Body Snatchers and The Faculty

Invasion of the Body SnatchersThe 1950s were a strange time. Last night, I watched the original 1956 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I hadn’t seen it since I was a kid. It is a really good film. I’d have to say that it is better than the excellent 1978 remake. But it could have just been my mood. The action sequences work so well, and the music is dynamite. But while I watched it, all I could think was, “This is an allegory for communist infiltration into America.”

Now I know: everyone wants to say that it is about McCarthyism. And the filmmakers didn’t think they were making any kind of political statement at all. But it was in the air, just as fluoride is in the water to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids. What’s more, McCarthyism wasn’t about losing our identity in the public mind. In fact McCarthyism was not all that popular. But the belief that the Soviet Union turned people into automatons was so universal that people didn’t even think about it.

Body Snatchers Is About Communism

At the beginning of Body Snatchers, Miles (Kevin McCarthy) and his nurse come upon a boy running away from his mother. The family owns a produce stand that is now shut down. The mother (who has been taken over) says, “We gave the stand up. Too much work!” Miles thinks it is odd and reflects on the “littered, closed-up” stand that had recently been the “cleanest and busiest stand on the road.” The word “cleanest” is telling, because of America’s long obsession with physical and spiritual purity.

The FacultyBut the more concrete aspect of it is that everyone gives up their passion for work. They give up their passion for each other too. They are simply part of the collective and that is all that matters. Now I would say that this reflects on McCarthyism in the sense that reactionary movements are almost always mirror images of what they are against. I’ve marveled since I was a boy at how conservatives believe in certain rights as long as those rights are never used. So you have the “right” to denounce the NSA right up to the point where you do denounce the NSA. Lucky for us, the conservatives have not gotten their way on this issue (at least not directly).

Another “red scare” aspect of the film is the way that the pod people lack passion for anything except making more pod people. This was a common contradiction of the fear of communism: it turned everyone into brain-dead zombies, yet it was super clever when it came to disseminating propaganda and turning good Americans into fellow zombies.

The Faculty Is About Nothing

So watching Body Snatchers was a mixed bag. It is unquestionably a great film, but the politics of it bother me. So I followed it up with The Faculty. Now much of what I said about Body Snatchers can be said about The Faculty. For that matter, what is Body Snatchers other than a science fiction take on Eugène Ionesco’s Rhinoceros? But the original Body Snatchers was made during the Red Scare, while McCarthyism was still going on. Even the remake was made while the Cold War was going strong. The Faculty was made in 1998 and it is post-ideological.

The Faculty is just silly fun. The film is just the good weirdos against the bad alien. It’s discussion of conformity is not political but cinematic. The monster is creating a collective because that’s what happened in Body Snatchers. It’s all just an excuse to entertain people who loved Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the remake of The Thing. But, as Aliya Whiteley noted at Den of Geek, it also has “a spoonful of The Breakfast Club.” I only disagree in that it would have to be an enormous spoon.

Body Snatchers is a great film. The Faculty isn’t; but it is the perfect film to to watch after Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

15 thoughts on “Body Snatchers and The Faculty

    • I also like the practical makeup effects. And I didn’t know it until I saw it, but I had been waiting my whole life to see a pen jabbed in Jon Stewart’s eye. I’m also a big fan of all the actors who played teachers — Piper Laurie, Robert Patrick, Bebe Neuwirth, Daniel von Bargen (Satan in O Brother, Where Art Thou?), Famke Janssen.

        • The script is nearly perfect, although I suspect they got the actors because Robert Rodriguez was directing it. In addition to the script being film geek’s Easter egg hunt, it is also filled with interesting characters and enough reversals to keep you guessing. There’s also great craft in it, like making Zeke repeat his senior year so that the sexual subtext with Miss Bruke is acceptable. Or the fact that the drug he is selling is actually legal-ish. And it is a fun movie and doesn’t try to be anything different. It’s a horror film!

    • Oh, you must! The two Body Snatchers would make a great double feature, although they are very close. The remake even has Kevin McCarthy in the middle of it doing the same speech he did in the original ending with him on the highway, “They’re here already!”

  1. I believe the novel’s author, Jack Finney, also denied writing a political allegory.

    The 1956 movie is still my favorite too. (There have been four direct adaptations and countless knock-offs.) I think it’s the period feel. And Dana Wynter, ooh-la-la!

    You should definitely add William Cameron Menzies’ 1953 Invaders From Mars to this playlist. Ignore the visible zippers on the backs of the martians — it’s a classic! Certainly gave me kiddy nightmares.

    • Dana Wynter never did look as beautiful as she did in that film. Of course, I’ve always had a thing for Carolyn Jones.

      It seems like I should have seen Invaders From Mars. It looks like it is on YouTube, so I’ll put it on. I don’t mind bad effects.

      It looks like Tobe Hooper made a film by the same name. I don’t know if it is a remake or not. But he’s a greatly unappreciated filmmaker.

  2. Also similar to Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters, which was made into a film in 1994. And since you mention great practical effects and John Carpenter’s The Thing, I recently viewed bits of The Thing on YouTube. I had only previously seen it on VHS and low def TV. The gross stuff is much grosser at full resolution.

    • Actually, Stokely in The Faculty says that Body Snatchers was a “blatant rip-off” of Heinlein’s book. You should watch it: lots of great movie/scifi/horror geek stuff.

      You’re also right about The Thing: it still looks great. That’s another really fun film.

  3. There is a third version called “Body Snatchers – The Invasion Continues” that is directed by Abel Ferrara. While not as good as the first two, it is entertaining. Stars Gabrielle Anwar and Meg Tilly. I am a big fan of all three movies.

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