Film Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

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The residents of a small California town are slowly being replaced by otherworldly “pod people” and it’s up to Kevin McCarthy and Carolyn Jones to warn the rest of the world about the imminent alien invasion. This original film version of Jack Finney’s 1954 novel was a modestly budgeted flick that was critically ignored upon initial release. But over the decades, Invasion of the Body Snatchers has garnered its due respect and admiration, spawning at least three remakes (in 1978, ’93, and ’07). Academic-types enjoy the story’s allegorical treatment of McCarthyism and the Red Scare, and in 1994 the Library of Congress selected the original film for preservation in the National Film Registry, declaring it a “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” film.

What I like most about the movie is its overwhelming sense of doom. Before our heroes even have a grasp of the situation, it’s already too late. The pod people have infected the entire neighborhood and they’re already trucking pods to other cities. Making matters worse, no one believes McCarthy or Jones as they desperately try to spread warning. Kevin McCarthy perfectly captures the spirit of the film in his climactic dash across the highway, shouting at the top of his lungs to the vehicles whizzing all around him — “They’re here already! You’re next! You’re next!” It’s the quintessential depiction of some fundamental horror tropes — our fear of being perceived as insane and our need to be believed.

The film rises above expectations for its time and genre, but not entirely.  Like many other drive-in flicks from the time, Invasion suffers from gratuitous narration, negative gender stereotyping, and some pretty hammy acting. But for creating such a palpable atmosphere of dread and paranoia, we’ll let those matters slide.

And as much as I like the original, the 1978 remake starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, and Leonard Nimoy, is even better.

Rating: 3.5/5 ★★★½☆ 

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About Scott_S

Scott studied film and sociology at Indiana University and is currently the video producer for a large publishing company. He is the director of several independent films, including "House of Hope," "Off the Beaten Path," "The Day Joe Left," and "Found." For more about Scott, visit www.scottschirmer.com. Scott is also one of the principal organizers of the Dark Carnival Film Festival. (www.darkcarnivalfilmfest.com)

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