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They Get You When You Sleep

June 25th, 2010 · 7 Comments

Marquee 5

In the month of June, Joe Valdez “takes over” programming of the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles with a series of double features on his favorite film themes.

Here’s Part 1 of a bill featuring our friends the pod people.

Body Snatchers 1993 poster Body Snatchers dvd

Body Snatchers (1993)
Directed by Abel Ferrara
Screenplay by Stuart Gordon & Dennis Paoli and Nicholas St. John, screen story by Raymond Cistheri and Larry Cohen, based on the novel The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney
Produced by Robert H. Solo
87 minutes

With a mean and lean resume that included Ms. 45, the pilot episode of Crime Story, King of New York and The Bad Lieutenant, director Abel Ferrara was as bold a bet as any to bring a point of view to the third film adaptation of Jack Finney’s 1954 sci-fi novel The Body Snatchers. With Warner Bros. footing a $13 million bill, shooting wrapped in April 1992 … then nothing happened. Invited to the Cannes Film Festival in May 1993, Body Snatchers opened later that year in France and Germany before the studio snuck it into a dozen U.S. theaters in January 1994. According to Ferrara, the film fell victim to new studio management that had no stake in its success. At 87 minutes, it’s easy to imagine outtakes laying in a vault somewhere that might give the movie depth, but with few exceptions, it’s a flat, lazy effort given a shoddy release platform to match.

Body Snatchers isn’t so much a clunker as it just moseys around the block before the driver puts it back in the garage. Making a military base the landing site of the pods this time around, the script ignores what might have been a potent examination of the nuclear family and its meltdown to focus instead on faceless men in uniform who were acting like pods to begin with. Dinner table concerns in Smallville, USA seem as alien to Ferrara as alien beings and not much energy or thought is put into making either of them very compelling.  The makeup effects by the father and son tandem of Thomas & Barney Burman are excellent. There’s also pleasure in watching the shit hit the fan without a single computer generated image, but casting an actor as gifted off-the-cuff as R. Lee Ermey is indicative of how poorly managed this entire project was.

Body Snatchers 1993 title card

When her father Steve Malone (Terry Kinney) is dispatched to a U.S. Army base to inspect chemical and biological weapons containment for the EPA, teenager Marti (Gabrielle Anwar) is welcomed by a wild-eyed infantryman who grabs her in a gas station bathroom and warns “They get you when you sleep” before he disappears. Ill at ease with her stepmother Carol (Meg Tilly), Marti marks time on base befriending a heavy metal girl (Christine Elise). At work, Steve is approached by Captain Collins (Forest Whitaker) head of the base medical corps, who reports patients with extreme delusional fixations in his infirmary. Some of them are afraid to sleep. Marti’s 4-year-old half brother Andy (Reilly Murphy) even bolts his preschool when everyone in his class but him produces the same finger painting.

Retrieving Andy and bringing him home to his sister is chopper pilot Tim Young (Billy Wirth). Before the flyboy and the new girl in town can get better acquainted, Andy walks in on his mom decaying in bed, replaced by an imitation exhibiting zero emotion. Marti is almost replicated by an alien pod sprouting in the attic above her. Steve grabs his children and bolts on foot, despite the growing realization that almost everyone on the base has been replaced by an alien invader. This includes General Platt (R. Lee Ermey) who has trucks loaded with pods bound for army bases all over the country. The survivors attempt to stay awake long enough to do something about it.

Body Snatchers 1993 Gabrielle Anwar

Body Snatchers 1993

Body Snatchers 1993 R. Lee Ermey

Body Snatchers 1993 Terry Kinney

Body Snatchers 1993 Tonea Stewart

Body Snatchers 1993 Gabrielle Anwar Billy Wirth

Body Snatchers 1993 Christine Elise Gabrielle Anwar

Body Snatchers 1993 Gabrielle Anwar

Body Snatchers 1993 Meg Tilly

Body Snatchers 1993 Forest Whitaker

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 170 users: 62% for Body Snatchers

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: Not available

What do you say?

Tags: Aliens · Ambiguous ending · Based on novel · Bathtub scene · Brother/sister relationship · End of the world · Forensic evidence · Military · Paranoia · Remake · Small town · Woman in jeopardy

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mrs. Thuro's Mom // Jun 25, 2010 at 7:29 am

    I haven’t seen the original (1956) version. I saw the Donald Sutherland (1978) version in the theater and really liked it. I haven’t seen the 2007 version. I saw part of this version on TV late one night and was not impressed. It just kind of meanders instead of telling a cohesive (or interesting) story. I wonder how many more versions will be made…

    BTW, Joe, I’m curious about the movie scenes at the top of your blog. I recognize The Big Lebowski, The Blues Brothers, The Fabulous Baker Boys, The Shining, The Warriors, Tron, Rumble Fish, Blade Runner, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). Is that one Dressed to Kill? What are the others?

  • 2 Moviezzz // Jun 25, 2010 at 7:33 am

    I used to love this, thinking it was Abel Ferrara’s best film (and I am NOT a fan of his work).

    I watched it again a few months ago, reminded of it because Anwar is now on BURN NOTICE and, I hate to say it, it wasn’t as good as I remembered.

    I agree with your line “Body Snatchers isn’t so much a clunker as it just moseys around the block before calling it a day.” That is a great way to sum it up.

  • 3 Joe Valdez // Jun 25, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    Monica: The Invasion (2007) has made it onto AMC in edited form, but it was like agreeing to go out with someone suffering from battered wife syndrome. You just feel so sorry for her and hope she can move on. Thanks for commenting!

    p.s. Yes, that’s a screenshot from Dressed To Kill. Some of the others you missed were Dazed and Confused, Leon, Jackie Brown, High Fidelity and Searching For Bobby Fischer.

    Jim: I get Gabrielle Anwar confused with Claire Forlani, who replaced Anwar as It Girl before she in turn was bumped off the list by Piper Perabo. Of the three, Anwar might be primed for a comeback as a regular on a TV show that people are raving about, but yes, Body Snatchers was a poor match of material with a director. Maybe Ferrara should have set the whole thing in the New York underworld. Thanks for commenting!

  • 4 moviezzz // Jun 25, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    HA! Piper has a show starting in July that is being hyped heavily on USA NETWORK, during episodes of BURN NOTICE. Piper plays a CIA agent. It looks like it could work.

    I guess that means Forlani is next to get a show there.

  • 5 Roger // Jun 26, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    Note that Stuart Gordon and his partner Dennis Paoli originally wrote the screenplay. I’m not sure why Gordon didn’t end up with the directing chores (he had health issues and has been involved with more scripts than films, in the ’90s) but this indicates that a very different mindset started this project than the one that ultimately directed it. A Ferrara concept (urban?) directed by Ferrara would have likely been more successful.


  • 6 Yojimbo // Jun 27, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    Always a great series, Joe:

    By the way, I’ve nominated you as a Versatile Blogger. here’s the link:

    Do with it what you will: use it, abuse it or ignore it.

    But thank you for the memories.

  • 7 Joe Valdez // Jun 27, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    Roger: Glancing at the credits without knowing much about the development history of Body Snatchers, Gordon & Paoli were at least the third of four writing teams adapting a book and movies written by many others. I’ve had jobs where I was just going through the motions for the money or the opportunity though and can see that kind of boredom all over the finished film. Thanks for commenting!

    Jim: Thanks so much for the Versatile Blogger medal. If I had a lapel, I would stick it there along with my UIL medal for high school journalism. The awards have been few and far between but I always appreciate your feedback here. Thanks!

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