Last night I made the mistake of watching a Region 2 Bluray of Phil Kaufman‘s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (’78). People turning into emotionless seed-pod versions of themselves in Don Siegel‘s 1956 original was a perfect metaphor for 1950s conformity, but the idea doesn’t fit into the liberal culture of late ’70s San Francisco. There was social pressure to submit to the human potential movement, of course, but that was all about open emotionality and uninhibited sexuality and not stiff, robotic behavior. So many scenes are poorly (i.e., woodenly) acted. Kaufman’s idea of naturalism is for people to talk at each other; no one seems to listen to what anyone else is saying. And all the effort put into icky-gooey pod makeup and prosthetic models and special FX realism is for naught — it’s boring. The film generates a creepy noirish feeling in the third act, aided by Michael Chapman‘s shadowy photography, but the only aspect that got my full attention is the fact that Telluride Film Festival director Tom Luddy has a significant (if dialogue-free) cameo as a pod person. (Siegel and original Body Snatchers star Kevin McCarthy also appear briefly.) I was also reminded that San Francisco culture was one hell of a traumatic thing in late ’78 — the mass suicide of the followers of San Francisco-based Jim Jones in Guyana on 11.18.78, the murder of San Francisco’s openly gay supervisor Harvey Milk on 11.27.78, and the opening of Kaufman’s film on 12.20.78.
Youngish Tom Luddy in one of many scenes in which he appears in Phil Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers.