Tuesday, March 3, 2015

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956)

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956)

Label: Olive Films 

Region Code: A
Rated: NR (Not Rated)
Duration: 80 Minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 
Video: HD SuperScope (2.00:1)
Director:
Don Siegel

Cast: Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, Carolyn Jones, Larry Gates

One of the greatest and most influential Sci-Fi films of all time stars Kevin McCarthy as a doctor in a small California town whose patients are becoming hysterical and accuse their loved ones as emotionless impostors. Plant-like extra-terrestrials have invaded Earth, replicating the villagers in giant seed “pods” and taking possession of their souls while they sleep. Realizing that the epidemic is out of control, in a terrifying race for his life, he escapes to warn the world of the deadly invasion of the pod people! Directed by the great Don Siegel (Dirty Harry) and co-starring Dana Wynter, Carolyn Jones, Larry Gates and King Donovan. 

This is one of those many science fiction and horror movies I watched on the late night horror show that aired on WPIX back in the early '80s. Most of these I watched sitting directly in front of the tube TV in the floor with a big bowl of cereal and a glass of soda in hand. Those wonderful nights of sugar-fueled nightmare cinema are what fed my love of scary stuff from a young age, my mother was a horror fan herself so she was permissive about my late night viewings. 


Afterward the credits rolled I through the darkened house on my way to my room just a bundle of nerves and jumping at every shadow. Once snuggled in bed would be unable to succumb to the sandman for quite some time having been temporarily scarred for life by what I had just watched and the massive amounts of sugar still coursing through my veins. Once I managed to fall asleep my nightmares were usually a continuation of whatever film I had watched only now starring a cast faces familiar to me, my friends and neighbors. It was scary stuff but somehow I have never been able to get enough of the creepy movie magic. 

I can definitely recall watching the original INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS for the first time and it certainly gave me nightmares of strange happenings in a small town. It all begins with Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) returning to the sleepy village of Santa Mira, California after a brief trip. Here he runs into an old flame named Becky (Dana Wynter) who has also returned to town following a recent divorce, and the two divorcees begin a budding romance picking-up where they left off some years earlier. The strange happenings begin when a frantic young boy is becomes convinced that his parents are not whom they appear to be and have changes in some insidious way. Soon after Becky's cousin Wilma (Virginia Christine) suspects that her own father, psychiatrist Dr. Dan Kaufman (Larry Gates), has been transformed into an soulless impersonator, but the psychiatrist assures Miles that the village is simply suffering from some form of mass hysteria, which he accepts, after all, Dr. Kaufman's a psychiatrist and if anyone would know what tricks the mind could play it would certainly be him. 

While the doc and Beck slowly rekindle their romance at a cocktail party the strangeness around town persists and the doc is called away to the home of friend Jack Belicec (King Donovan) and his wife Teddy (Carolyn Jones). The couple have discovered a strange body in their home, a humanoid form devoid of detail. Oddly, they do not report the eerie discovery to the authorities and the doc simply advises to the couple to keep an eye on it, to which I would say "fuck you". Later that night the doc and Becky find another half-formed body in her own basement, this one resembling Becky herself. Hitting a bit closer to home the duo are take things a bit more seriously, while they don't know what the fudge is happening in the village of Santa Mira it is certainly more than a case of mass hysteria!

What I love about this movie is the creepiness and paranoia of it all, it seems that these imposters are formed once you go to sleep, and eventually you have to fall asleep, there's just no way around it. Once you drift off the pod transforms into a mirror image of you, the copy assumes your role in the community, imbued with your memories and knowledge but devoid of all humanity. It is revealed that the copies come from a large pod seeds that are somewhat corny by today's standards, looking somewhat like a four foot long pea pod, but in context of a '50s sci-fi movie they're pretty decent props. Something else I love about the film is that there is no hideous alien creature that comes off as more schlocky than shocky, a lot of the paranoia and fear come straight from your mind. 

Realizing what a threat these space pods from space pose to the world and humanity Miles repeatedly attempts to warn the public of the impending doom but you just never know who you can trust when the people you know may not be the people you know at all. They realize just how large scale the invasion is when the discover a plan to send truckloads of the space pods into neighboring cities thereby spreading the alien invasion from town to town until the entire planet are a community of hive-minded doppelgangers.

McCarthy is fantastic in this paranoid science fiction thriller, his chiseled chin and all-American good looks brought to mind the '50s version of '80s b-movie legend Bruce Campbell with a bit more depth and way less camp, McCarthy can do unhinged with the best of them on the big screen. 

I love the look of the film which has a moody noir aesthetic with most scenes bathed deeply cast in light and shadows which accentuates the creepy vibe. The brassy score from composer Carmen Dragon is effective but secretly I wised for a cheesy theremin score. 

The special effects are simple but effective considering the era, the black and white images of the seed pods blooming and spilling forth a foamy white liquid with the malformed bodies emerging thrilled me as kid and still do something for me today, while they may not be on par with what was to come with the Kaufman remake in '78 they are quite good and don't come off as cheesy.  

More so than any effect what sells the film is actor Kevin McCarthy and the paranoid vibe the film creates and carries through right until the fantastic end, and this is one of the most memorable finales of all time with McCarthy running crazed through the streets warning strangers of the impending invasion which by now is well underway, it's one of my favorite apocalyptic endings in all of cinema. 

Not a lot of negative comments about this one, the script is tight and the pace is brisk, running at just eighty-minutes long, the biggest beef would be the tacked-on book end beginning and ending and the voice over narration, none of which was necessary but both were added by producer Walter Wanger. It doesn't ruin the film but on the whole I feel t would have been a more effective film and the ending would have had more weight had it stopped with McCarthy screaming  "They're here already! You're next! You're next!" to passing motorists. 

AUDIO/VIDEO
The Blu-ray from Olive Films presents this science fiction classic in the  SuperScope (2.0:1) aspect ratio as it was originally screened in theatres with an AVC encode and it looks fantastic. The source used for the HD master is nearly flawless with only minor instances of print damage, white speckling is kept to a minimum, this has a very smooth and natural appearance. Contrast looks very nice throughout with fantastic shadow detail accentuating the noir inspired cinematography, there's a lot to be happy about here. The DTS-HD Master Audio Mono 1.0 exports the dialogue, effects and Carmen Dragon's score very nicely, crisp and clean throughout, no subtitles options are provided. 

SPECIAL FEATURES
Unfortunately there are no extras on the disc of any sort which is saddening as this is a film with a storied production history and there must be film scholars and science fiction authorities who would have loved to wax nostalgic about it. I would have enjoyed a newly commissioned featurette or a brief making of documentary, but nope, nada.
VERDICT
If you love vintage black and white science fiction films I think it is safe to say that Olive Films presentation of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS is worth a purchase, the new HD upgrade is fantastic even if there are zero bonus features. If you have seen the Philip Kaufman's remake and have not treated yourself to a viewing of the original movie you are doing yourself a disservice, sixty-years on this is still quite a gripping slice of sci-fi cinema, highly recommended.  

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