A horror thriller from the 1950s, Invasion of the Body Snatchers takes a classic American small town and turns it into the site of an insidious alien invasion. One by one, family and neighbors in this tight-knit community are replaced with alien duplicates–they are physically identical, but lack the spark that makes someone human. The last survivors, two people newly in love, must learn to be completely paranoid and trust no one; otherwise they will never escape being transformed themselves.
The film starts small, exploring everyday life in a small town. But little things seem a bit off: a popular nightclub sits empty, and a young woman is afraid she is going crazy because she is absolutely certain that her uncle is an impostor. And this is the fear that drives the film: you can’t quite explain it, but you just know something is terribly wrong. At first only a few are affected, but something has been loosed and the townsfolk slowly turn against our heroes, who must flee–not from a ‘bug-eyed’ monster–but from their closest friends and neighbors.
The film explores the theme of paranoia so well that it seems every generation is able to read its own fears and conspiracy theories into the storyline. Produced during the height of Senator McCarthy’s infamous witch hunts against alleged Communists, the film was no doubt influenced by the times, but both director Don Siegel and star Kevin McCarthy denied that there were any intentional references–they were just out to make a great thriller.
A typical ‘B’ movie of the era, Invasion of the Body Snatchers had a budget of approximately $400,000 and ran a tight 80 minutes. Director Don Siegel stated that the special effects budget was only $15,000: for creating the plant-like alien seed pods (made out of paper), and to create plaster body casts of the actors used in the disturbing effects which reveal how the pods duplicate their human subjects.
The film features actress Carolyn Jones, who went on to play Morticia in the 60s TV series, The Addams Family. Over two decades later, both lead actor Kevin McCarthy and director Don Siegel had cameo appearances in the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
The film was well received in its day–it earned over one million dollars during its first month of release—and it has only grown in popularity and critical acclaim since, spawning no less than three remakes and appearing in countless ‘best of’ lists, including the AFI’s list of the top ten science fiction films. It was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1994.