Opening with a tremendous sensory sequence on a far-off planet in which alien spores drift on “solar winds” towards Earth, Kaufman’s outstanding adaptation of Jack Finney’s 1955 source text has the laudable patience to flesh out its central characters before the extraterrestrial effluent really hits the fan. When Brooke Adams’ San Francisco health official Elizabeth notices a change in her dentist boyfriend, her colleague Matthew (Donald Sutherland) tries his best to set her mind at ease. People act strangely for all manner of reasons, and it’s not as if Geoffrey (Art Hindle) is the most communicative. It’s only when more of the city’s inhabitants start behaving strangely, however, that the parasitic invading force is exposed.
That’s not to say that Kaufman is in any way premature in revealing his horrifying hand, with the true, doppelgänger-dosed terror of it all only fully realised towards the film’s frightening finale. Rather, we’re afforded plenty of time to acquaint ourselves with Elizabeth and Matthew, two sharply intelligent individuals who tragically fall upon the answer to their chilling conundrum too late to prevent the inevitable. Just as Romero’s mall-based zombie horde in Dawn of the Dead (also coincidentally released in ’78) embodied a people sleepwalking their way towards brainless consumerism, Invasion of the Body Snatchers pulls at the seams of seventies society, critiquing both evolving familial frameworks and a quickly dissipating sense of community within America’s cities.
Commonly held up as a rebuttal to the ever-popular “remakes are bad” line of argument, Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers – much like its shape-shifting alien antagonists – emulates and even improves upon the original article, culminating in a far darker work than even Romero himself may confess to have made during his long career. Iconic for the otherworldly ‘scream and point’ perfected by Earth’s new overlords, there’s even room for the blackest of comedy courtesy of Jeff Goldblum’s writer-poet Jack Bellicec. In once scene, after expressing bemusement towards his wife Nancy’s theory that the extraterrestrial threat may stem from “space flowers”, she asks “Why do we always expect metal ships?” “I’ve never expected metal ships,” comes his defiant, deadpan response.
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