Your Duplicate Will Find A Way…
Four San Francisco residents become aware that when the city’s inhabitants sleep, they are being replaced by their exact duplicate.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) – Official Trailer (HD), ScreamFactoryTV and photos © United Artists
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) – as stressed by the film’s director, Philip Kaufman HERE in the Hollywood Reporter – is not a film remake but
“a new envisioning that was a variation on a theme”.
The original film vision – with the same title – was in black and white, made in 1956 and set in a small American town. These themes were changed to the story unfolding in San Francisco in colour twenty two years later. This review is of the 1978 film which was made at a time when remakes were more a rarity rather than the common occurrence it is now.
The 1978 film was declared as one to watch as “Jeff Goldblum is at his Goldblummiest” by my sci-fi loving, Darlin Husband. Then as if he hadn’t sold it to me then, Goldblum’s co-stars were listed with these star names including Donald Sutherland (which may have inspired Michael Caine’s tousled mop in The Hand (1981)), Brooke Adams, Veronica Cartwright and Leonard Nimoy in a chunky jumper.
Watching this film for the second time I also spotted Art Hindle, a Dallas (1978-91) star who’d played Jeff Faraway, Kristin Shepherd’s blackmailing boyfriend in the soap. Giving my bemused Darlin’ Husband some bonus points (as he gets when he picks a movie with a Dallas star).
So what’s it all about? It all kicks off in those opening credits when some gelatinous alien seeds are seen heading for earth after they are blown from their now dying planet. These seeds end up in San Francisco, where they attach to leaves and then grow pods with wee pink flowers.
A priest on a swing (with a spot the wee cameo from one of Sutherland’s co-stars from The Eagle Has Landed (1976)) not knowing the origins of these flowers, encourages some children to pick them. One of these flowers is picked by Elizabeth Driscoll (Adams). Elizabeth and the kids take these pretty pink flowers home.
On Elizabeth’s return home, her boyfriend, Geoffrey Howell (Art Hindle) is in a good mood. He’s on the amorous side suggesting a weekend away and he’s also excited as the playoffs are on the telly. However, she’s more super inquisitive about this flower from the “rare” hybrid plant she brought home, and she wants to read up on it.
Meanwhile, her Department of Health colleague, Matthew Bennell (Sutherland) is going full tilt Gordon Ramsay in a restaurant kitchen – but he’s significantly less sweary – finding rat poo in the food. He’s so crazy about his job, that he phones Elizabeth waking her up insisting she comes in early to work to run some laboratory tests on it.
The next morning, Geoffrey seems a bit distant. He’s also woken up before Elizabeth, and he is taking the rubbish out to a waiting garbage truck. This seemingly odd behaviour has Elizabeth concerned. They meet at home after work and she notices his odd behaviours continue. Geoffrey is now quite cold and is adamant that he has to go to a meeting. She’s now worried as he tells her he’s given away his prized tickets for a live sports game.
Elizabeth visits the ever jovial Matthew. While she’s there, she tells Matthew of her thoughts about Geoffrey saying she feels Geoffrey’s now acting “weird” and he doesn’t seem himself. Matthew tries (and fails) to make light of her situation. He suggests she speak to his friend, Dr David Kibner (Leonard Nimoy) – a famous psychiatrist and author – to help her work out what’s happening to Geoffrey.
Matthew and Elizabeth then share some fun moments and there’s obviously more than a wee bit of sexual tension between the pair. This worry of indifferent loved ones is echoed by others who tell Matthew about their fears. Elizabeth tells Matthew she’s been following Geoffrey and add she is afraid of his conspiratorial behaviour.
She tells Matthew she witnessed Geoffrey meeting up with others instead of going to work. Matthew is now a wee bit concerned about her mental health, especially with her concerns that the city’s inhabitants seem “different” compared to the day before.
On their way to visit Kibner, a terrified man – cue a well timed and significant cameo from the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) – runs into their car frantically telling the pair that “they’re coming!” and “you’re next”. Minutes later he is chased by a crowd, and then an ominous thud is heard. The pair notice this man has died in an accident with a crowd of people, including a policeman looking at this man’s dead body blankly and without any emotion.
After arriving at Kibner’s – he’s having a party to promote his new book – they bump into Matthew’s friend Jack Bellicec (Jeff Goldblum). Jack thinks David is a hack and goes off on a wee rant about him. Kibner (Leonard Nimoy) – wearing a natty jacket with elbow patches and that chunky jumper – is trying to reassure another woman who believes her husband has been replaced by an imposter.
Elizabeth recognises this woman’s husband as someone who talked to Geoffrey, and she tries to talk to her. Meanwhile, Matthew phones to report the man’s accident to the indifferent police. Kibner puts these women’s fears down to their relationships with their partners and labels them as having some “hallucinatory flu”. Kibner tells Matthew, he’s met with a number of similar cases to Elizabeth, that week alone.
