A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that there are multiple versions and remakes of this movie on video, of which this original edition is the tamest. Others amped up the action, nudity/sexual content, and disturbing visuals considerably. This one might have received even a G rating under the early MPAA.
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What's the story?
In the small California town of Santa Mira, local doctor Miles (Kevin McCarthy) returns home from a medical convention to hear of a strange hysteria sweeping the neighborhood. Certain children and adults are claiming that their parents or relatives are imposters, perfect in every physical detail, but just not the same. Then a friend of Miles' finds a strange male body -- not living, but not exactly "dead" either -- in his house. The unidentified, nondescript man, they notice, has no fingerprints. The thing disappears when the witnesses try to alert local police. In a few days, the same people who complained about the imposters tell Miles that they imagined it all, and everything is back to "normal." But not for Miles and his longtime platonic girlfriend Becky (Dana Wynter), who have seen giant seed pods disgorging human replicas in a greenhouse, and realize that this is an alien invasion and people are being replaced by emotionless duplicates. And it's spreading. Who can Miles and Becky trust, and who in the outside world will believe them?
Is it any good?
The original INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS is fairly atypical for a science-fiction/horror movie -- in that the idea underneath the material is a lot scarier than anything you see. In fact, laden with dialogue (that makes it feel longer than its brief running time), the movie might bore younger viewers -- or even grownups -- expecting more standard shock material. It's no surprise, really, that later talented filmmakers remade this multiple times, adding their own angles and twists (and more explicit content). Seen today, the 1956 film seems a bit stodgy and talky, and studio interference took much of the sting out of the ending. Still, horror-sci-fi fans speak of it with reverence.
The film studio never intended Invasion of the Body Snatchers to be a prestige production -- hence its short running time, designed for bargain-priced double features. Furthermore, executives insisted on adding an awkward prologue and epilogue in which Miles tells his strange story to authorities, to end the flick on an audience-pleasing positive note. Director Don Siegel would have preferred to finish with nobody listening to the hero's terrified warnings. Nonetheless, generations have come to embrace this flawed film as a classic, reading in messages galore about the dangers of social conformity in the Cold War era. Some have claimed it's about McCarthyism (would they have made that dubious association if the leading man's last name were different?). Others insist it's about communism, and the attitude in 1950s America that enemy infiltrators, who look just like you and me, could take over by stealth.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the "message" in the film, which is often described as a warning against 1950s conformity and "McCarthyism." Do you think this is what the movie is trying to convey? Or is it more of an allegory about communist infiltration -- the complete opposite? Or is it likely the filmmakers didn't intend any deep message, and critics have just read their own interpretations into a groundbreaking creature-feature? If kids have seen the many different versions (and imitations) of Invasion of the Body Snatchers you can ask them which they liked best, and why, and perhaps turn them onto the original Jack Finney novel.
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