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SCREENING #6: INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) – 80 Min.

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“Dirty Harry” director Don Siegel shows brilliant B-Movie craftsmanship under influence of the McCarthy Era in this clever, psychological Science Fiction thriller.

Financed by independent producer Walter Wanger (who later would produce the infamous mega budget flop “Cleopatra” in 1963) on a meager budget of est. 417.000 US $, it was shot in only 19 days. But despite its low budget, it became an iconic work that was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”, and ranked on the 9th place of the ten greatest Science Fiction films selected by the American Film Institute (AFI) in June 2008.  It also was three times remade: In 1978 under the same title by director Philip Kaufman with Donald Sutherland, in 1993 under the title “Body Snatchers” by Abel Ferrara featuring Forest Whitaker, and again in 2007 under the title “The Invasion” by Oliver Hirschbiegel with Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman.

This first version is featuring the – at that time relatively unknown – character actors Kevin McCarthy in the role of Dr. Bennell and Dana Wynter as Becky Driscoll. Both later enjoyed a significant career on TV.

IMDb link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0049366/

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15 responses to “SCREENING #6: INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) – 80 Min.

  1. Weni Chang ⋅

    Although this movie was made under a relatively low budget comparing to the previous movies we have watched, it is no doubt that the topic of it is very eye catching. I have seen several movies that involve these kinds of unrealistic elements, such as monsters, aliens, and variants… etc, I have to admit that what makes this movie seem unique to me is the setting of the plots.

    The story tells what is happening at the very beginning, letting the audiences understand what the characters will be doing – obviously, fixing the unmoral phenomenon. The little boy who claims his mother is not his mother, yet she is; the lady who claims her uncle is not her uncle, yet again, he is. All the strange things happening around the male lead are foreshadowing the ending. Not only the main characters who are extremely confused about the unmoral appearances and the strange behaviors of people around them, as an audience, I was trying to figure out what is happenings as well. This can be the tricky part of the film – you will never know until waiting till the end. I think this movie has done a good job controlling the audiences mind by the fresh and unique story telling settings.

    Since The Body Snatchers is what we call the “B” movie, it is understandable to use this type of topic unlike the main stream movie. It is not dealing with the regular issues such as love, justice, horror, or action…and so on. Moreover, it has no as much budget as the “A” movie, or even much less than the A movie since there may not be as many audiences supporting the picture. Lots of spots in the film are obviously low-priced, such as the gigantic bubbles that cover the dead human body. However, this film can still be a good one due to its nice setting flow and creative ideas.

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  2. Michelle ⋅

    Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) is a very interesting one. I realized that I have not seen much sci- fi films but this film has really got me at the edge of my seat. I am curious to know about B movies because I wonder if they can deliver the message and entertain the audience with a low-budget film. This film has removed my doubts. No wonder this film is a classic, to the point that it was remade three times! I also noticed that the time is quite short compared to other films screened in class. I think it is alright because it relayed the story in the shortest duration possible without unnecessary shots or prolonged scenes. From the beginning until the end, it kept the right pace. It was not boring at all. Even if the film started from the “panic scene”, it does not give away much. As part of the audience, we are also curious as to why the main character, Dr. Miles, is screaming and panicking. As he begins to explain, we felt the same as Dr. Hill, the person he’s explaining the story to. We feel we are on the same boat as the psychiatrist at the hospital.
    This is B movie, which is a low budget film. Either the film is an A movie or a B movie, it is very effective because it kept the audience in suspension in disbelief, which I think is the most important thing.

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  3. hiro ⋅

    This film was not worth to watch, this was the first impression after I watched this film. However when I think about the time of this film made and the use of low budget, I changed my mind. Graphic part of this movie was not great because it did not mysterious monster or effects which SF films usually have. They only had Seed pot and it was also not looking like mysterious seeds, but more like bony chops. I did not like graphic part of this movie, but I liked idea of film. Even though this was really old film, I can still find its idea of alien taking over human’s mind if they sleep. This idea will be not new in these days but the time of this film taken was long time ago, so I surprised about this idea. It was a low budget movie and thus it did not have a great chase such as using car or train. Personally for this movie I liked the way that all chase are done by running. It creates thrill of when characters will be caught. I also like the structure of this film. This film used timeline differently so that the film starts with current situation and then goes back to past and in the end they come back to present again. I like the movies that shuffle events and do not follow chronological order.

