Note: This is a series of 31 iconic horror film reviews I plan on doing throughout October. See the introduction post for more information and the list of films.
I almost didn’t include “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” on my list of historical horror films to watch this October, mainly because I didn’t think it qualified as horror (since the concept seemed more like science fiction to me). After seeing the film, however, I think it is actually one of the creepier movies I’ve seen this October. If I was watching this in 1956 (when the film was released), I probably would have been terrified especially with what was going on during that time (the Roswell UFO incident happened about ten years prior and McCarthyism and a general fear of communism was going on during the ’50s).
“Invasion of the Body Snatchers” was originally released in theaters in 1956 (a well-reviewed remake was made in 1978) and is a black and white science-fiction/horror film that takes place in a small California town. Kevin McCarthy stars as Dr. Miles Bennell, who returns to Santa Mira from the medical conference he was attending to find a town hit with a number of cases involving people believing their loved ones have been replaced by impostors. He meets his former girlfriend, Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter), who has just came back to town after a divorce.
While Miles originally chalks these cases up to “mass hysteria,” Becky and him soon learn there is more to this epidemic than originally thought. Miles’ friend Jack Belicec (King Donovan) calls him over after he finds a body with similar physical features to himself, just not fully developed. Miles also eventually finds a body similar to Becky in her cellar. He tries to get help but eventually realizes that most of the town have already changed into “pod people.” Will Miles and Becky get out of town and warn the world in time?
I wouldn’t say “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is terrifying for today’s audiences but it does still have a creepiness to it, especially with its inadvertent similarities to McCarthyism and communism (pretty much everybody involved in the film has said this wasn’t intended). After most of the town is converted, the last half-hour or so is very tense and dramatic. There’s even a great chase scene that is comparable dramatically to some of today’s best.
The story is just great all-around. Even though its based on a novel, its completely unique and a great concept for a 1950’s movie. There’s a reason the story has been remade three times, it’s a great concept. The movie only lasts 80 minutes so the storytelling is quick and efficient (unlike a lot of these old horror/sci-fi films which can tend to drag at times). Because of the short run time, there aren’t really any boring scenes at all in this one.
The acting is very solid with Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter putting in great performances as the two leads. The film really focuses on those two so the rest of the cast doesn’t really get enough time to shine. There aren’t any weak links but there aren’t any other memorable performances either. The film’s production quality is pretty good with great video quality; even the one special effects shot I can remember is pretty good for its time (though this is one area where I’m guessing the also great remakes are quite a bit better at).
One problem a lot of critics have with “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is the framing story that the movie begins and ends with. Don Siegel (the film’s director) originally shot the film without those scenes. However, the studio insisted on the prologue and epilogue to bring a bit more closure to the film. Personally, I don’t mind the framing story since even with it the movie ends on one of the biggest cliffhangers I’ve ever seen. The original ending is very good (probably the best ending of the first seven films I’ve watched for this post series) but I’m not a fan of cliffhangers in movies that aren’t going to get a sequel (leave them for TV shows and film franchises). The epilogue at least gives you a hint towards what probably wound up happening after the movie ends.
Creepy at times (though still not super scary) and containing a great story that moves at a fast and efficient pace, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is a classic that was definitely worth watching. Of the first seven films I’ve done for this post series, its actually my favorite (though “Frankenstein” is pretty close). I’d consider it great for its time (I would have given it a 5/5 if I watched it when it first came out) and still very good for today’s audiences.