Tag Archives: Jack Finney

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.”

30 Days of Madness, Day 28: Cat’s Eye

Cat’s Eye (1985) Written by Stephen King. Directed by Lewis Teague. Starring Drew Barrymore.

First aliens, then trolls... no wonder she went a little nuts.

Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye (or as I like to call it, Stephen King’s Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey) is an anthology film containing three very different stories, each linked by a cat who is traveling the country on a quest to find a little girl (played by Drew Barrymore) who is supernaturally calling to him to save her from some unknown danger. It is written by Stephen King and directed by Lewis Teague, who had directed the film adaptation of King’s Cujo two years earlier. As with King’s writings in general, the stories contained here are hit-and-miss. If you pay attention to the opening credits, you’ll see that Alan Silvestri composed the score. How he could produce this awful score–an example of 80s-synth at its worst–as well as the wonderful score to Back to the Future in the same year, is a mystery.

After an opening sequence in which we are introduced to our hero the Cat as he flees a rabid St. Bernard and almost gets run over by a car named Christine (I am not making this up), the Cat rides a ferry to New York City, where he has a vision of Drew Barrymore calling to him from a department store window seconds before getting cat-napped by a large man. This leads us into the first segment, in which James Woods (apparently before he became a decent actor) goes to a company called Quitters Incorporated to help him quit smoking. The company is run by Alan King, who locks Woods in his office and shows him the Cat being tortured by electric shock behind a glass window. This is what will happen to Woods’ wife (played by a sublimely beautiful actress named Mary D’Arcy, who sadly has only a handful of TV roles besides this) and daughter (played by a frumpily disguised Drew Barrymore in her second, less high-profile role in the film) if he doesn’t follow through on quitting cigarettes. King also says they might have his wife raped if he doesn’t comply. (I swear I’m not making this up.)

Our hero the Cat must be a Jack Finney fan.

This whole first segment is an exercise in lunacy. This is what David Fincher’s The Game might look like if it turned out to be one long, bizarre anti-smoking ad–complete with James Rebhorn, too! Without going further into this nonsense, there is an altercation in King’s office that allows the Cat to escape. The Cat hitches a ride in the back of a pickup to Atlantic City, where he has a close call trying to cross a busy road while two men exiting a casino place bets on whether or not he’ll survive. When he makes it across, he is adopted by the man who bet on his survival and won, and who takes him home to his penthouse.

This man, named Cressner, is apparently a wealthy tycoon whose wife is having an affair with Robert Hays. Cressner’s goons (Mike Starr and Charles S. Dutton!) kindnap Hays and bring him back to Cressner’s apartment, where Cressner forces him to play a little “Contents of the Dead Man’s Pocket”-style game. If Hays can make it all the way around the ledge on the outside of Cressner’s high-rise penthouse without falling, Cressner will give him his wife and a bag full of money. The Cat is merely a bystander through most of what follows, as some pretty good suspense is generated while Hays makes his way around the outside of the high-rise. Another altercation toward the end gives the Cat its escape to continue its quest to find Drew Barrymore. This sequence is a pretty good suspense short, even if it does have a truly terrible special effects shot at the end.

Well, now I know what I'll be dreaming about tonight.

In the third and final story, the Cat has made his way south to Wilmington, NC, where he finally tracks down Drew Barrymore. But just as he finds her, he notices another creature has found her as well. The creature, whom we can hear but only see as a POV-shot, runs into Barrymore’s house past her parents and up into Barrymore’s room, unseen by the family. The Cat gives chase, but cannot find the little POV monster. Barrymore begs her parents to let her keep General, as she names the Cat, but her mother has misgivings, repeating an old folk tale about cats stealing the breath from little girls as they sleep.

(Barrymore’s Mom is also shown reading Pet Sematary before going to sleep at night. I read Pet Sematary. I had to take a break for about a week halfway through that book, because it got to the point where every time I closed my eyes I would see the face of that zombie cat.)

And so Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were inspired to write "The Battle of Barrymore."

To make a long story short, the POV monster turns out to be a troll who hides in the walls of Barrymore’s bedroom and comes out at night to cause her harm. Only Barrymore and the Cat know about it–her parents, of course, think she’s only having nightmares. There is some really good special effects work in this segment, particularly the creature effects used to create the creepy little troll. It comes to a showdown between Troll and Cat, and though it gets a bit silly, it is the most entertaining story of the three. It’s also more rewarding, since by this point the Cat’s quest has become the plot thread you really want to see fulfilled. It ends on a scene that is far more suspenseful than it has any right being.

If I were rating each of these segments separately, I’d have to rate the first segment with 1 star out of 5. It’s awful, and only gets more awful the further it goes. But the second and third segments were both interesting and entertaining, and I’d probably give them each 3 stars. And I also found myself invested in the connecting story of the Cat.

My Netflix rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

–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