Wednesday, October 10, 2018

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) (Olive Signature Blu-ray Review/Comparison


Label: Olive Films
Region Code: A
Duration: 80 Minutes 
Rating: Unrated
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Mono with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2:00:1)
Director: Don Siegel
Cast: Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, Larry Gates, King Donovan, Carolyn Jones 

“They’re already here! You’re next!” With these chilling words, Invasion of the Body Snatchers sounded a clarion call to the dangers of conformity, paranoia, and mass hysteria at the heart of 1950s American life. Considered one of the greatest science fiction films ever made, Invasion of the Body Snatchers stars Kevin McCarthy (Academy Award® nominee, Best Supporting Actor, Death of A Salesman – 1952) as Miles Bennell, a doctor in a small California town whose patients are becoming increasingly overwrought, accusing their loved ones of being emotionless imposters. They’re right! Plant-like aliens have invaded Earth, taking possession of humans as they sleep and replicating them in giant seed pods. Convinced that a catastrophic epidemic is imminent, Bennell, in a terrifying race for his life, must warn the world of this deadly invasion of the pod people before it’s too late.


The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) is one of those sci-fi cinema classics I watched on a late night horror show that aired on WPIX back in the early '80s, most of these gems I watched while seated cross-legged on the floor in front of our black and white TV - yes, we had a black and white TV well into the 80s - with a heaping bowl of Golden Grahams and a glass full of orange soda. Those wonderful nights of sugar-fueled nightmare cinema are what fed my love of the scary stuff from a tenderly young age. It also helped that my mom was a fan of horror herself, so she was permissive about my late night viewings. 


Once the credits of the various films began to roll I would turn off the lights and wander through our darkened house a bundle of nerves and jumping at every shadow. Once snuggled into bed would be unable to fall asleep for quite awhile, having been temporarily scarred for life by whatever horror 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, my family. It was scary stuff but somehow I have never been able to get enough of the creepy movie magic, I keep coming back for more!


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 my small town, much the same way the Invaders from Mars (1953). It all begins with Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy, Innerspace) returning to the sleepy village of Santa Mira, California after a brief trip away. Here he runs into an old flame named Becky (Dana Wynter) who has also returned to town following a recent divorce, as he is also a divorcee they begin a budding romance picking-up where they left off some years earlier. The strange happenings around the town begin when a frantic young boy is brought to his practice, he's convinced that his parents are not whom they appear to be and have changed in some insidious way. Soon after Becky's cousin Wilma (Virginia Christine, The Mummy's Curse) suspects that her own father, psychiatrist Dr. Dan Kaufman (Larry Gates, In the Heat of the Night), 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, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms) and his wife Teddy (Carolyn Jones, Morticia from The Addams Family). 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, I am out of here!". 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 pair 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 fall asleep, and eventually you have to fall asleep, there's just no way around it - that's the brilliant part, something Wes Craven borrowed for a certain burn-faced nightmare of his own in the 80s. 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 your 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, when they spill open leaking what looks to be a concoction of soap bubble and shaving cream I'm okay with that. Something else I love about the film is that there is no hideous alien creature that would come off as more schlocky than shocky, a lot of the paranoia and fear come straight from your mind, it doesn't overshoot it's limitation, which I appreciate.

Realizing the threat that these creepy pods from space pose to the world at large Miles repeatedly attempts to warn the public of the impending doom, but you just never know who you can trust when the people you think you know may not be the people you know at all! They realize just how large scale the invasion is when they 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 here, his chiseled chin and not quite all-American good looks brought to mind the '50s version of '80s b-movie legend Bruce Campbell (Army of Darkness) with a bit more depth and bit less camp, McCarthy can do unhinged with the best of them on the big screen, the final few moments of the film are testament to that.


I love the look of the film which has a moody noir aesthetic with most scenes bathed in light and shadows which accentuates the creepy vibe. The brassy score from composer Carmen Dragon is effective but secretly I wished 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 Philip Kaufman remake in '78 they are quite good and don't come off as too awful 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, regardless the film is a sci-fi classic brimming with paranoia and themes of lost identity.

