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January 10, 1979 - Image 5

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Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1979-01-10

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The Michigan Daily-Wednesday, January 10, 1979-Page 5

Horror

becomes art in

'Bodysnatchers'

By CHRISTOPHER POTTER
I sometimes wonder why Hollywood's
powers-that-be so regularly get it into
their heads to pour millions into a mod
remake of some memorable film of the
past. Presumably, the money-in-the-
bank lure of lightning striking twice is
too much to resist. Yet one would think
the unique hazards inherent in such
projects would be all too obvious to such
a dollar-worshipping industry as
American moviedom.
Any act of revising an earlier film
implies that a general and long-
standing veneration of an established
cinema icon exists. If the original was
so successful, why would anyone want
to run the very dubious risk of attem-
pting either to duplicate or to improve
upon it? How many millions of viewers
fond, even sacred memories would one
risk offending?
Resultantly, most remakes get hung
up in a nether-zone between implied
reverence for the past and strident
grasps to cash in on the present. In
recent years we've been subjected to
numerous misguided updates of film
classics like Goodbye, Mr. Chips and
The Informer. Two Christmases ago we
were racked with the dual disasters of
A Star is Born and King Kong. And the
less said about our current nostalgia
usurper, The Wiz, the better.
IN A STRANGE duality, the remake
people exhibit both a grave-robber
timidity (regurgitating others'
material) and a slightly looney
audacity (considering most remakes'
frighteningly dismal box office
history). The chronic pitfalls in such
projects turn especially acute when one
tackles an acknowledged specialty
product, as with the current Invasion of
the Body Snatchers.
I Updated from a low-budget but ex-
traordinary 1956 film, Body Snathers'
heritage rests so firmly in the horror-
sci-fi genre that the mainstream
moviegoer would likely recoil im-
mediately from the movie's grade-B
kitsch title, while cultists would con-
versely feel mortified at the revisionist
tampering with a deity. Faced with this
dual hotbed of potential public aver-
sion, the new Body Snatchers' sole path
to success would seem to lie in the
unlikely possibility that it just might
turn out to be the best horror film ever
made.
WELL, AGAINST all stated odds,
that seems to be precisely what has
been accomplished. Invasion of the
Body Snatchers is not only the most
fully realized product of the horror
genre I have ever seen, it is also quite
likely the best American film of 1978 -
and I say this as one who dearly loved
the original version. Even more than its
predecessor, the current film transcen-
ds the inherent limitations of the horror
movie to present a spellbinding portrait
of a society psychically imploding,
reducing itself to an emotional common
denominator with an inexorable,
terrifying efficiency.
Body Snatchers remains quite faith-
ful in essence to the Don Siegel original
of two decades before: Its plot is unner-
vingly simple: Mysterious, life-bearing
seeds, drifting through space from a
dead world, descend unobserved upon
San Francisco. Once landed, they take
root in the form of sinister red flowers;

soon they blossom into large pods
hatch into human duplicate bod
each ready to physically
psychologically pre-empt any nea
earthling counterpart. The aliens ci
upon their victims while they sly
draw the life out of them thre
strange, wispy tendrils, then emeri
perfect twin from their own pods w
the original human body crumble
dust.
THE NEW humanoids neither I
nor hate. Brainy but emotionless, t
act with the cold, single-min
necessity of infiltrating t.
eliminating the human race as swi
and efficiently as possible.
The pod peoples' trump card is s
tness and surprise, their strategy
replace as many prominent citizen

plications far beyond the limitations of
genre. Siegel's original version effec-
tively served as a parable for McCar-
thyist conformity of the 1950's; Kauf-
man and Richter have masterfully
adapted and expanded that theme into
the look-out-for-number-one 70's, indic-
ting an entire sociological structure
rather than just a narrow political for-
ce.
The film took a calculated risk in
switching locales from the small rural
town of the original to San Francisco,
but the natural unwieldiness of the big
city turns out to provide Kaufman and
company a wellspring for flights of
imaginative fancy. The choice of towns
is ironically apt: San Francisco, haven
to the eccentric, the twisted, the free
spirit, falls first victim to the kingdom

11

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Brooke Adams and Donald Sutherland ponder one of the innocuous-looking (but deadly) pods that eventually transform
everyone in San Francisco into a mindless inhuman, in a scene from "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers."

