It's easy for film nerds to get all worked up over lazy sequels, or insipid blockbusters, or Americanized adaptations of foreign films. But particularly reprehensible is the idea of a remake, be it Gus Van Sant's unasked for Psycho (1998), Peter Jackson's orgiastic King Kong (2005), or just about any horror film of the past few years, from 2003's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to 2004's Dawn of the Dead. But perhaps no film has been forcibly resurrected as often as 1956's Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which was remade in 1978, 1993, and just last week, with The Invasion, starring an embarrassed Nicole Kidman.
Since it's so easy to be down on remakes, it's tempting to forget that very occasionally, they can actually improve on their originals. Such is the case with 1978's Body Snatchers, which is the recipient of a recent two-disc DVD re-release, boasting a sharp picture, director commentary, and a few solid featurettes. Moody, witty, and relentlessly cynical, Philip Kaufman's '78 version is also that all-too-rare thing: genuinely creepy.
Released in the midst of hippies' death throes and yuppies' birth pangs, the '78 version strikes a singular tone of utterly justified paranoia, with the film's sci-fi/thriller vibe hitting on both uniquely '70s issues (hugs make everything better!) and still-relevant fears (the government—still scary). All of this, though, gets in the way: The important thing is that 1978's Body Snatchers is still a whole lot of fun.
Two decades later, it's easy to note the film's idiosyncrasies (Look how young Jeff Goldblum is! Donald Sutherland used to be badass! Why don't people wear corduroy jackets anymore?), but the film's careful, chilling plot and creepy suspicions haven't slackened with age. The '56 version is outdated (its heavy communism allegory scared our grandparents more than it does us), no one paid attention to the one in '93 (then or now), and the current version is exactly the sort of film that gives remakes such a bad rep. But the '78 version? Well worth seeking out. Even though it's a remake.