Audio/Video: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) arrives on Blu-ray from Olive Films for a second time, they originally released it on the format in 2014 as a bare-bones release with no extras. Not sure what the source of the new restoration is but it is presented in 1080p HD, framed in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2:00:1 widescreen. The source looks wonderful  with only a few minor instances of very minor print damage and white speckling, having a very smooth and natural filmic appearance. Contrast is improved from he 2014 release, gray scale looks excellent, and the blacks are deeper and inkier than we've seen before, accentuating the shadowy noir inspired cinematography. I was very happy with the previous release, but this new presentation kicks it up a notch. Audio comes by way of a solid English 1.0 DTS-HD MA Mono which replicates the dialogue, sound effects and the Carmen Dragon's score very nicely, crisp and clean throughout. I am also happy to report that optional English subtitles are provided, they were not present on the previous release from Olive.

I am beyond excited that Olive have gone all-out with the extras for this release, stuffing it with new extras produced for Olive's release plus some Paramount produced extras originally created filmed for the 2006 50th Anniversary Edition from Paramount that never happened. These 2006 extras have gone unreleased for years, but thanks to  Elijah Drenner these have finally been cleared for release! First, let's look at the new 2018 produced extras that were created by Elijah Drenner and company exclusively for this release: 

It all begins with a new audio commentaries with film historian Richard Harland Smith, a well-done and super-informed  commentary, then we have 'The Stranger in Your Lover's Eyes', a brand new 2-part visual essay with director Don Siegel's son, Kristoffer Tabori, reading from his father's book 'A Siegel Film'. The first part is the son reading the director's words from his book, detailing how he came onto the film, working with producer Walter Wanger, the special effects of art director Ted Hayworth. Comparing the execs at Allied Artists to Pod People, how the pod-execs trimmed the humor in the film and demanded an additional epilogue and prologue be filmed. The second half is the director's son in his own words speaking about his father and his life, his career including this film.

Also new is 'The Fear Is Real', a 12-min conversation with  directors Larry Cohen (It's Alive) and Joe Dante (The 'Burbs), these two guys are great storytellers, laying out how they first saw the film. Cohen in the cinema during it'sinitial run and Dante on TV, it's initial reception at the cinema (which was low-profile), and it's influence on cinema including their own films. Cohen speaks about how the idea has a generational nature, having been remade at least three times through the years, and Dante speaks about the marketing of the film and the various cropped video releases through the years from the cinema presentation in super-scope to the original full-frame presentation on TV and a cropped pan and scan version made from the already cropped super-scope version.

New extras wind down with the 21-minute 'I No Longer Belong: The Rise and Fall of Walter Wanger', a discussion the life and career of the film's producer by film scholar and author Matthew Bernstein, plus we get a gallery of rare documents detailing aspects of the film's production including the never-produced opening narration to have been read by Orson Welles, plus the original theatrical trailer in HD.

Onto the 2006 extras which were never previously released we begin with a second commentary with actors Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, and filmmaker Joe Dante. Both are fantastic and well-worth tuning in for, Richard Harland Smith is a wealth of info, and the second commentary with the stars McCarthy, Wynter, and filmmaker Joe Dante is fantastic with loads of anecdotal stories About the making of the film, a great group discussion, having Joe Dante moderate it is a stroke of genius, I would love to hear him moderate more commentaries for all sorts of cult-films, but if you crave more of Dante commentary check out the trailer-commentary site  

The 26-minute 'Sleep No More: Invasion of the Body Snatchers Revisited' opens with stars Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter reminiscing about the making of the film, each laying on a thick coat of adoration for one another, with Wynter appreciating how McCarthy never once groaned while carrying her around in a few scenes, such a gentleman. We also get some input from author/historians Bob Burns, Bill Warren, Stuart Kaminsky, and directors John Landis, Mick Garris, and Stuart Gordon (who co-wrote the screenplay for Body Snatchers (1993)), each speaking about the film's cultural significance and their own love for the director and his films.