"I1t

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-qqqmftm

the city as they can. Thus, if some ear-
thling should come to suspect what's
afoot, the invaders will already have
snared the reigns of power.
Against this pitiless, almost invisible
enemy is a tiny band of humans headed
by a middle-level city health inspector
named Matthew (Donald Sutherland).
Confronted by his distraught assistant
Elizabeth (Brooke Adams), who claims
that her live-in boyfriend is literally not
the same person, the first incredulous
Matthew soon begins to comprehend
the inconceivable - that some horror is
indeed transforming and erasing all
that is familiar and good around him.
Matthew thus joins forces with
Elizabeth and a young married couple
(Jeff Goldblum and Veronica Car-
twright), and plunges into a desperate
race against time to unmask the aliens
before they have subjugated the city,
then the entire world.
THIS IMPROBABLE plot could have
beckoned invitations to innumerable
horror flick cliches. Instead, director
Phil Kaufman and screenwriter W.D.
Richter have concocted an
astonishingly coherent, literate and
terrifying film complete with im-

V{
of the zombies.
Body Snatchers is a paranoic's
nightmare. Michael Chapman's subtly
brilliant photography captures less
than human faces looming on the
fringes of scenes again and again.
Everyone who's ever been beset by the
feeling that people were staring at them
on the street will find harrowing vin-
dication of their worst fears, as Chap-
man's camera slowly pans past throngs
of urban crowds gazing back with set,
staring countenances. Are they human
or alien? Who is there left to trust?
THE FILM rivets its images in the
mind, from an opening shot of a rain-
drop on a leaf expanding into a
malignant growth, to a scene near the
end of a group of bubbling, laughing
Canadian school children alighting

from their tourist bus while their stolid,
alien hosts leer carnivorously down at
them. The prevailing menace is
heightened throughout by an extraor-
dinary musical score by jazz composer
Denny Zeitlin, whose throbbing elec-
tronic themes pulse like mutations on
the inside of one's skull.
The film's performances are light
years ahead of the minimally
developed stick figures of most horror
movies. Donald Sutherland makes a
marvelously believable protagonist - a
decent but fallible everyman who can
be duped by those around him and also
be scared out of his wits by the
prevailing circumstances. Brooke
Adams radiates intelligence and
resourcefullness as Elizabeth, and
combines these with such a hear-
tbreaking loveliness that one feels an
obsession to shield her from the

demons.
LEONARD NIMOY is superb in the
role of a trendy best-selling psychiatrist
of the Wayne Dyer variety, giving a
performance so smirkily incisive that
one forgets all about Mr. Spock within
seconds. But best of all are Veronica
Cartwright and Jeff Goldblum as
Sutherland's young married friends.
Throughout the desperate struggle,
both give off such a fierce, almost
ballet-like energy that they ultimately
become a living symbol of resistance to
everything the aliens represent.
The film's loving debt to the original
Body Snatchers is always apparent, a
fact which sets it notably apart from
the usual run of crudely mercenary
remakes.
Original star Kevin McCarthy makes
a brief appearance, recapitulating a
famous hysterical scene which was
meant to be the climax of Don Siegel's
picture; Siegel himself shows up later
on as a sinister cab driver. As such, this
is almost more a sequel than a remake:
the body snatchers tried and failed
twenty years ago - now they're back
again. Do we still possess the drive, the
will - the simple humanity to resist
them? Invasion of the Body Snatchers

1 ' e e ,e. J Alt
50 < p '
a 1a 8Q
100A
~ON

probes the question with a passionate
excellence that is matched by few
motion pictures genre or otherwise. If
your courage allows, don't miss this
one.
MWOMMOMU

1 a,11
1G

Join The

,

Daily

Business

Staff

ANN ARBOR CIVIC THEATRE presents
The Good Person of szec/iwan
by
Bertholt Brecht
Jan. 10--13
Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre
$3.00 Special Student Rate. Wed. & Thurs. only CURTAIN 8 PM

AUDITONS for The Fantasticks
Wednesday, January 10, 1979 and
Thursday, January 11, 1979
Come either night at 7:30 P.M.
at CANTERBURY LOFT
332 SOUTH STATE STREET, second floor
Please come to the auditions prepared with a song. Show runs March 14
through 17 at Canterbury Loft.

Join the Arts staff!
ANN ARBOR-A horrible epidemic of startling proportions is
sweeping the city, brought into Ann Arbor by a shipment of unusual,
small red flower pods delivered last week to area florists (see story
above). The plants snare sleepers at night, transforming them into
another of the countless unthinking, unopinionated "pods" with blank
faces one sees on the streets.
But one can fight the invasion, by writing for the Michigan Daily arts
page. As a member of the Arts staff you will broaden your knowledge of
the arts, meet many friendly non-pods, and can receive all sorts of
freebies, such as tickets to events and records.
We'll be holding a meeting for all who want to be on the staff, this
Sunday afternoon at 4:30. Hurry and join the staff, before they get you
too.

Studying
got you
down

Take a
break

r'p

(IVEJITY CMUSICAL OCIETY
presentg
OO6

A Guide to the Campus of
The University of Michigan
The first official guidebook to those unique and historic buildings
which mark a campus rich in tradition. Handsomely illustrated with
photographs and a new aerial map of the campus, the guide is de-
signed to enhance visits to the Ann Arbor campus of the University
of Michigan and will prove invaluable to alumni as well as students
and their families.
paperbound $3.95
THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN PRESS
P.O. Box 1104 Ann Arbor, Michigan 48106
Send me copy(ies) of A Guide to the Campus of The University of
Michigan @ $3.95 per copy. Payment is enclosed.
Name

I0

gm

'o

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