Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) Review

I’ve been anxious to rewatch this since I saw the 1978 remake a long time ago now, and I wasn’t disappointed with what I found. I actually thought, ‘no wonder they wanted to remake this‘, which isn’t common given the era of constant sequels/reboots/remakes we currently live in. But no, this movie was a surprise.

The plot goes that , in a small American town, people are being replaced by replicas of themselves who operate in a hivemind and want to consume the human race. Turing everyone into emotionless, highly efficient duplicates. But when a doctor and his girlfriend uncover the conspiracy, they fight to maintain their humanity and seek to flee the town to warn the world. And it’s all genuinely pretty horrifying.

What normally turns me off about British and American films of this era are honestly a lot of the actors – so many are so clean cut and giving such similar performances, however great they are, that I find it hard to appreciate what they were doing. But here I didn’t mind it so much, mainly because the clean cut actor (Kevin McCarthy) starts off as about stereotypically clean cut as you can get in these movies, only to be dragged through hell so much that he’s a raving lunatic by the end. And I can’t help but feel there’s a nice bit of intentional subversion there in the casting of him, the way the role is written and the performance he gives us. I don’t think the script would have worked as well without him.

The reason I say that is because the film isn’t even ninety minutes long and wants to ask insanely profound, existential questions like what is it to be human, alongside pushing sentiments Cold War fear, and somehow address those ideas in that short window. It almost doesn’t work, but I think the cast (not the script) pull it off. Once the conspiracy in the town is uncovered, the film gets a certain rawness that never quite goes away. Everyone loses their good looks and hair styles. Everyone is sweaty and on edge. The lead doesn’t carry the girl off into the sunset, he collapses in a puddle of mud with her and watches how she turns into the very thing she was trying to escape from. And while I do think the 1978 remake, with it’s extended runtime and tighter script, did all of this better with it’s own great cast, I don’t think that should overshadow that the original is pretty good too. Slap a few minutes, even just ten more, to allow the suspense to build for a tad longer and maybe address those hefty themes a bit better and this would be near as perfect as it’s capable of being.

While not perfect there is definetly stuff to appreciate here, so I would recommend Invasion of the Body Snatchers to sci-fans. Even if you don’t like it, you’ll at least appreciate McCarthy’s cameo in the 1978 film a little bit more, and that’s certainly a good thing.

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