Directed By: Philip Kaufman
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum
Tag line: "You'll Never Close Your Eyes Again"
Trivia: While rehearsing Kevin McCarthy's cameo, a naked homeless person recognized him and said "The first one was better"
Don Siegel’s black & white classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one of the best sci-fi / horror films of the 1950s, and of all the remakes that have been produced over the years (the most recent take on the story, The Invasion, was released in 2007), the best is easily director Philip Kaufman’s 1978 version.
Spores from a distant planet have landed in San Francisco, attaching themselves to plants and trees and blooming into beautiful flowers. Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams), who works for the city’s Health Department, picks one of these flowers on her way home and shows it to her boyfriend, Geoffrey (Art Hindle). The next morning, Elizabeth senses there’s something different about Geoffrey, who’s more subdued, more emotionally distant than he was the night before. Concerned, she goes to her boss, Matthew (Donald Sutherland), for advice, and he suggests she talk to renowned psychiatrist Dr. David Kibner (Leonard Nimoy), who he knows personally. David tells them he’s been receiving similar complaints from many of his patients, husbands and wives who claim their spouses have suddenly changed, and are not the same people they married. He chalks the whole thing up to mass hysteria, but Matthew and Elizabeth slowly realize something more sinister is at play. Aided by good friends Jack Bellicec (Jeff Goldblum) and his wife Nancy (Veronica Cartwright), they search for answers, hoping to uncover the reason why so many people are changing. But is there anyone left they can really trust?
First and foremost, ‘78s Invasion of the Body Snatchers has a superb cast. Sutherland initially plays Matthew as a bit of a prick, a health inspector who's a real pain in the ass (when we first meet him, he’s accusing a fine French restaurant of allowing rat shit to get into the food), though he does lighten up as the story progresses. Brooke Adams makes for a good victim, a woman pushed to the brink of insanity by the craziness all around her. Jeff Goldblum is…well, Jeff Goldblum, which means he’s always interesting, and Leonard Nimoy is a caring new age psychiatrist, a far cry (at the outset, anyway) from Star Trek’s Mr. Spock. And you gotta love Kevin McCarthy’s brief appearance in the film (one of my all-time favorite cameos), replaying the classic finale from the 1956 version by running through the streets, banging on car windows and shouting “They’re coming”.
Yet what really makes this particular Invasion of the Body Snatchers so unique is Philip Kaufman’s direction, notably his decision to shoot the movie as if everything was slightly off-kilter. In an early scene, Elizabeth and Geoffrey are in their upstairs bedroom talking about the flower she just brought home. Oddly enough, we’re not in the room with them as they do so; Kaufman instead sets his camera up at the end of the hall, peering into the bedroom from a distance away. As you’d expect, we don’t see much of the conversation (Brooke Adams’ leg does come into view at one point when she sits down). This is the first of many scenes that are a bit askew, effectively creating a tense, unsettling mood while also cluing us in on the fact that things are about to get very, very strange.
With its excellent cast and the stylish direction of Philip Kaufman, 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a rarity: a successful update of a classic film that feels like a completely original motion picture.