Plot: Miles (Kevin McCarthy) has been forced to leave a convention early, as his patients back at home are having some serious issues. He took the proper precautions to ensure his practice would be well managed in his absence, but his patients refuse to consult with other doctors, hence his return. Some of his patients claim that their loved ones simply aren’t themselves, a situation they’re confused by, but remain resolute that some kind of changes have taken place. Miles advises them to ask questions only their loved ones would know, but they insist the answers are given, despite obvious clues that this is no longer the person they know and love. As confused as Miles is by this turn of events, he finds some solace in his old flame Becky (Dana Wynter), though she is also hearing stories of people not being themselves. When Miles’ close friends reveal that they have found an odd, plant-like version of one of themselves that was hidden, which is when Miles begins to believe the claims. But are people being replaced and if so, what kind of force is behind these strange events?
Entertainment Value: A true genre classic, Invasion of the Body Snatchers has been updated multiple times and influenced countless other shows and films, but the original still packs a potent punch. The movie is a razor sharp, pitch black take on 50s Americana and social conformity, with some obvious political and social messages weaved in, with fear of communism as one that is frequently highlighted. While the movie does indeed spark some interesting social and political barbs, it also just plain entertains and works well as a blend of sci/fi and horror elements. Invasion of the Body Snatchers has a low budget, b movie texture, but it doesn’t dampen the atmosphere or mood of the material, nor the dark humor that edges in. The visuals are masterful and while the production values are simple, the movie never feels low rent, so director Don Siegel avoids b movie pitfalls with skilled direction. Even so, it will be of interest to 50s b movie fans, as it fits in that genre well, even if it is more polished and well crafted than most its peers, without question. I also think it is impressive that the movie relies on atmosphere and the cast to convey the scarier elements of the material, as there’s no real violence or more typical horror ingredients. I think Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a genuine classic, a movie that has held up well and remains well worth a look, despite some interesting remakes that have popped up over the years.
One reason this movie is able to shake off its low budget roots is the cast, which is filled with talent and the performers turn in terrific efforts here. Some are a little dialed up, but it all works well and never feels too over the top. Kevin McCarthy has the lead and really shines when his character gives in to the panic, as he is so desperate and manic, just a wild, memorable performance. He handles the more restrained, dramatic scenes with ease as well, but it is those unhinged sequences that really stand out and his outbursts would be legendary in his later roles. King Donovan also has a terrific role in this one and it is also fun to see Carolyn Jones, best known as Morticia Addams, given a good sized part to work with. While the prominent roles are played with great skill, even the smaller, supporting roles stand out as rock solid, so from top to bottom this is a great ensemble. The cast of Invasion of the Body Snatchers also includes Dana Wynter, Larry Gates, and in a small role, Sam Peckinpah.
The Disc: Olive Films has revisited this one in a new Signature edition, which includes a new pass on the visual treatment that is a slight upgrade over the previous Blu-ray, which should please fans. I wouldn’t call it a significant step up over Olive’s first disc, but it is a little sharper and more refined. And this is likely the best the movie will look unless a new scan and restoration are undertaken. A wealth of supplements can be found here as well, including two audio commentary tracks, one with film historian Richard Harland Smith and the second with stars Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter, as well as filmmaker Joe Dante. I found both tracks to be solid, but the actors are able to provide first hand accounts of the production, which to me is much more valuable than archival research. You can also browse four featurettes on the film’s production and cultural impact, a look at the movie’s locations, a piece on the title sequence, and an additional interview with McCarthy. The extras are rounded out by still photos and the film’s trailer.