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  4. Derrick Gray ⋅

    Invasion of the Body Snatchers was a pretty suspenseful and engaging film. While classified as a B film, this production was well executed and seemed more like a major production.Like Weni discussed, the plot development from the opening scene up until the climax is one of the reasons why I enjoyed this film as much as I did. In addition, the social and political messages as discussed in class regarding how the red scare was portrayed in Invasion of the Body Snatchers furthered my interest and admiration for this production.

    Invasion of the Body Snatchers begins with the frantic Dr. Bennell in the custody of police at a police station. Immediately, after seeing how distraught the doctor is, the pace for the rest of the film is set. The opening scene creates suspension and inevitably makes the viewer anticipate the rest of the film. What was interesting was that the rest of the film was just the doctor’s of the previous events as told by the doctor. As the film entered the doctors accounts, the film slows down a bit. From the scene following the opening scene the movie begins a very subtle yet wonderfully crafted crescendo. what I appreciate about Invasion of the Body Snatchers is that the special effects and props were not at the forefront of the film. So as the suspense is rising, the peak of the crescendo (typically when the monster/creature is introduced) is not tarnished by showing cheap costumes or lousy special effects. The crescendo of suspense ends when the film ends. The doctor’s story leads back to where they currently are; listening to the doctor’s warning. The film ends with a huge cliff hanger giving the impression that the body snatchers have already spread beyond containment. Thus allowing no hope for human survival.

    While viewing the film, I did have a sense of communistic and conformity from the body snatchers. After discussing in class about how relevant this issue in the film industry was during the red scare, it is clear that Don Siegel was presenting a clear message regarding the red scare and society. This film allows open interpretation of Siegel’s message. Was he creating this film to condemn communism or was the message portraying the fickleness of associates and conditions that led to so many convictions of people in the film industry? Regardless of which message Siegel was attempting to present, the clearest message is “Trust no one for they may be a body snatcher.”

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  5. Lance

    Invasion of the Body Snatchers was an interesting film. I am always interested in seeing how film makers go about making a film on a low budget; especially in the genres of science fiction or horror, as these are the genres that tend to generally have a higher budget due to the need for special effects and costumes. This film proves that you do not always need those costly aspects to generate that feeling of mystery and suspense. Due to the nature of the plot of this film, the “monsters” were simply actors dressed as normal people. No crazy full body costumes or bizarre cosmetic accessories. Yet, once again to the plot of the film, they were still a force to be feared.
    The plot of the film may feel rather cliché for a person who is viewing the film today, but that is because of the fact that this was the film that first did the “Your father, may look and act like your father, but he is fact not your father” storyline that has been repeated multiple times. The actors in the film also performed their roles quite well. They may fall into archetypes, but their performance was still quite solid. The score, on the other hand, was very typical of other films of the time, and I admittedly found myself laughing on more than one occasion.
    Invasion of the Body Snatchers was an amusing film that is a great example as to what is possible, even on a low budget.

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  6. Yui ⋅

    Since this movie is a B-movie, I was expecting it to be cheaper and poorer, but I actually enjoyed watching this movie. The story is simple, yet quite attractive to me and it was well structured overall.

    I liked how the story develops as Dr. Miles has a flashback of what happened to his town in the past few days. I think this method draws more attention from the audience, helps raise the curiosity in the viewer’s mind. It was similar to “Sunset Boulevard”, except this time we hear the story from the guy who is still alive.

    At first, I was going to point out that there should be more extreme close-up shots of eyes of characters, the ones that are invaded by the aliens. Cold and emotionless eyes would effectively evoke fear in the audience. But then I saw the extreme close ups of Becky’s eyes after she was taken over by aliens and it made me change my mind. Since they don’t really have close-up shots of alienated characters up to the point where they show “Becky”, her distinctive trait as an alien is successively portrayed in the scene. Also by showing close ups of Becky and Miles back and forth, Miles’ loss, the fact that he lost the most important person effectively strikes the audience. Therefore, I believe there is a reason for not having a lot of close angles of random characters. (It also could be just because of a financial problem though)

    I could tell a lot of modern movies are based off classic movies like this. After watching this movie, it reminded me of the movie “The Host”.

