It’s interesting having viewed the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers after I’ve seen the remake. It’s interesting to see how many beats the remake cribbed from the original, but which executes on them so very differently, with a different emotional payoff.
To be clear, if you’ve seen the remake, then the plot beats are almost exactly the same, with a few differences. Instead of being set in the big city of San Francisco, it’s set in the suburban town of Santa Mira in California. Doctor Miles Bennell (instead of a health inspector of the same name – played here by Kevin McCarthy) returns to the town from a conference by train due an apparent outbreak of mass hysteria, with people believing their friends and family members have been replaced by impostors. Miles initially dismisses this until Miles friends also start experiencing these sensations, and they together find a pod that was set to replace one of them with a duplicate.
I bring this up because while the plot is incredibly similar, the changes in how the film is executed change the tone and themes very differently. The outbreak beginning in the small town of Santa Mira sets the paranoia of the story to being around the tensions and suspicions of small town and suburban life – the pressures to fit in and conform instead of rocking the boat, and how views that are different are frowned upon. This made the film work incredibly well as a dual allegory against (Joe) McCarthy-esque witch hunts (with the Pod People serving as an allegory of the pressure to betray those in the community who don’t share the same beliefs as anyone else, and the pressure to go along to get along), and as an allegory Communist infiltration.
Had the film played with director Don Siegel’s originally planned ending (which would have dropped the framing narrative with Bennell telling his story to a doctor and psychologist in LA), the story would have probably ended on a tone similar to the ending of the remake – a very bleak and nihilistic note.
Seeing the original film and the remake really makes clear just how timeless this story is. The original film played off of conformity in small town America. The first remake played off of a sense of urban isolation. The Abel Ferrara film worked off of the sense of conformity drummed into the military, though that take doesn’t quite work as well to me the other two adaptations. I’m somewhat surprised that no one has done a version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers with a high-school aged perspective, set around school, with the film focusing on the sense of isolation that comes from the clique system in school.
So, if I haven’t made it clear, this film holds up completely, and it and the remake are absolutely worth including in your film collection. Both films tell the same story, but in a sufficiently different way to make it engrossing and a wonderfully creepy film.
The film is available from Amazon.com.