Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Despite the hokey-ness of some of these 1950s science fiction thrillers suck as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, one can't help but find them tremendously fun in their own right. They all seem to have so much to say.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers is told from the perspective of a strapping young doctor, complete with the frequently redundant voiceover narration that these types of movies inevitably have. With an old flame moved back into town newly divorced, his life is turning out to be just swell -- until he begins to notice strange things happening in his quiet little town.
It starts off with his new girlfriend's cousin firmly insisting that her uncle is not really her uncle, despite looking exactly like him and having all of his memories. Then he sees a young boy terrified to be with his mother, crying, "That's not my mother!" And finally, he ends up making a house call where he discovers the partially formed human body that is quickly beginning to resemble the man who called him over.
A conversation occurs that makes it clear that the doctor thinks whatever this thing is, it's designed to take Jack's place. So why for the love of God would he task Jack with sitting up all night watching it? Has he never seen a horror movie?
Anyway, from this point on, things move rather quickly. Whatever these strange quasi-human Magic Grow Monsters are, they are taking over at an alarming rate, and it isn't long before Miles and his lady love are the only two real people left in the entire town.
Unsurprisingly, the fake human pod people are not super excited about there being two actual humans running around trying to spill the beans on their world domination plot. In one of the least intelligent moves ever, they lock Miles and Becky up his medical office -- because surely he won't be able to find something that will help them out of this tight jam amongst the medical tools and chemicals. It's not like he's a competent human being or something.
Unsurprisingly, they are able to escape, but not before learning a little bit more about their captors. That's right, it's exposition time!
The pesky little invaders are actually seed pods from outer space, which is fairly disappointing in how lame of an excuse that is. They take over the consciousness of a person while they're sleeping and are complete replicants, except without emotions because those are dumb. Their mission is to expand beyond the town and take over the entire world, although why they're telling their enemies this (including giving them the helpful hint to avoid sleeping) is beyond me.
If you're expecting a happy ending, you're perhaps watching the wrong movie from the wrong time period. While Invasion of the Body Snatchers ends on a superficially optimistic note (it's certainly possible that Miles' warning gave Earth enough time to fend off a total planetary invasion), he wasn't able to save his town or more specifically, his unrealistically sleepy girlfriend. Seriously, she knows that the only way to fight off the pod monsters is to stay awake and within twelve hours of the crisis beginning she's somehow so exhausted she can't help but fall sleep the second she's left unattended? You get what you deserve, Becky.
Interestingly enough, the creative forces behind this film insist that they weren't trying to make any social commentary, but rather to tell a good old-fashioned science fiction movie.
Really, Invasion of the Body Snatchers say more about 1950s America than any traditional drama from the same time period. It allows us a glimpse at society's collective psyche, even if it needed killer seed pods from outer space to do it.
There's a tremendous dread of the conformity that defined the cultural wasteland we often associate with 1950s America. Rampant commercialism creates a sort of beige sameness so that you'd barely notice if your friends and family had their bodies snatched.
But there is a comfort and sense of stability in a life without emotions, where everyone is the same. They try to sell it to Miles and Becky as a life without problems, and for people living in a time period defined by its pervasive sense of anxiety and paranoia, that must have been sorely tempting. Of course, that comes with a cost -- a fundamental loss of humanity.
The film also reflects a society that is deeply uncomfortable with how quickly technology is developing. It's no wonder that Miles' theories about the pods are immediately linked to atomic radiation and alien invasion.
And, lest we forget, there's also the terror brought on by fighting an undefined war that isn't technically speaking a war at all although if it did become one everyone would die (or the Cold War, for short). With all the Russian spies inexplicably running around middle America in the 50s, it makes sense that the idea of not being sure who you can trust, and never really knowing your neighbors, would be inherently terrifying.
Whew. Conformity, Cold War paranoia, and techno-fear: have three concepts ever most accurately summed up the 1950s?
So that's Invasion of the Body Snatchers. But beyond being a fairly accurate mirror held against 1950s culture, it's also what the filmmakers (supposedly) intended: a good old-fashioned sci-fi film. Although normally a third act introduction of the phrase "seed pods from outer space" would be indicative of the worst excesses of B-Movie cheesiness, the revelation of what the film's monster actually is doesn't bring it down because the execution is done so well.
It maintains a steady tempo of suspense throughout the entire movie, without any unnecessarily slow moments to bring the action to a standstill (something that many other 1950s science fiction films struggle with). Overall, it's a clever movie that has aged remarkably well and although the 1970s remake is more panic-inducing (especially that goddamn hobo dog that haunts my dreams), the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers is still legitimately creepy over 60 years later.