Saturday, 12 May 2012

IT!...Came From the 50s #3: Invasion of the Bodysnatchers (1956)

Invasion of the Bodysnatchers is a 1956 sci-fi film adaptation of the 1954 novel of the same name. Directed by Don Siegel (Dirty Harry, Escape From Alcatraz) and starring Kevin McCarthy (Innerspace) and Dana Wynter (Airport). The film is regarded as one of the classic sci-fi movies of the era and has been remade 3 times.

The story is told from the perspective of Dr Miles Bennell (McCarthy) in the form of a flashback, complete with narration. Bennell is a GP in the small fictional town of Santa Mira, he starts to notice strange activity after his patients begin to accuse their loved ones of being impostors completely devoid of emotion. One such case is referred to him by romantic interest Becky Driscoll, who's cousin suspects her uncle of being an impostor and this leads them to Bennells friend Jack who finds a body bearing a suspicious resemblance to himself. The couple discover the towns inhabitants are being replaced by doppelgangers or "pod people" as part of an alien invasion and are left with no one to trust as they attempt to escape the invasion!

Invasion of the Bodysnatchers is no doubt a seminal work of science-fiction and one that most people are aware of in one incarnation or another, the main reason for it's success and longevity is it's surprisingly deep philosophical themes. Like many of it's contemporaries the film is an allegorical tale, not of war or science but of identity and trust.  This adds an interesting existential element to the film that was simply not seen in other sci-fi films of the era; what makes a person who they are? what makes us human? and most importantly how well can you really know someone. This is highly relevant due to the historical context of the film, being released in 1956 places it not only at the centre of the cold war but also at the centre of McCarthyism and this is epitomised in the films strong sense of paranoia and distrust.

 Atmosphere also plays a large part in the effectiveness of the film and creates a tension rarely seen in other science fiction/horror films of the day. The narration also works really well to flesh out the story and prevent any confusion over the body doubles and who's who and the subtle difference in the performances also helps to make this distinction. The design of the pod people is really well done and quite sinister considering the primitive level of special effects available, the lifeless bodies are born out of the pods covered in a bubble-like plasma and when they emerge have a shiny waxwork-esque appearance which is quite arresting. All the actors give suitably over-the-top performances throughout the movie's central crisis which rather than looking dated actually contributes to the films overall theme of mass hysteria.

When a film gets remade three times it's usually an indication of a compelling and timeless story and that's exactly what Invasion of the Bodysnatchers is. Pioneering and so relevant to the time in which it was made, the film is as thrilling and tense as I'm sure it was in 1956 and if you've ever seen any of the other versions I certainly recommend going back in time to experience the original.

5 Stars *****

Have you seen this film? Have you seen any of the remakes?


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