further by giving the Blob more speed (much like the zombies of the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead) and by showing the actual digestion process of folks unfortunate enough to be overtaken. (This grotesque and torturous process was mostly implied in the original.)

The Blob of 1988 was written by Russell and Frank Darabont based on the 1958 screenplay. It stars Shawnee Smith (now best known for her part in the mercilessly endless Saw series), Kevin Dillon (now best known as Johnny Chase on Entourage), and the wonderful character actor and frequent Darabont collaborator Jeffrey DeMunn.

Next on the countdown: “I am the beginning. The end. The one who is many….”

30 Days of Madness: Day 31

Well, I made it through 30 Days of Madness none too worse for the wear. The only major difference in my life is a series of YouTube videos that show me, a shy introvert who never was much for public performance, occasionally acting like a lunatic for all the world to see. Did I learn anything? I learned I never want to do anything this intense again. I learned a lot about the history of cinema. I learned a lot about my own abilities in film criticism. I reaffirmed that, especially when it comes to horror movies, there are a lot of good ones, a lot of bad ones, and a lot of stuff that is just plain ugly.

Let me take a quick look back over the movies I’ve watched this month of October:

Day 1: Nightbeast (1982) Hey, my first movie was from the year of my birth. How fitting. My inaugural flick was my personal introduction to Troma and one of the worst movies I’d ever seen, but one I would watch again with friends. My response video was only my second YouTube video, after my introductory video which is available for viewing on my channel, http://www.youtube.com/user/KapriciousT.

Day 2: Redneck Zombies (1987) My second Troma movie, and the first movie I ever refused to finish. I would like to wash my memory clean of this one. This one I actually was watching with friends (the only time during the month I was able to do so), and I was embarrassed about it.

Day 3: The Call of Cthulhu (2005) My third movie was a huge step up in quality, one that I would recommend to anyone, horror fan or not, and one that I would watch again by myself or with friends.

Day 4: Puppet Master (1989) My fourth day, I started having a little more fun with the video responses. This is actually my first scripted video to appear on the Internet–at least, the first one that I scripted. (There are one or two other videos floating around out there featuring my acting skills.) I would definitely watch this one again with friends.

Day 5: The Black Cat (2007) Surprisingly, the best thing I watched this month–for this project. (I’m not counting The Social Network or Amélie, which I watched almost immediately after finishing up with Day 30. Call it a palate-cleanser.) I may watch this one again, but it was so horrifying, I might have to wait awhile. I highly recommend it only for people with a high threshold for gore and horror, and especially for cinephiles and fans of Edgar Allan Poe.

Day 6: My Name Is Bruce (2008) Possibly the most disappointing movie I watched this month, in terms of expectations I had going into it, but also possibly the most fun I had doing the YouTube response. I might begrudgingly watch it again with other people.

Day 7: Pandorum (2009) Possibly the most pleasant surprise. (The Black Cat, while amazing, was one of the most horrific things I’ve ever watched and a bit difficult to get through.) I had a great time watching this one, and I’d watch it again by myself or with friends. I’d recommend it to most people.

Day 8: Zombies of Mass Destruction (2009) The second movie I refused to finish. The humor went from obnoxious to ridiculous to offensive. Nowhere near the level of Redneck Zombies, but not one I care to ever revisit.

Day 9: Funny Games (1997) One of the toughest movies I had to watch, and even more difficult formulating a response. This may be the most personally contentious film I’ve ever watched. I would not recommend this to anyone but serious film students. I had a great time doing the video though. Mmmm-bananas.

Day 10: Black Sabbath (1963) This was a really boring one, maybe not even worth watching with friends. I might revisit it at some point for a more in-depth review though.

Day 11: Fright Night (1985) Probably the movie in which my mood most changed (for the better) from the beginning to the end. I started out hating it and by the end was legitimately enjoying it. I’d watch it again, alone or with friends.

Day 12: Sometimes They Come Back (1991) I doubt I’ll ever bother with this one again in any setting.

Day 13: The Fly (1986) One I had been meaning to see for years, and I am glad I finally did. It was one of my favorites of the month, and I highly recommend it. Horrifying, humorous, heartbreaking. I’d watch it again alone or with friends.

