What’s your favorite remake? It’s a hard question. After all, remakes are often touchy subjects, and just as often, the ones that provide diminishing returns too often drive the conversation.
But, for fans of sci-fi horror, the answer to that question may come a little easier — and with an extra helping of body horror. In 1978, a movie came along that took a popular 1956 film and remade the narrative into something fueled by the paranoia of one decade ending, and another about to begin.
Written by W.D. Richter, and directed by Phillip Kaufman, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a remake of the 1956 film of the same name. At the time of its arrival, remakes were not as common as they are today, and Kaufman’s film set a new standard by having a distinct voice and style that set it apart from the original film. It also didn’t hurt that it featured a stellar cast of actors who were already genre icons or would shortly become so: Donald Sutherland, Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, and Brooke Adams.
The film centers on the arrival of an alien species that latches onto plant life, forming small pods that have a strange effect on people’s behavior. When scientist Elizabeth Driscoll’s boyfriend begins acting strangely after she brings alien-infected flowers home, she turns to her friend and colleague Matthew Bennell for help. Bennell and his colleagues discover it's not just behavior that’s changing, but the physiology of the people themselves. These “flowers” are duplicating humans, copying their memories while they sleep, and killing the originals as a result.
What follows is a tension-filled night of escalating paranoia and body horror as the group seeks refuge as the town becomes overrun by pod people wishing to assimilate any human they encounter. Revealing much more would get into spoiler territory, and this is a film with twists and haunting images best experienced in the moment.
The Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake, like the 1956 film on which it’s based, can easily be seen as a political metaphor, and a look at two different generations caught in the Cold War. And for modern audiences, there’s certainly something to be said about the fear of who might be right next door to you, or who your friends really are in these politically charged times where the discovery of a red hat is just as terrifying as a pod person.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers is essential viewing that offers more than schlock and shock. Anchored by great performances, and the kind of bold, progressive filmmaking so often associated with the 1970s, the film challenges the notions of what remakes can achieve. And for those prone to becoming overly dismissive when the next remake is announced, it’s worth remembering Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and films like The Thing, The Fly, and The Blob that followed in its wake.
Ironically enough, Body Snatchers showed that remakes can be about more than duplication. Indeed, improving on an original work shouldn’t be such an alien concept after all.