'The Fear and the Fiction: The Body Snatchers Phenomenon' is a of companion piece to 'Sleep No More' with the same commentators speaking about the themes of the film and why it's such a cultural touchstone that goes beyond sci-fi and into the popular lexicon with expressions like "pod-people". 

There's also an archival interview with Kevin McCarthy hosted by actor Tom Hatten (Spies Like Us) from 1985. The interviewer interrupts McCarthy nearly every time he speaks, which sort of drove me nuts! It looks like some sort of L.A. based TV station segment, McCarthy talks about the film, and the one-man show he was touring and promoting at the time. He also speaks a bit about director Sam Peckinpah (Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia) who appears in the film very briefly and who was apparently the dialogue coach on the film. 

'Return to Santa Mira' is a 14-minute exploration of the film's locations both then and now (the now of 2006 anyway). These are divided up into 2-min segments, it's kind of annoying that you cannot choose to 'play all', but the content is still solid; showcasing the caves, the town square, the various homes and the overpass seen in the film, plus an homage to locations that no longer exist. 

'What's In a Name?' is a brief 2-minute examination of the film's various titles from the author's original story title of "A Small Fall of Frogs" on through to various movie titles like "Sleep No More', before finally settling on Invasion of the Body Snatchers. 

The single-disc Blu-ray release comes housed in a nifty clear keepcase with a 2-sided sleeve of artwork which looks to be a new composite created using existing original artwork elements, it's nicely understated. There reverse side is an image from the film. The disc features a light green background with a hand print featured on the key artwork. As it's part of the Olive Signature Collection we also get a heavy card stock slipcase with the same key artwork as the sleeve with the logo on all three sides of the slip. The 8-page booklet than accompanies it features essay by author and film programmer Kier-La Janisse, along with the writing some images from the film reprinted as well. 

Special Features:
- Audio Commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith
- Audio Commentary by actors Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter, and filmmaker Joe Dante
- "The Stranger in Your Lover's Eyes" – a two-part visual essay with actor and son of director Don Siegel, Kristoffer Tabori, reading from his father's book A Siegel Film (12 min)
- "The Fear is Real" – Filmmakers Larry Cohen and Joe Dante on the film's cultural significance (12 min)
- "I No Longer Belong: The Rise and Fall of Walter Wanger" – Film scholar and author Matthew Bernstein discusses the life and career of the film's producer (21 min)
- "Sleep No More: Invasion of the Body Snatchers Revisited" – Never-before-seen appreciation of the film featuring actors Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter, along with comments from film directors and fans, John Landis, Mick Garris, and Stuart Gordon (26 min)
- "The Fear and the Fiction: The Body Snatchers Phenomenon" – Never-before-seen interviews with Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter, along with film directors John Landis, Mick Garris and Stuart Gordon, discussing the making of the film, its place in history, and its meaning (8 min)
- 1985 Archival Interview with Kevin McCarthy hosted by Tom Hatten (7 min)
- “Return to Santa Mira" – An exploration of the film's locations (14 min)
- "What's In a Name?" – on the film's title (2 min)
- Gallery of rare documents detailing aspects of the film's production including the never-produced opening narration to have been read by Orson Welles
- 8-Page Booklet with Essay by author and film programmer Kier-La Janisse - also available on the disc as a text-only extra.
- Original Theatrical Trailer (2 min) 

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) is an excellent black and white slice of science fiction paranoia, glad to see it finally get the definitive Blu-ray it deserves with oodles of extras. In my opinion this is the absolute best release to date from Olive Films, and a serious contender for one of the year's best home video release, this is a Criterion-worthy presentation, highly recommended! This release is limited to 50000, so if you want it you had best snag it fast, I don't imagine this will be available much longer.




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