Day 14: The Phantom of the Opera (1925) A classic, but one I probably will never sit through completely again, unless I get to see one of the other edits of the film floating around. Definitely worth revisiting for certain scenes and for its importance to cinema. Also, my first silent video response.

Day 15: Lo (2009) One of the true pleasant surprises of the month, and one that has appreciated the more I’ve thought, written, and talked about. Not only would I like to watch it again, I almost feel like I need to, as I’d be seeing it from a completely different perspective thanks to the way the plot wraps up. Did a Flickchart segment in my video, which is less interesting when it’s just me talking. Also gave me a chance to talk up http://www.Flickchart.com and http://blog.flickchart.com/index.php/category/flickfights.

Day 16: The Burrowers (2008) This one, I wasn’t sure how to feel about it immediately after watching it. It’s a well-made movie that doesn’t have a very good ending, and is also one of the most depressing things I’ve ever seen. I may never watch it again, but I’m glad I saw it once.

Day 17: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) The final scene of this film still makes me uneasy to think about it. It’s definitely one of the best of the 70s-80s horror. I may watch it again someday, maybe with friends who could handle it.

Day 18: White Zombie (1932) The article in which I started doing a scene-by-scene recap but had no time to finish. I’d like to go back and finish, possibly to use in another project that I’ll be working on in conjunction with IncidentalDog.com. If you’re as big a fan of http://AgonyBooth.com as I am, you already have an idea of what I’m going for.

Day 19: Peeping Tom (1960) There was a lot to laugh at and a lot to admire, but I don’t know if I’ll ever watch it again.

Day 20: Planet of the Vampires (1965) A movie that is as important as it is ludicrous, I’d love to go back and do more of an in-depth critique of this film. This one would probably be fun to watch with friends.

Day 21: Ringu (1998) The one I realized I never wrote an article for. I’d been wanting to see this film for years. Now that I have, I can compare it with the American remake, which I love. I may go back and explore these two films in an actual complete article.

Day 22: The Last House on the Left (1972) One of the biggest surprises of the month, in how poorly made a movie it is. I’ve heard that it’s a must-see in the horror genre, but it’s really not. And it’s too unpleasant to be fun for a group or for a scene-by-scene recap. As far as the video response goes, there were apparently a few people who watched it without having watched my video response for Ringu. I appreciate everybody almost calling to make sure I was okay.

Day 23: Fido (2006) I’d been waiting for a real good zombie flick, and Fido delivered. The messy ending and some less-good performances kept it from perfection, but I’d watch it again anytime. And it’s a PG-13 zombie film, which is just weird.

Day 24: The Masque of the Red Death (1964) I’d recommend this film for just about anyone. It’s well enough constructed to be respectable, but there’s also plenty to have fun with. I might like to revisit this one for a more in-depth look someday.

Day 25: Empire of the Ants (1977) This was one of the most ludicrous films I watched this month, but it would be a lot of fun to watch with a group of friends or to do an extended review of. I totally forgot about all those fake giant ants I had sitting around when I did the video response. Oh well.

Day 26: The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) Another respectable but slightly-cheesy flick I’d watch again, especially with a group.

Day 27: The Washingtonians (2007) I paid the price for cheating on choosing the next movie title out of my jack-o-lantern in the previous YouTube video, because this movie was awful in every way. I don’t think I could tolerate sitting through it again.

Day 28: Cat’s Eye (1985) Much like Fright Night, I was much more into this movie at the end than I was in the beginning. This would be fun to watch with a group. Also, a note on my YouTube video: I learned that the deep guttural growl of a cat does not pick up on my laptop mic, so while my cat sounded really pissed off to me, to the audience it looks like I’m just holding a silent cat. Oh well. Crazy is as crazy does, I guess.

Day 29: Attack of the Puppet People (1958) I’m glad I got to bring back Shakes and Lefty for this one, because they are much more interesting than I am in the videos. Attack would be fun to do a more in-depth review of. Maybe someday.

Day 30: Sugar Hill (1974) I did not choose Sugar Hill at random. I did it as a present to my friends who chose it for my jack-o-lantern and kept mentioning how much they wished it would come up. They may be underwhelmed, though, because I enjoyed the movie alright. Sorry, honks, it wasn’t nearly as awful as you were hoping.

