Body Snatchers

Year: 1993
Production Co: Dorset Productions
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: Abel Ferrara
Writer: Stuart Gordon/Raymond Cistheri/Larry Cohen
Cast: Gabrielle Anwar, Meg Tilly, R Lee Ermey, Terry Kinney, Billy Wirth, Christine Elise, Forest Whitaker

Now here's one of the most enduring stories in horror. First bought to life by director Don Siegel and writer Daniel Mainwaring in 1956 from a magazine fiction series, it's been remade three more times in the years since, with a fourth in the works as I write this review.

While many people cite Philip Kaufman's 1978 attempt starring Donald Sutherland as the most worthy successor, this later attempt by Abel Ferrara (Bad Lietenant) takes a very cinematic stab at it.

Heroine Marti (Gabrielle Anwar, who was huge for a hot minute in early nineties movies) comes with her family to live on a military base where her chemist father is working, and she couldn't think of anything worse. If it's not her annoying kid brother Andy (Reilly Murphy), it's her ambivalence about Carol (Meg Tilly) her stepmother since her Dad Steve (Terry Kinney) married her after their mother's death.

But there turns out to be some bright spots. One is the base commander's wild child daughter Jenn (Christine Elise), with whom Marti becomes fast friends. The other is hunky helicopter pilot Tim (Billy Wirth) who seems to have Marti in his heavy lidded sights.

More people around the base start acting strangely and Marti is only mildly concerned (when we know she should be terrified). More and more dead-eyed soldiers are fishing strange pods the size of suitcases out of the lake in the middle of the night, and a range of people from Andy's kindergarten teacher to their own stepmother become Stepford-like in their calm and emotionlessness.

The proverbial hits the fan when Steve makes to leave. He knows there's something his superiors aren't telling him about the strange happenings in the base lab. Carol begins urging him not to leave, and it becomes not only the second act turn, it's one of the most effective scenes in the genre. Tilly standing in her nightgown, voice calm like she's trying to reason with Steve as she asks him 'where you gonna go? where you gonna hide?' is a horror movie performance for the ages.

Terry grabs Marti and Andy and they hightail it. But the script by Stuart Gordon (of Reanimator and Robot Jox fame) is smart about what makes a great body snatchers movie. Carol follows them onto the verandah as they pile into a jeep, raises her finger to point, and as the camera zooms in, she emits the horrific howl introduced in the 1978 courtesy of Donald Sutherland that alerts the nearby mobs about humans they haven't captured.

Considering it was made in 1993 Body Snatchers could have been very ropey, but there's only one dodgy effect in it (a single scene of one miscoloured plate superimposed over another). Despite it, and even though it can't really hide its age in some of the scenes and imagery, it's got some very strong ideas and a lot of confidence in executing them.

There's plenty of errant angles and inventive visual camerawork, all of it combining with a dark, throaty soundtrack to build the pervading sense of paranoia and mistrust that's very much a cornerstone of any body snatchers mythology.

And despite the age of the lead, neither Ferrara nor the script are interested in a teen thriller. There's one scene in particular where Anwar really does something special, and where she's seemed like a stereotypical all-American girl until then she's suddenly all grown up – slinky, svelte and snakelike.

Still, even though the quality in the rest of the film overshadows them there are one or two missteps. One is that after launcing us over the highest dive of the roller coaster with Tilly's iconic scream, Body Snatchers is a bit too in love with the motif – it uses it a few more times to the point it kind of loses its power.

Forest Whitaker also shows up as an army medic and even though he's only in a few scenes he's at the top of the Forest Whitaker overkill spectrum, throwing it out for those way in the back of the theatre. But all in all Body Snatchers still stands tall after so many years.

© 2011-2023 Filmism.net. Site design and programming by psipublishinganddesign.com | adambraimbridge.com | humaan.com.au