A Sci-Fi Honey Classic Review by Katie

Body Snatchers (1994)

Jack Finney’s classic sci-fi novel The Body Snatchers has been adapted into no less than four films over the span of six decades, achieving cult status largely through its forays into cinema.  The original premise – in which alien “seeds” drift onto our planet from outer space and create replicas of human beings while they sleep – has been retooled in each subsequent film adaptation to expand to different parts of the United States, with variations on the protagonists involved and even the underlying themes.  The story is remembered for coining the concept of “Pod People,” those who have become emotionless vessels – a term we throw around to describe people who live in conformist housing developments, say, or that guy who sits three cubicles down from you who is inexplicably cheerful on Mondays.  Marred only by a rushed ending, which doesn’t have the memorably shocking impact of its predecessors, Abel Ferrara’s 1993 adaptation Body Snatchers is the edgiest and most visually captivating film version in the series, and deserves greater recognition more than 20 years after its initial release.

The first two adaptations of Finney’s novel, released in 1956 and 1978 as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, are both equally compelling in their own right and each film has something to offer that the other didn’t.  In terms of quality, the first two adaptations are fairly evenly matched, a rating difference of only 2% between them on Rotten Tomatoes(*Note: the 2007 adaptation, The Invasion, will not be discussed here, but rather will be skewered for its sheer awfulness in an upcoming live tweet!)  The 1993 adaptation of Body Snatchers was shaped by a few different minds in bringing it from page to screen: horror genre alums Larry Cohen (It’s Alive, Maniac Cop) and Ferrara collaborator Nicholas St. John (The Driller Killer), as well as Re-Animator scribes Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli all had a hand in different stages of the screenplay.  Coming off the gritty cinematic style of Bad Lieutenant, director Abel Ferrara wasn’t afraid to push the aesthetic boundaries of this adaptation, resulting in a fresh take on the classic story.

Also, the creepiest bathtub scene since A Nightmare on Elm Street
Told from the perspective of a teenager named Marti (Gabrielle Anwar) rather than the science-minded men of the previous two installments, Body Snatchers relocates the epicenter of the invasion from California to a military base in Alabama.  The setting is a perfect and logical extension of the Pod People narrative; because a military regime embraces uniformity and impassiveness, it’s even more difficult to tell when someone is affected by the pods or is simply exhibiting the disposition of a well-trained soldier.  Marti lives in a blended family with her father, stepmother (whom she says “replaced” her mother, wink wink), and kid half-brother.  Marti’s narration of events makes the film seem to come from a more naïve and defenseless place; the first assault on her happens within minutes of the opening credits and exposes the terrifyingly real vulnerability of being a teenaged girl.  As her little brother becomes the first to truly become wary of the changes in the people around him, Marti has to shift into the role of the protector in order to preserve her family.

...and Marti's protector/love interest is Billy Wirth from The Lost Boys.
Lucky Girl!

While Body Snatchers most wildly deviates from its source material compared to other adaptations, it lovingly incorporates some of the most terrifying and memorable aspects of the previous two films.  Marti’s younger brother recalls a similar little boy from the original film who knew that his mommy had been replaced, and no one would listen.  The “shriek-and-point” tactic used by the Pod People when they’ve spotted a non-replica from the 1978 film is repeated here with the same frighteningly jarring effect.  What truly sets this adaptation of Finney’s novel apart from the others, however, is Abel Ferrara’s unique visual approach.  With moody high-contrast lighting and stark shadows, the film is stylized like an old-fashioned noir.  Canted angles and actors speaking directly into camera create a sense of unease, and the perception that these events are happening to us as well as to them.  The famously chilling “you’re next” line from the original film is felt thematically throughout Ferrara’s film without anyone outright saying it (although Meg Tilly, as Marti’s evil Pod-Stepmother, warns “there's no one like you left.”) 

"Stop confusing me with my sister Jennifer!"

As the film progresses it follows a trajectory similar to its predecessors, with the difference that the alien seeds are being shipped to every military base in America, ensuring an even more orderly and systematic implementation of body-snatching pods than previously imagined.  The preceding two films are so famous for the impact of their endings that this one had a lot to live up to, and doesn’t wholly succeed only in that sense (you’re sure to scoff at some shoddy “falling” visual effects, the only thing that makes this film feel dated).  Everything else, however, embodies grossly visceral sci-fi/horror anchored by a great script and an enthusiastic cadre of actors.  Ferrara’s Body Snatchers hasn’t had a major resurgence in popularity amongst the horror community, but it’s an oft-overlooked piece of cinema that is just as worthy – if not more so – than its 1950s and 1970s ancestors.  Dust off your old VHS copy and revisit this modern classic.

Sci-Fi Honey Rating: Four screeching Pod People out of five.  You’re next!