Film Analysis #2 (Invasion of the Body Snatchers)

If there is one film that could truly define science fiction/Horror cinema of the 1950’s, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) would be your choice. The film was directed by Don Siegel, and was a Walter Wagner Production. It starred Kevin McCarthy, as Dr. Miles J. Bennell, and Dana Wynter, as Becky Driscoll. The films plot followed a small-town doctor, who soon discovers that his humble town has been overrun by emotionless zombies. The film was made in black and white. Color was in fact available at that time period, but the black and white effect added an additional sense of gloominess to the film. It also said a lot about what message the film attempted to convey. The people of America will live in a seemingly “black and white” world, with no spark or excitement, if the communists take over.

The film has impressive special effects, considering its relatively low budget cost. Siegel doesn’t try to flash the audience with intense camera work, but gets the job done none the less. He succeeded in telling a productive story regardless of the cost or innovation of the film. Sometimes experimentation can be the wrong route in film-making. Thankfully Siegel did an effective job directing the film without any drastic technical ideals. The music in the film was wonderful as well. The score was done by Carmen Dragon, who added a sense of suspense and thrill with his musical scores.

Themes of the cinema tend to diversify from generation to generation, especially horror films. The 1930’s witnessed the foreign monster film, such as Dracula (1931). This  theme was meant to signify the fear of foreigners, a panic caused by the fright of war time with neighboring countries. The 1960’s dealt with racial conflicts and the Vietnam War. A prime example of this kind of film would be George A. Romero’s Night of the Living dead. A film that dealt with various racial issues (An African-American protagonist), and depicted assorted Vietnam War imagery. Shortly after, came the 1970’s, which dealt with feminism in film, specifically horror films. The notion of the “Final Girl” became popular in the 70’s. The “Final Girl” refers to the last character standing in a particular horror film, which ends up killing the monster, or escaping herself. This method was popularized in films such as, Halloween, Alien, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Horror films of the 80’s dealt with a powerful, “new wave” cultural issue, the fatal disease AIDS. This is where the vampire film revitalized itself. Vampires are meant to suggest a rather sexual nature, drawing blood from their victim’s neck. Being that this particular disease was known to be sexually transmitted, vampires thrived as the cinematic focal point of this genre.

The 1950’s saw a different type of horror film (or science fiction film). Amidst this specific decade the American people feared the idea of communism, and radioactive materials. Both themes are covered in War of the Worlds and various other fifties films, but communism takeover plays a vital role in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The fear of foreigners taking over our way of life is clearly evident in the film, as well as many other daunting themes.  In the film, the townspeople are plagued with an epidemic like no other. When they wake up, they evolve into mindless robots, with the inability to live freely, which happens to be the ideals of the American dream. This is all thanks to certain “pea pods” that hatch new born human beings into the world.

One particular scene, rather lengthy, that truly uncovers the films hidden message was when Becky and Dr. Bennell find themselves in the Dr’s office looking out the window at the townspeople. They look out the window to see a crowded town square. The roads were swarmed with cars, and the sidewalks with people, but it was only seven o’clock in the morning. This seemed unusual to Dr. Bennell. Shortly after, a police car drives around the block, blasting its siren. As is makes its way back around the block, a swarm of people proceed towards the police car. Becky and the Dr. stare in disbelief. Then a truck pulls up, carrying loads of these mysterious “pods.” This portion of the scene, when they stare out the window, is considered to be a long-shot. They watched, from a distance, a police officer direct the mindless townspeople to carry their pods into their cars and drive off. This was meant to signify the demanding personality of communism.

This scene takes place both indoors and outdoors. Although, the outdoor portion of the scene is to have been from the points of view of Bennell and Driscoll. After the cars filled with the pods drive off, a medium close-up of the door knob starts to turn. Bennell hears a familiar voice, and yells “Thank God!” The mentioning of God, at that particular moment, was another slap in the face of Communism. America is predominately a God fearing country, why let communism barge in and interfere with a seemingly American tradition? The power of choice is a powerful notion, and communism would tangle the thought.

As the scene commences, we hear how the pods came about. Shortly after, Becky and Dr. Bennell are politely asked to be content with the situation (just like the mindless drones), and fall asleep, to wake up in a society were everyone is equal. The word “equal” may not be the best word to describe communism, but the townspeople all seemed to have the same identities, which acts as a rather convincing sign of equality.

The entire scene is done during the daytime, and was arguably the most frightening scene of the film. This was odd because more frequently then not, horror films tend to single out night time as there means of terrifying the viewer. I understand that the film fell under the science fiction genre as well, but to have a scene fright an individual so, or at least cause an unsettling effect during the daytime(which the scene undoubtedly succeeded at), was a credit to the film and its contributors..

Invasion of the Body Snatchers was a great film. It “subtly” discussed the impending doom of communism effectively, while still maintaining its cinematic integrity. There were no giant radioactive monsters in this film (as seen in countless other 50’s films). It was just a studio’s “straight forward” opinion concerning the effects of communism.

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2 Comments so far

  1.   Amy Herzog on December 28th, 2010

    I like the way you frame this in terms of a long history of horror/suspense films that respond to the anxieties of a particular era. This is definitely my favorite scene in the film!

    Thanks for a semester of prolific posts– it’s too bad that the experimental films pushed you over the edge, but if they got under your skin enough to pique your curiosity, I don’t think that’s an entirely bad thing 🙂 There are plenty of approaches to short filmmaking that might be more appealing. Glad you enjoyed the Film Forum and Grapes of Wrath, too!

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    Charles Livngston Blog » Film Analysis #2 (Invasion of the Body Snatchers)

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