Jack visits his wife, Nancy (Veronica Cartwright) at the mud baths where she works, where one of those wee pink flowers is seen in a glass of water. As Jack relaxes and sleeps, a “body” is formed in a bed, which resembles Jack’s body frame but is covered in downy hair. Then as Jack wakes up, so does the “body” and then it mimics Jack’s actions. This “body” is discovered by Nancy who screams and then becomes a bit hysterical.
Matthew is called upon for advice, and after he examines the body, he is now concerned for the now sleeping Elizabeth. Matthew breaks into her home and sees a sleeping duplicate of her forming in the garden. Matthew then rescues his now awake colleague. The four then escape into the shadows of the dark night, as the city’s inhabitants sleep. As they meet those who are awake, they don’t know who is human and who is an alien.
The story’s macabre plot is built up slowly with wee visual clues, rather than using flashbacks or a montage. Most of these clues are more apparent from the second viewing or are easily recognised if you have more awareness of the plot. This plot is told from the opening credits showing those seeds travel to earth and attract people who take them at face value, as they adapt and are seen as pretty flowers.
Once these flowers are taken home, their pods grow emotionless duplicates which replace the sleeping individuals by the morning. These initial scenes showing the development of these flowers appear to have been made with the minimal CGI add to the chilling plot making it seem a more realistic fear. Later, the “birth” of a pod person is shown using CGI, this sparing use of CGI makes these scenes more dramatic and therefore they make more of an impact.
However on my first viewing, with some of those more relevant points not noted, the film appeared more like a psychological drama. Elizabeth appeared more in need of psychiatric support due to her paranoid fueled talk of conspiracies and then following her boyfriend.
Also due to those concerns after her boyfriend’s possibly offhand behaviour. Her colleague, Matthew also immediately worried about her mental health after her behaviour despite her jokes on her behaviour sounding “crazy”.
These, are in fact, the symptoms of Capgras delusion with her strong beliefs that her partner is a different person, and seems like an imposter. Kibner, a psychiatrist puts her behaviour down to a “hallucinatory flu” with others complaining of the same beliefs. Kibner suggests sleeping these concerns away. Kibner leaving you in doubt of his true identity as a possible duplicate.
Physical horror is added subtly with the use of the pods and the presence of these flowers. We see children picking them and taking them home. This implying that Elizabeth’s story is one of many in San Francisco. Flowers are therefore seen as an ominous sign.
When a flower is seen at the Belliac’s mud baths, this part of the storyline is more horror fueled. This is seen with those scenes with Jack and his wife discovering a half-formed pod person in a cubicle. Then true horror of the flowers and the origins of these “pod” people is seen as Matthew discovers Elizabeth’s sleeping duplicate.
These factors – along with the all-important cameo who screams in panic “they are here” with the emotionless people (duplicates) observed at his death – suggest this has spread throughout the city. During the film, the positioning of camera angles has you experience the plot as our protagonists do. Such as when you view events from the back seat of the car as Elizabeth and Matthew travel to visit Kibner or by following Sutherland in scenes in the city.
The use of sound effects such as the pod peoples screams and the churning of the garbage trucks are also used effectively in this bleak plot. The use of the dark and shadows at the most ominous as our protagonists hope to escape as the others are sleeping has deep undertones, knowing those who wake or are awake may be duplicated. This adding to the sense of paranoia felt throughout the film.
It is also interesting how the differences in these pod people to normal people are displayed, with observing characters both before and after they have been “podded”. Using Geoffrey as an early film example of this with his initially enthusiastic behaviour turning to a more cold and distant character. This is apparent after he’s slept and in his later scenes.
This suggesting he’s been replaced by a duplicate after Elizabeth brings the flower home. As you piece together both the physical and psychological factors in all the scenes from the beginning of the film until my cut off point in the plot, you with a more eclectic view of the circumstances of our characters.
However, ironically this film remake’s plot could describe today’s film remakes. Many remake (or duplicate) films feel like the heart and the soul of the original movie has been taken out. With us left with an empty, and soulless version of the story. But some of the time it’s reportedly very good, like this film which is often praised more than the original movie.
In this climate where more remakes, sequels and reboots appear made than more original themed movies, I urge you to show more of those more laudable original films to your family. This before your child wakes up to a world full of remakes and no one remembers those fabulous original movies. As it seems those Hollywood moguls find a much loved original film, and after pondering for a short time about the merits of a remake, then act on it thinking “You’re next”.
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦 😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10
Hulk Rating: 0/10
This film was added to my and Emma K Wall’s Jeff Goldblum Blogathon 2019. Other films with this cast include Donald Sutherland in Kelly’s Heroes, Murder by Decree, The Eagle Has Landed and Catholic Boys /Heaven Help Us. Leonard Nimoy stars in a Star Trek episode HERE and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Jeff Goldblum stars in The Big Chill, The Tall Guy, Into the Night, Thor Ragnarok and The Fly. Veronica Cartwright starred in Goin South and The Witches of Eastwick.