Thursday, May 23, 2013

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)


Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Do they even still show movies on free television anymore? I mean, besides traditional holiday-themed stuff. I realize that there are now dozens of ways to see movies today, once upon a time, the "Movie of the Week" on any one of the Big Three networks was a big deal. In my house, it was practically a family tradition. I'm pretty sure I've written here before about the Betamax VCR we used to have (SHUT UP) and all the TV movies I recorded - most of them movies that played theatrically, along with original made-for-TV deals.

I remember watching most of the MOTWs on ABC. This would be the late-70s-to-early-80s. Of course, I gravitated more towards sci-fi/fantasy, horror and animation than anything else, although I'd also watch those epic mini-series too. Remember those? They were always trumpeted as a big deal, so I'd watch them, even if I didn't completely understand everything going on. Basically, if TV said it was Big and Epic and Important, chances are I'd watch it (maybe in a future post I'll go into more detail about it), but MOTWs - theatrical movies debuting on the small screen - were the Biggest of the Big Deals for me, especially on ABC.

I'm pretty sure I first saw the Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake as an ABC MOTW, and if I recall correctly, they might've shown it more than once. I'm certain I saw it more than once as a kid, because it's one of those films that left an impression on me for sure. Strange how as kids, we come back again and again to the things that scare us. I mean, I'm pretty sure this gave me a few nightmares; wondering whether or not it would be safe to go to sleep without becoming a soulless pod person. I mean, damn, everything about this version - the music, the atmosphere, the action - is ramped up to knock you off your rocker and keep you that way, and even today, I doubt I'd be able to sit comfortably through it. And a big reason why is probably because I saw it at such a young and impressionable age.



It goes without saying that I saw this version before the original, therefore I couldn't compare the two at the time. A major difference that I notice now is that the frenetic, paranoiac vibe of the 50s version is replaced with something more akin to a cult: join us and feel good about everything. It's too bad this wasn't released during the first half of the 70s, when Jonestown and the Manson family were fresher in people's minds.

I couldn't pinpoint exactly why I responded to it the way I did back then. I mean, obviously, it was creepy and legitimately scary, but it's possible that if I saw it in the early 80s (which is quite possible), well, there may have been a context for my response to it. The early 80s was about the time when I first developed doubt about some of the received wisdom from my parents regarding matters of faith. No, I don't wanna go into specifics; not now, anyway. Let's just say that this was when I first discovered the gap between theory and practice when it comes sharing one's beliefs with the rest of the world. The result made me afraid of accepting what I was told, because it would mean I'd be Different... kinda like a pod person.


The way this just appears for no damn reason simply adds to
the scariness of this movie. Even now I have trouble looking at it!

I wouldn't have understood the term "blind faith" back then, but examples of it were all around me. Take the Cold War: why were we (America) so superior to them (Russia)? And if so, was bombing each other to kingdom come really an inevitability? Again, it's not like I thought to raise the question back then; I just accepted it as The Way Things Are - until sixth grade, at least, when I had an awesome social studies teacher who talked about the Cold War in practical terms that we could understand.

These were the things going on in my life back in the early 80s. I didn't consciously associate them with the Body Snatchers movie, of course - my mind simply didn't work that way then - but it's possible that the movie may have subconsciously exacerbated my fears and provided a framework for them, which I wouldn't have even realized until much later in life, and that may have been another reason why it scared me like it did. But when you get right down to it, my fear of this film can easily be summed up in one image:



Am I right or am I right?

A couple of other things: this film is probably the first time I've ever seen Leonard Nimoy, who certainly knows a thing or two about playing cold, emotionless beings. In Search Of was going strong on television around this time, and the following year he'd put the pointy ears back on again, so this was a good time for him.

I wouldn't say this remake is better than the original, because the original is pretty neat too. I'd say it's different and leave it at that. They both reflect the times they were made in so nicely, and that may be why subsequent remakes have failed. Plus, the Kevin McCarthy cameo in the beginning was a great way to pass the baton, so to speak, so that these two films can and should be considered together.

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This was to have been my post for the Terrorthon, which Page and I postponed out of respect to those who died in the recent acts of mass violence in America. We hadn't set a new date to this point, but Page, an Oklahoma City resident, probably has much more important things on her mind than movies right now. So Page, I just wanna say thanks for letting me be a partner in what would've been a real cool blogathon. You're in my thoughts. Be careful out there.

2 comments:

  1. This is such a remarkable example where a remake takes a lot from the original but remains its own work. A lot relates to the time period like you mention, plus we have crazy things like the dog man. I hadn't been spoiled about that and couldn't believe it when I caught this movie for the first time last year. So ridiculous and inspired!

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