An “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” for the feminist era, novelist Ira Levin’s horror science fiction thriller is an ode to the fear of feminism, the unwelcome reception it received by old fashioned men who grew up in a society predominantly ruled by subservient women and a bit of a paranoid fantasy that takes the best of feminism and matches it with the male ego that ultimately attempts to snuff out the girl power movement enacted by women after the sixties and take it in to an era where women were soon relegated to tools and props as status symbols for men unwilling to submit to a woman who was well spoken, intelligent, and always anxious to give their men hell for making decisions that they didn’t approve with. Sure it’s an anti-male diatribe, but so what? “The Stepford Wives” original as directed by Bryan Forbes is a reflection on a society that wants to have it both ways.
The women insist that men should adjust to the free wheeling metropolitan go getters they would soon become but are incapable of meeting them halfway, while the men in Forbes’ film are just anxious for a submissive sex tool that they can flash at parties and gatherings without a squabble. And deep down some of us would like that mate of ours to be reduced to nothing more than attending to our needs, and Levin’s film adaptation strikes that chord that reaches down in to the viewers inner conscious and asks if they would replace their loved one for a copy for the sake of living their own vision of the perfect life.
Grim and brutally disturbing in its ways, “The Stepford Wives” is also a forecast of what feminism would become; an ideology based around viewing the male figure as nothing more than a menace threatening the tide of change in female roles in society based around a few people who still have the classic picture of the woman as the house wife and sexual mate. It’s a wonderful forecaster of things to come, but also one that relies on slow boiled dread and steady pacing that keeps us guessing the entire way. Are these Stepford wives mentally repaired individuals? Are they aliens and or monsters that have made a pact with the opposite sex residing in Stepford? Or are these women robots? Do we only view women as robots, asks Levin? The unenlightened (maybe even the enlightened) male would dare to respond with a hesitant “yes,” but Levin is sadly never willing to look in to the deeper meaning of the question and if some men would want a stronger mate in their lives. That’s one of the few downfalls of Forbes’ 1975 horror thriller (that works concurrently as a dark comedy).
Levin’s film can either be viewed as a sardonic commentary about society’s anxiety toward equal rights for women, or as a paranoid fantasy by a woman who hated all men and would cause a ripple in the movement where equality became more about tipping the scales in favor of women everywhere. Katharine Ross is absolutely fantastic as the house wife whose husband isn’t quite set on letting her branch out on her photography career and become a more dominant bread winner, and her journey ends with an idyllic America some want, and others crave.
Now more than ever, “The Stepford Wives” bears a deep reasoning towards women’s liberation. Overall, It’s an excellent statement about men’s refusal to accept women’s lib in the seventies and an awfully creepy parable about the lengths some people will through to restore the status quo. The introduction of the African American couple now residents in the neighborhood is a brilliantly subtle look at a new contender for Stepford. The indistinct arguing between the rebellious African American wife and her frustrated husband in the closing credits presents great foreshadowing of things to come. The closing credits montage, however, is the right sickly comedic capper that sells this as a classic dark horror film with an understated intellect. What makes this a horror film is not the decimation of the powerful woman, but the consideration that some people would actually take part in a program for their own Stepford wives.