Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a 1978 American science fiction horror film directed by Philip Kaufman and starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Veronica Cartwright, Jeff Goldblum and Leonard Nimoy.
Released on 22 December 1978, it is a remake of the 1956 film of the same name, which is based on the 1955 novel The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney.
The plot involves a San Francisco health inspector and his colleague who discover that humans are being replaced by alien duplicates; each is a perfect copy of the person replaced, only devoid of human emotion.
The Body Snatchers TV series and film collection.
A race of gelatinous creatures, having abandoned their dying planet and traveled to Earth, land in San Francisco. They infiltrate Earth’s ecosystem, latching onto plantlife and taking the form of small pods with fragrant pink flowers. Elizabeth Driscoll, a laboratory scientist at the San Francisco Health Department, brings one of the flowers home, where she lives with her boyfriend Geoffrey. Leaving the flower on their bedside table, she awakens the next morning to discover Geoffrey now behaving strangely cold and distant.
Elizabeth’s colleague, Matthew Bennell, advises her to visit his psychiatrist friend David Kibner, who is holding a book-signing party to promote his new self-help book. As Elizabeth and Matthew drive to the bookstore, a hysterical man warns them of danger and shouts “They’re coming! You’ll be next!” before being chased away by a mob of people and then hit by a car. The mob watch his death without any emotion. At the bookstore, Elizabeth asks Kibner for help regarding Geoffrey, but he theorizes that Elizabeth is simply using the belief that Geoffrey is behaving differently as an excuse to end their relationship. Despite other people complaining of similar scenarios, she takes his advice. Meanwhile, Matthew’s friend Jack Bellicec calls Matthew to investigate when a grotesque body covered in fibres which resembles Jack is found in his wife Nancy’s mud baths. Sensing danger with these odd occurrences, Matthew goes to Elizabeth to warn her. After breaking into her house, he finds Elizabeth in a deep sleep but also discovers a semi-formed duplicate of her in the bedroom. Suspecting Geoffrey’s involvement, Matthew takes Elizabeth home with him, but when he returns later with the police, the duplicate body is gone.
The following night, Matthew and his friends are nearly duplicated as they sleep, by four pods in Matthew’s garden. The aliens gestate inside the pods which grow to around three feet (about 1 metre) in length before breaking open and spawning a human duplicate that grows rapidly. The pods duplicate any humans while they are sleeping in the immediate vicinity, copying not just their physical characteristics but their memories too. Once the duplication is complete, the original human dies and disintegrates and the alien “pod person” takes their place. Matthew calls the police, but realizes that the department has been infiltrated. They have also begun tracking him through the phone lines, alerting others to the group’s location. Matthew destroys his own semi-formed duplicate before escaping with the others, pursued by the aliens who emit a shrill scream when they discover a human being among them, drawing other aliens nearby. Cornered at a dead end road, Jack and Nancy break away and create a distraction, allowing Matthew and Elizabeth to hide and eventually escape back into the city. There, the pair takes refuge in the health department, where they each ingest a large dose of Speed, keeping them awake for several more hours. Again tracked through the phone lines, they are soon captured by Jack and Kibner, who have been duplicated. Matthew and Elizabeth are both injected with sedatives whilst being informed of the aliens’ intentions for survivability, though their previous dose of Speed enables them to escape and kill Jack’s duplicate whilst locking Kibner in a refrigerated room.
Matthew and Elizabeth reunite with Nancy, who has learnt to evade the aliens by hiding her emotions and blending in with them. The two follow her example, but their cover is blown when Elizabeth screams at the sight of a mutant dog with a human head. They separate from Nancy amid the chaos and quickly board a truck en route to Pier 70, where the aliens are cultivating more pods and intending to ship them to other widely populated cities. While Matthew scouts the area in an attempt to flee aboard a vacant ship, Elizabeth falls asleep and is duplicated. Matthew returns and is horrified as her body disintegrates in his arms. Pursued by the duplicate Elizabeth, he breaks into the docks’ warehouse and burns down the building, destroying hundreds of pods. He flees and hides under a bridge, exhausted, as the aliens try to find him.
