Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Arrow’s latest release and one of the highlights of the year’s home release calendar is 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It comes with the embarrassment of extra footage, interviews, and making-of videos. The Blu-ray also features a characteristic effort to bring the film into the 21st century with a stunning HD presentation. The most immediate aspect of the package and another defining facet of the Arrow Video experience is the box art. Although the merits of art are the most subjective and open of all critical fields, I believe Nathanael Marsh’s work to be the year’s best, usurping previous favourite Time Bandits.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a ‘say what you see’ title if ever there was one. It’s also a sci-fi and horror archetype that can be found in an inordinate number of genre films, two recent examples of which are Slither and The World’s End. For the select few of you unfamiliar with this archetype it goes like this. Alien pores descend to Earth taking over all life, systematically replacing everyone with an emotionless imitation of all human life. ‘Pod People’ is a term that affectionately used when discussing ‘Body Snatchers. As far as plot and character are concerned, this invasion focuses on San Francisco and Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright & Leonard Nimoy as they fight in what small ways they can.

Like Planet of the Apes, Philip Kaufman’s film is infamous for its final image. Spoiler culture has made it so that if you know how something ends people will neglect to watch any of it at all, for those people the important thing to consider when watching Invasion of the Body Snatchers is the impact of the journey over the destination. Advice which suits ‘Body Snatchers to perfection, the whole film acts as a cat and mouse chase, relentlessly ratcheting up the tension with the release finally coming with that iconic final image.

‘Body Snatchers may not be a classically scary film, but that doesn’t make it any less of an effective horror/sci-fi. Paranoia is one of the basest human emotions making it obvious material for a film like this, nevertheless, the fact that the invaders look exactly the same as unaffected human’s plays up the whole trust issue. The pressure that these people are put under is extreme to the point where they cannot fall to sleep for the fear of being taken over. Which is the other aspect of the horror; if you fall to sleep a replicated version will quickly sprout up from the ground and when the process is complete the original will cave in on itself. Making sleep such a colossal enemy works on a level where few horror films dare tread. Then there is the manifestation of the process, which is right out of the Cronenberg School of body horror, all practical effects and twisted.  Admittedly, the dog face mutation is just plain silly, otherwise though this is horror on solid foundations.

Despite operating on a primal level, that is not the greatest feat in Kaufman’s work; the true successes can be found in the DNA of the film-making process. Cinematography through the lens of Scorsese collaborator (Taxi Driver & Raging Bull) Michael Chapman is vivid and the pace is played to perfection. There is no one scene or image in the entire 115 minute running time that feels flabby or superfluous, every last frame says something about the story, develops a character or further compounds the terrifying omnipotent threat. A success that is aided by Chapman’s cinematography of Charles Rosen’s production design and Doug Von Koss’s Set Work, together with Kaufmann’s direction all the elements are pulling together to create a triumph.

Discussing each Arrow video release in any great detail seems like a redundant exercise, especially when they are all of a prodigious class. Like every other release, this year Invasion of the Body Snatchers is an incredibly accomplished HD release of one of the all-time great sci-fi/horrors and one of the enduring examples of a great remake. If you like either horror or sci-fi cinema this is as close to a must-buy as you are going to get this year, simple as that.

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