Don Siegel’s 1956 science-fiction classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers has been given the luxury treatment on Blu-ray courtesy of the BFI in an edition that surely earns its place on any genre-fan’s shelf.
Santa Mira, California is the perfect slice of 50s Americana, a place with white picket fences on every street where everyone knows each other’s names. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) is the town doctor, recently returning from a trip to find his old flame, Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter), who’s back in town following a divorce. Drawn to each other once more, the two begin to rekindle their romance just as strange things start to happen. A boy runs screaming from his mother claiming she is an imposter. Becky’s cousin makes the same claim about her uncle, saying that the looks, memories and manner of the man are there without any trace of emotion behind them. Miles shrugs everything off as being merely psychosomatic until a body shows up at his friend Jack’s house – a body without features that begins to take on the appearance of Jack himself. With more bodies appearing and the police refusing to listen, Miles and Becky find themselves trying to save Santa Mira and perhaps the whole world from an otherworldly force bent on replacing the human race with cold, emotionless duplicates.
In an era of high concept science-fiction concerned with nuclear threat, giant bugs and flying saucers, Invasion remains a surprisingly mature entry for the time. Siegel (who later directed Dirty Harry) constructs the film as a horror-noir, telling a bleak story where the odds are increasingly stacked against our heroes. The ‘pod people’ (named for the great, frothing seed-pods that give birth to them) are, at first, the antithesis of the monsters found in other sci-fi and horror pictures. They are calm, considered and almost welcoming – only when their way of life has been rejected does their underlying malevolence begin to show.
Though the Hays Code was still firmly in place, the human characters are given a representation that is nothing short of bold for 1956. Miles and Becky are both divorcees, a fact that they talk about often, at a time where nuclear family conservatism reigned supreme. While their flirtatious interplay is akin to most hetero-couples onscreen at the time, Invasion goes one step further, none-too-shyly establishing that the couple have spent the night together. Though free thought was being suppressed onscreen, it seems progress was at least being made behind the camera.
There has perhaps been no other film in American cinema that has captured the sense of underlying paranoia and fear of the times as well as Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Quite what that fear was of has been debated since the film’s release. Cold war and communism, bland American conformity, fascism and suppression of individualism – the beauty of Don Siegel’s film is that no matter how you choose to read it, the allegory fits, and the central fear remains the same: what if the people you know and love were not those people anymore?
Invasion of the Body Snatchers arrives on Blu-ray with a variety of special features in its strong supplemental package. The disc features two audio commentaries: one with director and fan Joe Dante and original stars Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter, and a newly recorded track with filmmaker and critic Jim Hemphill. Dante’s enthusiasm and McCarthy and Wynter’s anecdotes make for gentle listening, while Hemphill’s commentary provides a more informative and worthwhile accompaniment to the feature. Also worth listening to is the Don Siegel lecture recording included on the disc which hears the director talk candidly about the making of the film, as well as his career before and after.
Sleep No More is the first of a series of featurettes, with this one providing a breezy and engaging look at the film’s production history. Following that are The Fear and the Fiction: The Body Snatchers Phenomenon, which turns a more analytical eye to the film’s themes; What’s in a Name?, a short video essay on the various titles Siegel and co. cycled through for the film; and Return to Santa Mira, a revisiting of the film’s locations. Also included are three informational British short films covering communism and botanical science, as well as the original trailer for the film and a short celebration of it by Joe Dante. Collectors and fans of the film will want to pick up this first-pressing which comes packaged with a booklet of fascinating essays by Deborah Allison, J Hoberman, and Charlie Bligh.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers is available to own on Blu-ray from the 25th of October.