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  7. Max ⋅

    I had a interesting relation with the body snatcher franchise. When I was a small kid I watched the first remake and the ending scene always has been stuck in my brain. I’ve only seen that movie once, but still can remember it vividly.
    Since that movie had a bad ending I was pleasantly surprised to see that the ending in the original was different. Unlike the other movies that we watched up until now I was finally excited for this one!!
    With many cuts, different camera angles and quick pace I was pulled in rather quickly. This kind of story has been copied many times and I’m not only talking about the remakes. Even children horror stories like goosebumps have adapted stories that were similar like this.
    I realize hope cheap it can be to not have monsters and instead use the same actors as the enemy. I can appreciate that body snatchers did this for its time, but nowadays it would not be acceptable.
    I do like this kind of story telling where it starts out as a mystery and slowly as you understand what’s going on you don’t know who you can trust or not. In a weird way it reminded me of the movie the thing. But of course that movie had way more blood and guts in it

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  8. Adrian D ⋅

    This 1956 movie is a low-budget ($420,000) black and white B-movie. At the time it was received as a thrilling and scary science-fiction film, even though it featured no monsters or scenes of violence. It is regarded as a classic in the science-fiction genre, having been remade 2 times and having influenced countless other movies- the Alien series being a notable example.
    The most interesting aspect of the movie for me is the political interpretation it is open to. I can clearly see people have interpreted it as an anti-Communist piece as the pod people have no individuality and lack emotion.
    Personally, I feel science-fiction movies have the biggest challenge of all genres withstanding the test of time (unless they are telling an exceptional story). Without question movies such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Bladrerunner are the exceptions to the rule. However, by and large the relative standard of special effects and the actual technology used in old sc-fis unfortunately reduce them to comedies as we look back. I would be lying if I said I found the Invasion of the Body Snatchers tense, scary, funny or anything else. However I think it is unfair to judge it by modern standards.

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    • karltuj

      As said in class, I really appreciate your opinion and comments, so you do not have to refrain from them (here, too!). On a personal level I just wish I could find a way during that might enable you to enjoy those kind of screenings a bit more. But it’s maybe a bit like to make someone who likes Hip Hop to enjoy Jazz. There are historically some connections, but the knowledge about those not very likely can change a person’s emotional reaction to those very different musical styles. I hope, however, you may understand what and how I try to teach about American film in this course.

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  9. Marshall

    Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This is the one film, I feel, that found a lovely balance between quality and frugality. It’s almost as if their producers sat down and said, “How do we make a science fiction on a budget?” and one of their mothers bringing cheetos and soda in the basement said, “they’re selling seedpods down at the market today.”-kind of thing.

    Of course the acting wasn’t so horrendous, either. Their dialogue was tailored to fit a glaring ideology present in the shadow of McCarthyism. “I don’t want to live in a world without love or grief or beauty…” – as if the Soviet Union and PRC became mindless zombies after adopting Socialist and Communist values. What a way to get your film into the theaters with the consent of government, while simultaneously alluding to the false imprisonment of filmmakers and artists supposedly in league with Communist devils. Whether or not intentional, the film sailed from 1956 to 2015 into our classroom- that’s a feat.

    Thankfully, the film had less of a monster antagonist force and more of a man vs nature vs man theme. This mysterious force that compels humans to become void of culture and emotion is scary only because the audience has no idea how it is transmitted until the end. But of course, it’s too late and the entire town is fighting one man for their survival.

    Really glad I watched that, but I doubt I’ll watch any of the knock-offs or remakes.

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  10. akems

    Invasion of the body snatchers is produced with a low-budget and categorized as a B-movie, despite of these facts it became one of the most classic sci-fi films of all time. Having 3 remakes of the body snatchers proves how influential it is. This film is relatively short, clear, and precise. I like the fact that every scene is on point and it quickly gets to the core of the horror and mystery of the story. I personally believe that sci-fi movies should not be produced with low budget because it is hard to impress the audience without the scary looking monsters or creatures that look real but not from this world, something that visually betrays the audience in a good way. Watching Invasion of the body snatchers completely changed this belief. I realized that visual effects and expensive make-ups or scary looking creatures could be covered with good story-telling and of course good acting to make you believe that it is all real. I think acting in a sci-fi film is one of the hardest genres because you have to be able to use your imagination and be able to share some kind of fear to the audience. Even though films like body snatchers didn’t fully reveal the whole form of the aliens.

