Elizabeth (Brooke Adams) notices a new flower blooming on her way home in San Francisco one day and picks it. She shows it to her boyfriend Geoffrey (Art Hindle) before putting it in a bowl of water. The next day, Geoffrey begins to act strangely, not like himself. Oh, the memories are there, but he’s stiff and emotionless. Elizabeth wonders what his going on. She talks to her work colleague and friend Matthew (Donald Sutherland) and as the next few days go by, they both notice that people are complaining about friends and relatives not being themselves. Elizabeth follows Geoffrey one day as he goes about town, meeting with strangers, exchanging packages. Finally, things come to a head when a friend of Matthew’s discovers a body in his bath house business, a body that is not alive but almost fully-formed. Realizing what this might mean, Matthew runs to Elizabeth’s house when she does not answer her phone and barely saves her from being replicated by a nearby plant pod that resembles the flower she picked at the beginning of the film. That’s right, it’s an invasion from outer space, and these creepo aliens are replicating human bodies and taking them over. Matthew and Elizabeth try and fight back, but it may already be too late…
This sequel to the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers is beloved in the horror community and the film community in general. I have always liked the movie but was never one to rave about it. Something about it always left me a bit cold. I loved the paranoia of it, and the creepy pods and the replicating bodies, and of course I loved the human-faced dog creature that shows up out of nowhere. But the original was always superior to me. Something about it felt more honest and sincere. I decided to watch this nominal remake again to see if my mind had changed any. It has, but not to any great extent. The paranoia still works, and there’s some great, riveting scenes of suspense and horror, but it’s a bit too long, and I think I finally put a finger on why I like it but don’t love it: the film is too obvious. There’s too many shots of odd people leering in the background, eyeing the main characters. Too many shots of those red garbage trucks being filled with the ashy, human husk remains. I mean, they’re everywhere all the time, and if it’s not them, then it’s a dumpster with some hanging out of it in the background. Also, there’s lots of obvious, ominous shots of characters, their faces etched with deep shadows. We get it, already. I know this sounds odd, a guy like me calling for more subtlety, but here we are. And the thing about this is, those effects work really well later in the film, when the humanity of the city is beyond saving. I just think it’s too much too early on. A little here and there, yes, but it feels like the city is almost immediately taken over, which is too fast for the narrative pace. That said, I do love the weirdness of it, the alien feel of it, and the actors are all tremendous. What a cast! I also like the allegory of Yuppies losing their individuality and finally becoming assimilated, just like their parents. Nothing is more chilling. We really do see the last gasp of the Woodstock Generation as it is sucked up into the machine it once raged against and absorbed and spit out, serene, placid and complicit. Scary.
I will always champion the original over any of the remakes, but the 1978 film has a whole hell of a lot going for it (as does Body Snatchers from 1993) and is highly recommended. In my mind, these three films all take place in the same universe and aren’t really remakes, but companion films, three different perspectives on the same invasion. In any case, you’d do well to see all of them if you haven’t before, starting with the original and moving along. A fine group of films, scary and always timely, no matter what decade they were made in.