Invasion of the Body Snatchers – A doctor, Kevin McCarthy, who keeps getting reports from his patients saying they think their family or friends have become somehow ‘alien’. Then they tell him nothing is wrong. At first he thinks it is some kind of mass hysteria; then his friend shows him a blank corpse-like body, which isn’t quite finished. He discovers that when you go to sleep, these bodies formed from alien seed pods take on the shape and life of the sleeper. These pod people, however, lack human emotions and feelings.
Don Siegel’s film warns that we should be vigilant against the dangers of communism and/or the panic about reds-under the bed inflamed by Senator McCarthy. Dr Bennell is dealing with a form of epidemic that we have to deal with “before it’s too late.” We never know how it was created or where it comes from, but we must stay awake if we want to stay human.
The 1978 remake, directed by Philip Kaufman, shows that people are becoming more pod-like without any kind of alien intervention, and so when they do invade it is no longer easy to distinguish between us and THEM.
What does Abel Ferrara’s 1993 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers tell us? Well, his vision is even bleaker. A constant refrain of this film is that “they will get you when you sleep.”
Ferrara’s aliens are the ultimate creatures of our nightmares; they literally suck you dry and replace you with an emotionless zombie, born of a veggie pod dug up from a filthy swamp.
This film takes place on a military base where Steve Malone (Terry Kinney) is sent to investigate toxic waste. As he and his dysfunctional family settle into life at the base, they start to realize that something odd is going on.
There isn’t the graphic gore of Kaufman’s 1978 version, but one chilling scene features the daughter who falls asleep in her bath. The tendrils of an alien pod snake down from the ceiling to embrace her body. The tendrils impart her life force to the greedy pod, which quickly becomes a replica of the young woman. The weight of her ‘new’ body causes it to fall through the ceiling and thereby wakes the sleeping ‘original’ and saves her skin.
In an explanatory scene, Steve overhears a distraught soldier being confronted by a posse of veggies. Their leader tells us that they move through space and take over any life forms they encounter. They offer a new life without the pain of emotion. They are dedicated to the preservation of the race rather than pandering to individual differences. The soldier disagrees, however, and opts to shoot himself rather than become one of them.
The film highlights the squabbles of everyday family life, which drive their teenage daughter to alcoholic oblivion and help Steve to impersonate the aliens so well that it costs him his life.
By putting the action on a military base, Ferrara twists the idea that the military will save us (as in the 1950s movies,) and shows that it will now do the opposite. This could be taken as a metaphor for military dictatorships. In addition, it represents fears about creatures out there that are cold, methodical, and emotionless, just the very qualities that military camps instill in their recruits to make them professional soldiers.
The aliens intend to take over through infiltration and sheer weight of numbers. Ferrara’s aliens are like nasty germs. The alien threat here can also be read as a metaphor for the spread of AIDS or the pollution of our ecology (remember, Steve was sent to the base to investigate dangerous toxic waste).
Ultimately, in this film, the aliens are not really demonic or evil, they are just bland and grey. Their impulse to breed and spread their mediocrity is so similar to our own takeover of this planet that it is easy to see that the aliens are really ourselves. All three of the Body Snatcher films tell us to watch our family, friends and neighbors – not the sky.