I am so happy to be done with this so I can start watching other movies I’ve been wanting to watch. Between watching the movies, preparing and recording the YouTube videos, and writing the articles, it took roughly four hours per movie, so this frees up my time a fair bit. One final thing I’d been wanting to do is some sort of a Top Horror list, so what I did was, I went back through all the titles available for instant streaming on Netflix and chose what I consider to be the 31 best horror films (out of what I’ve seen–there still are a ton of horror flicks on there I’ve never watched).

Some are relentlessly horrific. Some aren’t specifically horror films but still have a strong element of horror in some aspect of the narrative. Here are my Top 31 picks (an asterisk indicates a title from the 30 Days of Madness):

1. Aliens (1986)

2. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

3. The Black Cat (2007)*

3. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

4. The Call of Cthulhu (2005)*

5. Carrie (1976)

6. Child’s Play (1988)

7. The Crazies (2010)

8. Creepshow (1982)

9. Diabolique (1955)

10. District 9 (2009)

11. The Exorcist (1973)

12. Fido (2006)*

13. The Fly (1986)*

14. The Host (2006)

15. Interview with the Vampire (1994)

16. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)*

17. Jaws (1975)

18. Lo (2009)*

19. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

20. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

21. Nosferatu (1922)

22. Pandorum (2009)*

23. Paranormal Activity (2007)

24. Peeping Tom (1960)*

25. The Phantom of the Opera (1925)*

26. Reign of Fire (2002)

27. Signs (2002)

28. The Sixth Sense (1999)

29. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

30. Them! (1954)

31. Zombieland (2009)

Thank you Alban, Nate, and Steve for your support this past month, and to everyone else who left encouraging comments along the way. Thanks to Cindy (my dog) and Putty and Kunj (my cats) for their appearances, and special thanks to Jack-o, Shakes, and Lefty. Finally, thank you to the film makers whose good films made the bad ones more bearable. Happy Halloween.

–Tom Kapr

30 Days of Madness, Day 17: Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) Screenplay by W.D. Richter. Directed by Philip Kaufman. Starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, Leonard Nimoy.

Kevin McCarthy looking a wee bit crazed.

Jack Finney’s novel The Body Snatchers, which started as a serial in Collier’s Weekly in 1954, has been adapted to film four times: first in 1956 with Invasion of the Body Snatchers; second, in this 1978 version by screenwriter W.D. Richter and director Philip Kaufman; third, in director Abel Ferrara’s Body Snatchers in 1993; and most recently, in The Invasion starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig.

I have not seen the 1993 or 2007 adaptations, but the classic 1956 film is an all-time favorite. Written by Daniel Mainwaring, who also wrote the 1947 film noir classic Out of the Past, and directed by Don Siegel, who also directed Clint Eastwood’s iconic crime thriller Dirty Harry and John Wayne’s 1976 swan song The Shootist, Invasion of the Body Snatchers starred Dana Wynter and the recently departed Kevin McCarthy. It was a brilliant exercise in McCarthy-era paranoia (Joseph, not Kevin).

So, that happened....

The 1978 version is just as brilliant a horror film but with a less optimistic outlook on the future of the human race, replacing McCarthy-era paranoia with post-Watergate paranoia and adding a healthy dose of public health-focused parallelism. While I still prefer the 1956 version, the two are very close in quality. The 1978 version has the bonus of some absolutely astounding practical visual effects that still hold up against anything released today. Props must also be given to Michael Chapman’s cinematography, and to Denny Zeitlin for this, his one and only film score.

Poor, poor Veronica Cartwright.

The cast is great as well. I become more of a fan of Donald Sutherland with each film I watch. I love Veronica Cartwright, who, between this and the chest-bursting scene from Alien, must have become paranoid of horror directors for the methods with which they elicited reactions from her–by not telling her ahead of time about the insanely horrific things that would happen in her scenes. (Cartwright also has a cameo in the 2007 version.) This is my second film this month for both Brooke Adams (Sometimes They Come Back) and the always-wonderful Jeff “Brundlefly” Goldblum. Having Leonard “Not Spock” Nimoy in the cast is a bonus. And for added fun, Don Siegel, Kevin McCarthy, and, randomly, Robert Duvall, all appear in cameos.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers contains some of the creepiest images ever created, and possibly the single most terrifying final scene in movie history. Watch it if you dare. But don’t fall asleep….

My Netflix rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

–Tom Kapr