While other girls my age were into… something… I still don't even know to be honest, in the very late 90s I was in the midst of my “classic paranoia horror phase”. I saw films like Wolf Rilla's Village of the Damned (1960) and Byron Haskin's The War of the Worlds (1953) for the first time, and the original 1956 screen version of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers (directed by Don Siegel, who appears in cameo as a taxi driver in the version I'm talking about here). However the one film from that phase that always stuck out, that really cemented itself in my memory as something I watched then and became part of my early film education, was Philip Kaufman's version of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers from 1978. I chose to show it one night at a sleepover, and a group of 12 year old girls collectively screamed at the shocker ending. Even though I'd seen it before, I screamed with them! Swept up in the collective viewing experience.
Skip forward to last year and I've found out it has a Blu-ray release, my DVD copy has been unwatched on my shelf for years and I'm nervous that perhaps that magic won't have lasted. How many times have we re-watched films we loved as kids and found they aren't as good through the eyes of a cynical adult? Well, I needn't have worried. It's still brilliant. The relief was palpable!
Even more so as an adult I could feel the growing dread as everyone around them is slowly replaced, becoming more and more emotionless and robotic.
A great cast of flawed characters falls together as a way of coping with the expanding invasion, and unlike bigger scale invasion movies, they know that all they can really do is run and hide.
Donald Sutherland is Matthew Bennell, an investigator for the Department of Health, Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams) is a scientist at the lab where he works. While he is questioning restaurants about rat droppings in their stock, she is examining a small podded flower she finds in a park nearby. These investigations lead them to notice that things aren't quite right with those around them. Elizabeth's partner Goeffrey is somehow different, showing no emotion or interest in any of the things he used to enjoy. And they meet various others who claim that their partners have been replaced. The owner of a dry cleaning shop proclaims: “This person looks like my wife, they talk like my wife, but they are not my wife!”. Dr David Kibner (Leonard Nimoy, and what film isn't improved by having Leonard Nimoy?) attempts to rationalise these episodes of paranoia, and bring these couples back together. Of course, it's a film, so the paranoia turns out to be completely justified, and our characters (joined by horror legend Veronica Cartwright and everyone's favourite Jurassic Park alumni Jeff Goldblum) are propelled into a cat and mouse game where they must avoid capture and sleep. Lest those pods replicate them, and disintegrate their original bodies in the process.
It has its hammy moments of course, the dog with the homeless man's head being the main one. But despite that, its influence is still felt modern cinema. The Bodysnatchers chasing our characters and the shrieks they make, are probably some of the earliest examples of the running zombie we see so often. It's a film I revisit regularly, and every time I notice new things, and enjoy it more. As it connects with the fears I felt as a child, and now.