Remakes, other than comic book movies, are just about the most common thing you can find at the cinema these days. But the practice of taking a new crack at a beloved film was a lot less common in the 1970s.
And yet, as the world was being introduced to Star Wars, the franchise that would alter the trajectory of movie making forever, there was an ever-relevant remake produced for a deeply beloved classic B movie of the 1950s: Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
The original Body Snatchers has a great Red Scare vibe to it. It's set in a small town where a tight-knit community turns from safe to terrifying on a paranoid dime. Of course, it's not the Russians anyone has to be afraid of: It's aliens. Plant aliens, to be exact. And not ones with giant flower faces and green, leafy bodies, either. These are aliens that can make themselves look just like us. They can look just like you.
In 1956, that was an idea perfectly suited to the times, but also, as a concept, it's timeless. The notion of not being able to trust the person lying in bed next to you for reasons you can't quite articulate is always going to be scary. With that in mind, a remake was inevitable.
In 1978 the inevitable happened. Director Philip Kaufman and writer W.D. Richter scripted a new Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This time they left behind the small-town anxiety in favor of a big city: San Francisco. San Francisco gets used more than you'd think as a sci-fi setting, but the franchise it's mostly connected with is the usually utopian Star Trek. San Francisco is where Starfleet is based. But this is a very different take on the City by the Bay.
In the late 1970s, there were new, non-Red-Scare things to be frightened of. The first Legionnaire's disease was reported. New York had a now-famous 24-hour blackout plunging the city into chaos. Elvis died.
Mostly, though, we were just living in a larger, more interconnected world. There'd been a decade of revolution. There was less religion and more divorce. The Carter administration was desperately trying to quell fears of an economic malaise. Things were stressful!
All of which made Invasion of the Body Snatchers a perfect movie for 1978. And the only time that might be more perfect is right here, right now. We're in an era of nonstop sociopolitical chaos with the built-in technological capability of social media that rewards us for staying plugged in no matter how sad, angry, and afraid we become.
With that in mind, on the second episode of Every Day Horror's 13 Days of Halloween podcast, I sat down with author of The Company of Death, Elisa Hansen, and co-host of The Apocalist Book Club, Antonella Inserra, to talk about apocalyptic paranoia in an age where mankind kneels in worship of the mighty algorithm.
On our next episode, we take those feelings of paranoia and isolation to their most self-destructive and alienating place when Dan Olsen and Crystal Donovan join 13 Days of Halloween to discuss Alex Garland's 2018 masterpiece, Annihilation.