The next morning, Matthew returns to work at the health department and witnesses several schoolchildren being taken for duplication, while more pods are being prepared for the remaining West Coast cities.
As he heads towards City Hall, he encounters Nancy, who quietly approaches him and attempts a hushed conversation. To her horror, he points at her and emits an earsplitting shriek, having been replaced by the pods himself.
- Donald Sutherland as Matthew Bennell.
- Brooke Adams as Elizabeth Driscoll.
- Leonard Nimoy as Dr. David Kibner.
- Jeff Goldblum as Jack Bellicec.
- Veronica Cartwright as Nancy Bellicec.
- Art Hindle as Dr. Geoffrey Howell.
- Lelia Goldoni as Katherine Hendley.
- Kevin McCarthy as Running Man.
- McCarthy starred in the original 1956 version as Dr. Miles Bennell.
- Don Siegel as Taxi Driver.
- Siegel was director of the 1956 film version.
- Tom Luddy as Ted Hendley.
- Jerry Walter as Restaurant Owner, Henri.
- Robert Duvall as Priest on a swing.
- Philip Kaufman (the film’s director) as the man wearing a hat who bothers Dr. Matthew Bennell in a phone booth; also the voice of one of the officials whom Bennell contacts.
- Rose Kaufman (wife of Philip Kaufman) as the woman who argues with Jack at the book party.
- Joe Bellan as Harry, the busker.
Director Philip Kaufman had been a fan of the 1956 film, which he likened to “great radio”, although he had not read the novel until after he agreed to direct the remake. “I thought, ‘Well this doesn’t have to be a remake as such. It can be a new envisioning that was a variation on a theme,’ he said on the film’s 40th anniversary. The first change he anticipated was filming in color; the second was changing the location to San Francisco. “Could it happen in the city I love the most? The city with the most advanced, progressive therapies, politics and so forth? What would happen in a place like that if the pods landed there and that element of ‘poddiness’ was spread?”
Cinematographer Michael Chapman worked with Kaufman to try to capture the film noir feel of the original in color, reviewing some classics of that genre before production. Some of the things they borrowed were scenes with light giving way to shadow and shooting from unusual angles. They used certain color tinges to indicate that some characters were now pod people. “When they’re running along the Embarcadero and the huge shadows appear first, those are sort of classic film noir images”, the director said.
Sound editor Ben Burtt, who had helped create many of the signature sounds from Star Wars the year before, also added to the film’s ambience. Natural sounds that mix with the city’s more industrial noises give way to just the latter as the film progresses. Among them are the grinding noises of garbage trucks, a common urban sound that slowly becomes horrific as it becomes clear that most of what they are processing is the discarded husks that remain of pre-pod human bodies. Burtt also designed the iconic shriek when pod people see a surviving human, a sound Kaufman said was composed of many elements, including a pig’s squeal.
All the special effects were created live for the camera. The scene at the beginning where the pods travel through space from their dead homeworld to San Francisco was one of the simplest. “I found some viscous material in an art store, I think we paid $12 for a big vat of it, and then [we dropped it] into solutions and reversed the film”, Kaufman recalled. The dog with the banjo player’s face, another effective moment later in the film, included a mechanism whereby the creature appeared to lick itself.
The film features a number of cameo appearances. Kevin McCarthy, who played Dr. Miles Bennell in the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, makes a brief appearance as an old man frantically screaming “They’re coming!” to passing cars on the street. Though not playing the same character, Kaufman meant McCarthy’s cameo as a nod to the original movie, as if he had been “metaphorically” running around the country since the original film shouting out his warnings. While they were filming the scene, in the Tenderloin, Kaufman recalls that a naked man lying on the street awoke and recognized McCarthy. After learning that they were filming the remake of the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, he told McCarthy that that film was better. “We were in the middle of shooting the film and we got our first review!”
