In 1953, “War of the Worlds” brought American audiences an alien foe that crash landed on Earth, and destroyed every inch of the world before it, before finally being defeated by irony. Don Siegel’s 1956 “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” has managed to garner as much influence, and some argue even more influence, mainly for creating an alien invader that’s so much more personal, private, and perverse. Not to mention so much cleverer than any human can outwit in the long run.
Set in the picturesque town of Santa Mira, Miles Bennell is a doctor who is surprised to learn that most of his ill patients have called in with no real ailments. Despite their insistence that everything is fine, Bennell begins to investigate, especially when a few of his patients begin displaying unusual bouts of paranoia, especially a young patient who refuses to go home to his mother. As Miles rekindles an old romance with his old flame Becky, they’re shocked when his friend Jack and his wife Teddy discover a body in their basement. Seemingly lacking form, fingerprints, and features, they’re horrified when they realize it resembles Jack. When the body mysteriously disappears, Miles, Becky, Jack and Teddy soon realize an invasion has begun in their sleepy town, and even worse, they may be too late to stop it.
The aliens pictured in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” are quiet invaders that outlast its victims by waiting for the prey to fall asleep. When the human victim inevitably falls in to unconsciousness, the alien being takes everything but that little bit of life that makes the human being a being. Siegel’s film manages to explore the scientific and metaphysical aspects of the pod people that we see, exploring how they’re discernable from actual humans due to the little extra something that makes us who we are. There’s no real visitation of the spiritual in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” but there is the intimation that perhaps there’s a something in us that the aliens can’t quite duplicate. Something that is very deep within our humanity. When character Wilma is expressing her distress about her uncle Ira not being the exact person she always knew, she stresses that his emotions toward her are missing something that’s indefinable.
“Invasion of the Body Snatchers” works like a nightmare where Siegel pictures the alien invaders as being the people we live next door to. They look like us, dress like us, and walk like us, but they’re definitely not us. The 1956 masterpiece approaches overtones of McCarthyism and ideas about the paranoia communism, and it’s managed to be re-invented almost every decade standing as a template for whatever underlying fear or sense of hysteria America is enduring. “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is a subtly directed and beautifully lensed film that pictures the serene every day town of Santa Mera, and as the discovery of the pod people unravels, the film becomes darker, presenting bold shades of black and stark grays.
What seems very Rockwellian at first soon becomes a fragmented picture of a world infiltrated by a being that’s nothing but a distortion of what we are and can be. The aliens that invade the world have already made up their minds about us, and when we leave Dr. Bennell, there’s no surefire guarantee he’s saved the world. There’s only the uphill battle of fighting a foe that’s snuck in to the very essence of Americana, promising a new sense of hysteria among the masses. “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is still the quintessential science fiction horror film, and still remains a stark statement about how easily corrupting forces can bend civilization to its will.
The new edition from Olive’s Signature Collection comes with two audio commentaries. The first features film historian Richard Harlan Smith, who discusses in great detail the production history of the film, the political climate it emerged from, and much more. The second commentary is a vintage one with actor Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, and director Joe Dante. It’s a fun commentary with talks about technical information, the conception of the movie, as well Don Segel’s experiences with the cast. This is one for the fans. “The Stranger in Your Lover’s Eyes” is a two part visual essay with the son of director Don Siegel, Kristoffer Tabori, who reads his book “A Siegel Film.” Most of the excerpt involves the making of the movie.
“The Fear is Real” is a new program with directors Larry Cohen and Joe Dante recalling their first experiences with “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” the film’s unique qualities, the lasting impact it had on movie lovers and filmmakers, and the original novel. “I No Longer Belong: The Rise and Fall of Walter Wagner” is a segment with film scholar and author Matthew Wanger who discusses the life and odd career of Walter Wanger who gave “Invasion” the green light. “Sleep No More: Invasion of the Body Snatchers Revisited” is a vintage featurette focusing on the production history, and the historical significance along with clips from the film and interviews with the cast, including fans like John Landis and Mick Garris. “The Fear and the Fiction” is another vintage featurette with archival interviews with Kevin McCarthy, co-screenwriter Stuart Gordon, John Landis, cultural historian Leo Brandy, Don Siegel’s assistant Stuart Kaminsky, and Dana Wynters, respectively.
There’s an archival interview from 1985 with Kevin McCarthy, who discusses his contribution to “Invasion.” There’s the multi-segmented “Return to Santa Mira” featurette focusing on the locations where major segments of the film occur. “What’s In a Name?” is a short archival video piece about the title of the movie and the changes made to get it right. There’s a large gallery of rare vintage documents about the production history, an Essay by Kier-La Janisse’s “At First Glance Everything Looked The Same: Identity Crisis in Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Finally there’s the original theatrical trailer, and a full color six page booklet with a printed version of Kier-La Janisse’s essay along with vintage stills.