True film aficionados who are old enough probably know that there were three cinematic versions of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (TIOTBS). Doesn’t matter, though, whether or not you’re familiar with them. I’ll give you enough to chew on here, and then hit you with why there needs to be another one made.
The first two TIOTBS films had the same title; the third was simply named Body Snatchers. In general terms, all three could have carried that two-word title ’cause — essentially — those words capture what all three were about. People changed in all three, and they were altered because the authentic identity in each case was lost, transformed. All associated with each given body was truly snatched, seized virtually overnight.
Robert H. Solo, who produced both the second (1978) and third (1993) versions feels that both of his productions stand on their own. He told me, “I certainly wasn’t interested in telling a story that had already been told. Body Snatchers has much more action than the 1956 original.” And in the Los Angeles Times (March 22, 2992), he noted, “The set of circumstances is different, but the mythology is the same.” Set in a small town atmosphere like the 1956 original, but sharing the 1978’s version’s fascination with spine-chilling visuals, and tangibly gruesome evidence of alien activity, Body Snatchers introduces wholly new characters to the invasive alien spores, and delves into what was then (in the 90s) the timely theme of loss of identity within a contemporary family.
Each of the three films was very reflective of the nation’s current climate, and the third version tapped into the 90s great paranoia concerning what was happening to the nuclear family.
Although my personal favorite of the three is the original, the second Philip Kaufman/W.D. Richter version is infinitely better than the Abel Ferrara/Stuart Gordon last version (which I could barely tolerate). Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Leonard Nimoy and Kevin McCarthy (star of the original) are all in the 70s version, and there’s an atmosphere of conspiratorial terror which perfectly aligned with two very disturbing events which took place just prior to the film’s release: The murders of San Francisco’s City Councilman Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone, and the deaths of over 900 people in the mass suicide of the Peoples Temple in Jonestown, Guyana.
The Guyana aftermath and the San Francisco assassinations contributed an additional layer of creepiness at the time, and the Ferrara/Gordon version (called “the scariest movie of the year” by Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times, December 29, 1978) did become “a parable for an age of paranoia, conspiracy theories, psychobabble and the invasion of the will perpetrated by cult leaders” (Newsweek, December 18, 1978). The cast of Saturday Night Live spoofed it, and it was — unquestionably — sharp satire disturbingly in tune with the times.
The New York Times (February 4, 1994) asserted that reviewers are adamant that “the original Invasion all but stated that McCarthyism was the symbolic meaning behind the conformist body snatchers.” The Village Voice (February 15, 1994) underscored that Director Don Siegel (who was given a cameo part in the third version, by the way) “not only naturalized the Red Scare but imbued it with Darwinian angst — the fear that communism might actually be a higher stage on the evolutionary ladder.”
Stuart M. Kaminsky, however, in his Don Siegel: Director, noted that the original director deferred to a far more general interpretation: “Many of my associates are pods, people who have no feeling of love or emotion, who simply exist, breathe and sleep…. To be a pod means you have no passion, no anger, that you talk automatically, that the spark of life has left you…. The pods in my picture and in the world believe that they are doing good when they convert people into pods. They get rid of pain, ill health, mental anguish. It leaves you with a dull world, but that, my dear friend, is the world in which most of us live.” And lots of that resonates as typical of the times I went through in the 50s.
Today, though, we need a new version of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. One that”s germane for 2016. Specifically, one which spotlights our devaluation of life itself, our collective resignation vis-a-vis going over the precipice… without any help from alien life forms. One that shows how the disappearance of our humanity is a function of an internal invasion.
Richard Oxman is a former professor of Cinema History and Dramatic Art (Rutgers University-Newark), and he welcomes contact at firstname.lastname@example.org. He would like to discuss a plan for action that might turn around our horrid momentum. One which follows a fresh paradigm for the electoral arena and the realm of direct action.