The original film’s director, Don Siegel, appears as a taxi driver who alerts the police to Matthew and Elizabeth’s attempt to flee the city. Robert Duvall (see Trivia below) is also seen briefly as a silent priest sitting on a swing set in the opening scene. Kaufman appears in dual roles both as a man wearing a hat who bothers Sutherland’s character in a phone booth, and the voice of one of the officials Sutherland’s character speaks to on the phone. His wife, Rose Kaufman, has a small role at the book party as the woman who argues with Jeff Goldblum’s character. Chapman appears twice as a janitor in the health department.
McCarthy and Siegel played a role in shaping the film’s twist ending. Before filming, Kaufman had sought out Siegel for advice, and while the two were talking in the latter’s office, McCarthy happened to come in. The topic eventually came around to the original film’s ending, which they regarded as “pat”. After coming up with the ending he used, he kept it a secret from everyone involved in the filming except screenwriter W.D. Richter and producer Robert Solo. Sutherland was only informed of the scene the night before shooting; Kaufman is not sure Cartwright even knew until Sutherland turned around to point and shriek at her. The studio executives only learned of it when a cut was screened for them at George Lucas’s house.
The film score by Denny Zeitlin was released on Perseverance Records; it is the only film score Zeitlin has composed. Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead recorded the banjo parts.
Kaufman said of the casting of Nimoy, “Leonard had got typecast and this [film] was an attempt to break him out of that,” referring to the similar quirks that Dr. Kibner and his pod double had in common with Spock, the Star Trek character that Nimoy was most well known for. According to Kaufman, it was Mike Medavoy, then head of production at United Artists, who suggested the casting of Donald Sutherland. Sutherland’s character had a similar curly hairstyle as that of another character he portrayed in Don’t Look Now (1973). “They would have to set his hair with pink rollers every day”, recalled co-star Veronica Cartwright. According to Zeitlin, Sutherland’s character was originally written as an “avocational jazz player” early in development.
The director encouraged his actors to fill the spaces between dialogue with facial expressions. “Often people on the set or at the studio are so worried about just getting content, and content is not necessarily going to make the scene full of humanity or feel compassion and amusement and humor”, Kaufman told The Hollywood Reporter. He particularly singled out the way Adams rolls her eyes in opposite directions while she and Sutherland have dinner as something that a pod person could and would never do.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers premiered in the United States on 22 December 1978, showing on 445 screens nationally. Between its premiere and 25 December, the film had earned a total of $1,298,129 in box office sales. It would go on to gross a total of nearly $25 million in the US.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) has been named among the greatest film remakes ever made, by several publications, including Rolling Stone.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers was released on DVD in the US, Australia and many European countries. The film was released on Blu-ray Disc in the US in 2010 and in the UK in 2013 by MGM Home Entertainment. Then released once more on Blu-ray by Shout! Factory in the US and Canada in 2016. This release contains a 2K scan of the interpositive.
- Released in the United States over the Christmas weekend 1978, Invasion of the Body Snatchers grossed nearly $25 million at the American box office.
- It initially received varied reviews from critics, though its critical reception has significantly improved in subsequent years, receiving a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and also being hailed as one of the greatest remakes ever as well as one of the best science-fiction horror films of all time.
- In the director’s commentary on the DVD release, Kaufman states that Duvall, who had worked with him in The Great Northfield, Minnesota Raid, happened to be in San Francisco at the time of filming and did the scene for free.
- Kaufman states that Duvall’s character is the first “pod person” to be seen in the film.
- He was reportedly paid with an Eddie Bauer coat.
Production & Filming Details
- Director(s): Philip Kaufman.
- Producer(s): Robert H. Solo.
- Writer(s): W.D. Richter.
- Music: Denny Zeitlin.
- Cinematography: Michael Chapman.
- Editor(s): Douglas Stewart.
- Production: Solofilm.
- Distributor(s): United Artists.
- Release Date: 22 December 1978.
- Running Time: 115 minutes.
- Rating: 15.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.