Blog Lagoon’s 31 Days of Halloween, Day 11: “KEEP WATCHING THE SKIES!” Body-Snatcher Movies

Jack Finney’s classic cold-war sci-fi story has begat multiple adaptations, “inspired-bys,” and out ‘n out rip-offs. Here are some of the most noteworthy.

All the popular kids at transfer, James Mardsen’s, new high school belong to a parent and school-board sanctioned club called “the blue ribbons.” Mardsen, a paranoid alterna-kid, an albino(!) and hardass outsider, Katie Holmes, know things aren’t what they seem when the BRs begin to successfully recruit the punks and druggies who, overnight, turn into clean-cut letter-sweater-wearin’, A-students with deadly sex-drives, nasty tempers and a taste for frozen yogurt and Wayne Newton.  The Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets Scooby-Doo plot is appropriately far-fetched, over-the-top and riddled with plot holes, but there are plenty of interesting twists and some legit suspense to make this one of the better post-Scream teen-horror cash-ins. By the time we reach the big finale in a (woefully managed) psycho sanitarium, any remaining logic has been tossed aside for a few cheap shocks – including an impressive Clockwork Orange-style brain scrubbing – and a couple of decent laughs.

Brooke Adams, Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum and Leonard Nimoy all star in this, the second crack at Jack Finney’s classic cold-war sci-fi story. Though drenched in dreary 70s atmospherics and self-serious in a way that makes this all far less fun that it probably should be, there’s no denying the chills provided by the sharp script and daring (for the era) effects. (Dig that human faced dog.) Sutherland’s final-scene howl still sends shivers down the Gill Man’s spine.

( 1998 )
The Faculty, from Dawson‘s Creek/Scream/I Know What You Did Last Summer-writer, Kevin Williamson, is the one Robert Rodriguez movie that feels nothing at all like a Robert Rodriguez movie. A very standard teen horror story covers a lot of the same territory as that same year’s Disturbing Behavior –but has its own goofy approach to the same material via shape-shifting sci-fi aliens. These alien soul-snatchers make quick work of the titular teacher’s-lounge lizards at Elijah Wood and Josh Hartnett’s High School, turning them into malevolent (and hella’ thirsty) PTAers bent on world domination. But who’s the host for these toxic teachers and how can they be stopped? Inspired casting includes Bebe Neuwirth, Salma Hayek, Piper Laurie, Robert Patrick and Jon Stewart as members of the infected faculty. Annoying online critic, Harry Knowles, has a few annoying cameos. Stewart gets stabbed in the eye in an appreciated gore gag. That the school’s drug dealer is the movie’s hero is fun, as is the fact that ultimately it’s drug abuse that saves the world. The last half hour is an exercise in big-budget overkill and the flick’s flippant approach undermines any true horror or suspense — but there are plenty of fun performances and effects-heavy frivolity to make this a worthy watch.
** ½

Abel Ferrara’s take on the oft-mined pod-people story uses a military base for its backdrop and army brat, Gabrielle Anwar, as its heroine. R. Lee Ermy is the base commander and Forest Whitaker is a medical officer who knows something is up. Meg Tilly as Anwar’s step mom is suitably creepy as one of the earliest snatched characters. Ferrara’s got plenty of experience with building tension and it’s put to decent use here. However, there are a few too many cat and mouse chases and it’s not nearly as fun to see military grunts drained of their personalities – and let’s be honest, Anwar is no Kevin McCarthy. We’re pleased she was persuaded to doff her top for one of the big metamorphosis scenes and appreciate the pod-person howl, a hold-over from the 70s adaptation. Though it offers its fair share of uneasy moments, there’s not enough characterization in BS to justify its humorless melodrama.

Even though every decade seems to offer its own version of Jack Finney’s original story (some decades offer several) nothing tops the Cold War-inspired dread and confusion of the first adaptation. Kevin McCarthy attempts to out smart, out think and out run the pod people who have infiltrated his community, replacing friends and neighbors with cold and unfeeling though impeccable physical facsimiles. The entire who-can-you-trust plot takes some surprising sharp turns and the impending doom of a world gone alien (read: communist) keeps viewers clinging to McCarthy as a singular source of humanity and reason. When he takes to the streets in the finale’ warning to “keep watching the skies!” you’re left devastated by the realization that there is no escaping and the whole nightmarish war has left the last man standing with little to live for. IotBS is a classic for a reason and stands as a rare example (like Psycho) of an old-school shocker that’s every bit as engrossing and shocking today.

In the fourth(!) adaptation of Jack Finney’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers Nicole Kidman is a psychiatrist uncovering the truth about a hostile alien takeover in the form of intergalactic bacteria. The Invasion functions more like a remake of the 1956 sci-fi classic (albeit with lead character sex role reversal) than as an adaptation with new stuff to offer. That said — it works. It’s the body snatcher plot we all know — alien’s infiltrate human society by replacing us with amazingly detailed dupes that would be hard to spot if they weren’t cold and emotionally lacking. The opening, which presents us with the mysterious crash landing of one of our space shuttles, is effectively shocking and realistic. Some of the story staples — watching them watching us — are creepy as hell and Kidman gives pro-thesp cred to some wobbly plotting (post-production reshooting and editing shows, sadly). Daniel Craig is mostly wasted as her (not-quite-a) love interest. Fans of 1978′s IotBS will recognize Veronica Cartwright who is great as one of Kidman’s patients, confused and unnerved by her “different” husband. While nicely paced and sufficiently tense, the final few minutes smack of last-minute re-shoots, re-edits and/or faulty audience test screening. It’s a huge cop-out and a disastrous disappointment to those of us who had been enjoying the ride up until then. Incidentally, these pod people don’t really come from pods — instead they puke on you and then…um… metamorph you when you fall asleep. Nice! The Invasion is a solid entry in the sub-sub genre of “body snatcher” remakes, in spite of a lousy ending.

"You're next!"

RIP Kevin McCarthy 1914-2010

~ by Number5ive on October 19, 2010.

2 Responses to “Blog Lagoon’s 31 Days of Halloween, Day 11: “KEEP WATCHING THE SKIES!” Body-Snatcher Movies”

  1. […] and editing shows, sadly). Daniel Craig is mostly wasted as her (not-quite-a) love interest.’ Blog Lagoon […]

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