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  11. Sandra ⋅

    The Body Snatchers is an incredibly good and well-made film considering it’s a low budget “B movie”, it’s not hard to see how it inspired the sci-fi genre of today. The creators were incredibly creative with this film and the inexpensive special effects, like the pods, the doubles and the bubbling births of the doubles, were simple enough to look good. However like Michelle said the film was also later remade, three times! However I believe that remakes are better fit for worse films, flops that a great team can turn into gold.

    The story starts at the “end” with Dr. Miles, the main character, screaming in panic and then it returns back in the past. Together with the name “Body Snatchers”, the boy running away from his mother and the girl who is absolutely certain that her uncle is not her uncle the audience can soon get the idea of what’s going, however that does not make it any less exciting. We are introduced to a love interest and later an intense chase begins. The film is not like your everyday monster film, there is more of a human versus human feel, with the maybe a bit cheesy concept of losing our ability to love, actually loosing all out feelings but the protagonist seems mainly to be feeling so he can be passionately in love with this girl… who he unfortunately loses to the aliens. Sad and a bit unexpected ending!

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  12. Reggie ⋅

    Invasion of the Body snatchers was a good movie. I have to hand it to the director of being able to make such a well-made low budget sci-fi movie. The director was able to give off the mood of a sci-fi without relying on a lot of special effects. In my opinion that was ingenuous how he pulled it off. It has a really simple story with some part that is questionable.
    Like the movie starts off with there being these plant like pods and I guess the replicated any human near them. After this they assume their identity and somehow the original people disappear, but later on in the movie it makes it seem as the people minds are taking over when they fall asleep. This made no since to me because if the mind were taking over why would the pobs need to grow into a double?

    That’s the only real part of the movie that confused me. Other than that they added a lot of nice content. I liked the verbal tango the two main characters did as they flirted about through the movie. Though there was a lot of running and hiding, but I guess the same would be true if you were caught In that situation. The story was kinda funny plant spores from outer space… OOOooo.

    Over all it was a decent movie. I would recommend it to others to watch if they wanted to see how old sci-fi movies looked like. Thought I think this one was over simplified with the bubbles for the body replication growth and those huge stiff paper like seed pods, but hey they pulled it off. The story was pretty straight forever with not many twist. The story of the two lovers whom paths across again after fail marriages have returned home and end up reuniting. Only to find that their city it being token over from aliens and not know where to run to get away is pretty much the story. In its defense, at that time though sci-fi weren’t too in-depth story wise anyways.

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  13. Lilou

    Invasion of the Body Snatchers directed by Don Siegel blows other science fiction thriller B-movies out of its category for it’s time, if not for anything but its ability to create drama and suspense on such a low budget. Regarding the story, it is actually quite brilliant; how do we create a science fiction with as much impact as a big budget feature without crazy CGI or special effects? Rely heavily on acting. The performance of Kevin McCarthy, and Dana Wynter greatly improved the impact of the events within the story. We feel empathetic for Mile Binnell who goes from an average physician to alien catcher, pleading for anyone to believe his very unlikely story. We watch the character slowly descend into madness as emotionless aliens start to replace his friends and loved ones. I believe that Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one of my favourite films from this class because of its’ plot devices and cast. As for cinematic elements, however, it did not strike me as anything spectacular compared to other films we’ve watched through the semester. Cinematography was basic, as was the soundtrack and lighting. Thankfully the plot devices and directing make up for what could’ve been improved in the artistic department.

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  14. liannagutz ⋅

    I found this to be creepy and scary in places. Much more so than the original version and the ending is truly chilling. It is more downbeat than the original too as the invaders win in this version. There is a feeling of menace about this film with some tense and creepy moments. The effects are good especially when we see the pods starting to resemble humans. I found the part where Sutherland discovers that Brooke Adams’ character has been taken over scary. The ending is truly chilling or at least it was to me. Although half expected Sutherland is very scary when it becomes obvious that he has been taken over. This is a great ending although very downbeat as it creates the overriding impression that mankind will soon be wiped out. As I said totally different to the original. A good film with excellent performances.

    There is a feeling of foreboding coupled with unease, tension and creepiness throughout which certainly made me feel uneasy. The downbeat ending was also not what I was expecting. Although it wasn’t my favorite film of the class, this movie still intrigued me and is definitely unlike anything I have ever seen before.

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