Shock/Cinema Cult, Rated M, 80 minutes. (Flashback DVD Review)
The original 1956 grandpappy of the ‘pod people’ sci-fi/horror subgenre, this beloved, film-noir-esque cult classic was directed by Don Siegel (before his collaborations with Clint Eastwood including Dirty Harry) and drawn from Jack Finney’s 1954 novel, and yes, it still holds up today. Much has been made about its arguable subtexts concerning McCarthyism and ‘Reds Under The Beds’, and they’re certainly there if you want to catch them, or you could instead read this nowadays as a contemporary study of the depersonalising nature of modern life, full of the kind of disquieting paranoid ideas that later led to George Romero’s watershed masterwork Night Of The Living Dead (1968) and beyond.
In a wraparound sequence imposed by the studio and hated by Siegel, we meet Californian doctor Miles Bennell (character actor Kevin McCarthy in his greatest role), who relates his story, and how he recently treated a number of patients in his nearby home town of Santa Mira for what he thought was Capgras delusion – a belief that your nearest and dearest have been replaced by imposters. Catching up with his ex-girlfriend Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter), who’s in town after her divorce (a touch that might have been surprising in the ‘50s), Miles of course discovers that alien pods are replicating the locals and turning them into emotionless doubles, and there’s still, all these years later, considerable scariness when we see the first unnatural duplication take place.
Soon Miles and Becky are on the run and only realising their abiding love for each other too late, and we conclude (almost) with one of the most celebrated sequences in all 1950s cinema: the “YOU’RE NEXT!!!” bit.
For any fool who thinks that this is too dated to view in the cold light of today, there’s also Philip Kaufman’s very cool 1978 remake, Abel Ferrara’s weak 1993 version (simply called Body Snatchers), Oliver Hirschbiegel’s severely compromised 2007 rehash (simply called The Invasion), the underseen Assimilate from this year, and so many redos and rip-offs that listing them all is just about impossible.
The term ‘pod people’ still crops up in conversation too, especially when we talk about the government, and with good reason. “YOU’RE NEXT!!!” indeed.