“Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956) – With hair sprayed across his brow, his clothes soaked in sweat and a wild look in his eyes, Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) desperately tries to explain his plight to a handful of doctors and police.
“Will you tell these fools I’m not crazy? I’m not insane,” he screams.
He certainly resembles a man who just escaped from a mental hospital, but Dr. Bennell begs to tell his story, in Don Siegel’s (“Dirty Harry” (1971), “The Shootist” (1976)) landmark science fiction picture that still delivers shocks and brings chills…62 years after its theatrical release.
Siegel’s film is the ultimate tale of paranoia with a silent alien-invasion twist, but before Dr. Bennell was twisted into knots, his life was in flawless order. This mild-mannered general practitioner returns to little Santa Mira, California from a two-week conference, and his nurse (Jean Willes) picks him up and drives him to the office. Sally (Willes) says that he’s been flooded with calls over the past few days.
Strangely, while Dr. Bennell spends his first day back, his patients cancel their appointments, and throughout the day, he hears a few stories about Santa Mira residents – including his friend Wilma (Virginia Christine) – explaining that their loved ones are not their loved ones.
“There’s no difference you can actually see. There’s something missing,” Wilma says about her uncle. “The special look in his eye. It’s gone.”
Soon, Dr. Bennell, his old girlfriend Becky (Dana Wynter) and Jack and Teddy Belicec (King Donovan, Carolyn Jones) piece together the other-worldly mystery, and Siegel and writer Daniel Mainwaring do a remarkable job of building suspense even though their movie’s title completely gives away the point of the film.
For the audience, it’s ghoulishly fun to watch the main players slowly discover the truth, while Siegel delivers eerie moments in the living rooms and basements of perfectly-manicured suburban houses. The conspiracy – naturally – looms larger than inside random homes on various streets, including some disturbing flash mobs that rattle our cages.
We also receive a wonderful descent into justifiable madness by McCarthy, as he delivers two absolutely iconic, sci-fi moments: one in a cave and another on a freeway.
Well, if you haven’t yet caught this necessary page of 1950’s pulp, don’t drive by this Halloween season without invading your local streaming service for a look.
Image credits: Allied Artists Pictures; Trailer credits: YouTube Movies