I was thoroughly impressed with this film, despite its alleged reputation as being one of the most overlooked horror films of the ’90s. This isn’t difficult to understand either, as Abel Ferrera’s Body Snatchers is the third rendition of Jack Finney’s important commentary on the inoculation of human individuality and ambition with stoicism. Repetition simply grows tiresome. In some cases this 1993 feature doesn’t offer much that the previous films didn’t provide, but it still remains important for two reasons:

  1. It shows Abel Ferrara in a unique light that departs tremendously from his comfort zone of gritty dramas.
  2. It includes enough scary elements to warrant its existence.

This is a story worth rediscovering.

I must note, my previous statement is contradictory as I have never seen the 1956 or 1978 film versions or am I familiar with the story. I say it with shame as a film critic, because the earlier versions are heralded as timeless horror classics. However, this 1993 version has seriously piqued my interest about the other two adaptations. After all, this version is recognized as the weakest imagining and I happened to love it, so I can only imagine how I will react to the older versions.

The story doesn’t stray too far from horror movie conventions, starring a young and hormonal girl named Marti (Gabriel Anwar) who mopes about her oppressive parents. Hardly surprising, considering her father (Terry Kinney) is stressed about the carcinogens and toxins that have overrun the military base of their hometown. The military hired him in response to the strange behavior occurring along the base and town. People have begun, for a lack of a wordy description, acting differently. They aren’t terribly different, mind you, but they exude signs of emotional hollowness. They are essentially on an apathy copilot. Is it the chemicals in the water, or is there something more sinister afoot? We don’t know for sure at first, as the screenplay by Stuart Gordon, Dennis Paoli, and Nicholas St. John shows minimal evidence of the problem’s origin.

It isn’t very long before before Marti and her father discover what is really happening around them, as they awake during the “Body Snatchers” ritual. These scenes are very strong and have a very Lynchian-vibe to them. There seems to be some psychosexual motif inherent in these scenes, and it has to be seen to be believed. It shows a side of Ferrera that is mostly absent from his other features. Scary, eclectic, and awesome in equal measures.

The same can be said for the rest of the film, as well. The cinematography, sound design, and lighting all evoke a sense of building dread and tension to masterful effect. Ferrera’s use of the canted angle here really helps convey the sense that the world is no longer as it seems, that it has literally been turned on its head.

Finally, I must give praise to Meg Tilly’s portrayal of Marti’s mother. It’s a remarkably eerie turn that should have garnered more attention from the critics. She absolutely steals the show near the film’s climax, screaming to the other pod people that Marti and her father have yet to be turned into extraterrestrial drones. This is where the film ultimately breaks under its own weight, however, relying on shoddy chase scenes and forced emotions to wrap up the tale. It isn’t enough, though, to bring the whole picture down.

This version of the story, though likely no better than the films that preceded it, helps us understand why this tale has been told for years.

Kyle Kogan is a film critic living in Chicago.

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