At Home, BluRay/DVD Reviews

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (Scream! Factory)

By • Sep 11th, 2016 •

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BluRay review by Roy Frumkes

The former release on DVD felt like it was consistently shot through fog filters. Blacks seemed intentionally milky. It fit the tone of the film, about an invasion from outer space settling on and inside us without our awareness.

The new SCREAM! Factory release presents quite a different picture. The images are sharp, and the blacks are dense. We’re flooded with details, the camera is constantly, intentionally picking up distracting imagery, and there is a tangible feeling of unease, of dread. I prefer the sharpness and color saturation of the BluRay version. It bombards us more viscerally with its unsettling ambience, every shot planned out to unnerve the viewer.

The DVD says the film is 117 minutes long, when actually it is the same 115 ½ minute running time as the BluRay, so nothing has been trimmed. Your choice will be based on a) which version you think is creepier, and b) which packaging has more supplementals. B) would be the BluRay version. I was really happy to see the 2016 interview with Brooke Adams conducted for this release, in which she admits to reluctantly essaying the nudity in act three because she had a bad body. Talking it over with a crew-member, she decided to do it for all the bad bodies out there. I had always respected her for doing that scene; now I’m even more impressed with her gumption. She also recreates her jittery-eyes ability. No CGI there, just one of those weird little physical anomalies, like Larry Fessenden’s missing front teeth, that can fit perfectly into a director’s vision, and in Ms. Adams’ case was cute, playful, but not without a sense of weirdness, in keeping with the film’s mood.

Director Don Siegel never owned up to the original 1956 version being about McCarthy-ism and the perceived Commie threat. It’s possible that he didn’t know, that maybe the screenwriter knew but Siegel didn’t, bringing to mind THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, which had just such a scenario in play. The screenwriter was afraid Director Robert Wise would over-emphasize the biblical subtext, so he intentionally neglected to tell him it was there.

In this case it’s quite the opposite scenario. Too much time has been spent by critics and filmmakers trying to find the appropriate new allegory for this once cold war paranoid tale. As I see it, this one just is what it is, an intensely creepy, unified piece of sci-fi-horror cinema, its menacing tone revealed not only in its furtive, paranoid camerawork as through its unending, brilliant sound design. The film struck me instantly, back in ’78, as one of the best uses of music/sound ever committed to film, up there with APOCALYPSE NOW, JFK, KWAIDAN, WAR OF THE WORLDS (’54), THE EXORCIST, STREET TRASH, THE GODFATHER, STAR WARS (even though the score buried it), and a short list of others masterpieces of cinematic soundscape. We owe this great sound work in part, of course, to the supervisory skill of director Philip Kaufman, but even more so to the imagination and technical mastery of Special Sound Effects designer Ben Burtt and filmusic composer Denny Zeitlin. Both get their own, well-deserved featurettes on the BluRay.

Since this narrative has been regurgitated several times over the past sixty years, most recently as an action-thriller with Nicole Kidman, is a plot recap really necessary? FYI, it starts with a human possession by an utterly innocuous-looking invader from outer space, and that victim is Brooke Adams’ slacker husband. The simple fact that he’s up early and bringing out the garbage alerts her that the universe is out of whack. From that moment on we’re in ‘ticking-clock’ mode. Though we’re not told how long it’ll be before the whole world is infected, we know it can’t be long.

Donald Sutherland and Jeff Goldblum are well-cast since they’re somewhat alien in appearance and attitude just as actors, and that unsettles us even before the invasion gets into full swing. Brooke Adams is striking, and Veronica Cartwright does ‘hysterical’ with aplomb. (Two years later she found a new horror home in Ridley Scott’s ALIEN. )

And then there’s Leonard Nimoy. Still entirely and forever identified with STAR TREK’s barely emotional Spock (‘Mission Impossible’ didn’t rid him of the mantle), it was a great if dangerous notion to cast him as a similarly emotionless being, this time with evil intent. The delicious gag does pull one out of the film for a bit, but I guess it was worth it. What a casting coup!

As s surprise supplemental we get a half-hour episode of Science Fiction Theater, which aired on April 16th, 1955, and was shot in color (which the show would discontinue in its second season). TIME IS JUST A PLACE features an average middle-class husband and wife becoming curious about their secretive next door neighbors, and within this simple plot there emerges a shade of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS). The teleplay was in fact written by Jack Finney, the only one he penned for the series. Everything about this early TV episode is surprisingly good. Jack Arnold directs with sensitivity, stressing characterization. Arnold was Universal’s 50s answer to James Whale. He wasn’t the stylist Whale was, but he was the solid horror/sci-fi filmmaker Whale was, and gave us everything from THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON to the popcorn-paranoia classic IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE. Every directorial instinct he’s allowed to display here is on the money. The casting, for starters, is terrific. Don Defore excels as a middle-American doofus who slowly reveals depth and intelligence. Check out the recently restored noir TOO LATE FOR TEARS. He gives a strong performance in that one, again transforming from innocuous to perceptive and aggressive. Marie Windsor is given nothing substantial to do, but we’re glad to have her. For a more fully developed Windsor performance, check out Kubrick’s THE KILLING. And as the inventor next door who initially seems protective of his creations but has a larger secret to hide, we have Warren Stevens, the ship’s medical officer who ill-advisedly takes the Krell brain boost in FORBIDDEN PLANET. The color here hasn’t faded so much as ‘aged.’ Whoever on the SCREAM FACTORY’s staff went to the trouble to unearth this little gem deserves our gratitude. It received an 8.2 on IMDB. I barely remember seeing it as a kid, and it affected me the same way, only now I can appreciate the structure more than I did when I was eleven.

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