Here Come the Pod People

I have an essay in The National Post today about the 1956 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers and other tales about aliens impersonating or possessing human beings. Here is an excerpt:

You're next.The studio deemed [the original] ending too frightening, and it insisted that director Don Siegel add a prologue and epilogue implying that the invasion would be defeated. Siegel reluctantly agreed, grumbling that pod people had taken over the film industry. The change blunts the picture's paranoid vision: Though the director's cut shows us a world where the agents of psychiatry and law enforcement are completely malevolent and untrustworthy, the studio version ends with Miles breathing a sigh of relief as a psychiatrist alerts the FBI to the invasion.

But in either incarnation, it is a harrowing and disturbing film. The story may be science fiction, but it's rooted in a familiar experience. "I've seen how people have allowed their humanity to drain away," Miles mulls to Becky in one scene. "Only it happens slowly instead of all at once." The film's star, Kevin McCarthy, proposed an alternative title for the film, which Siegel liked but the studio rejected: "Sleep No More."

The article is adapted from my book The United States of Paranoia -- the third of three excerpts that the Post is publishing this week. To see the earlier installments, go here and here.

I don't mention this in the book, but my favorite story that plays with the body-snatcher idea is Daniel Pinkwater's 1976 novel Lizard Music, a tale in which the pod people, like the conformity they represent, are not an abrupt invasion but a background fact of life. "Don't the pod people worry you?" one character asks another. "Worrying about them is a good way to become one," comes the reply.

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  • Eduard van Haalen||

    I'm really enjoying your book which I got from the lib-ah, bookstore. And got copies for all my friends.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    I, like you, used to think there were pod people taking over humanity. But I had a good sleep and now I realize that's all paranoid nonsense. You should take a nap yourself.

  • anon||

    Should really cut back on the lsd.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I've long ago suspected pod people are a metaphor for conformity. Unfortunately, the symbolism is too subtle, and people think these cautionary tales are just about space aliens or whatnot taking over our peers and our beloved, most trusted institutions. But it's all about Communists.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    I think the symbolism is fairly clear. "Subtle," really?

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    And the novel is actually more consistent with the sci-fi premise. The aliens don't know right away who's the dominant life-form on earth, so they start by assuming the form of tin cans.

  • Nazdrakke||

    I've long ago suspected pod people are a metaphor

    Which is exactly what the pod people want you to think.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Son of a bitch.

  • Drake||

    I saw the 1978 version of Invasion when I was a kid. The real ending scared the shit out of me.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Hey, look, Donald Sutherland got away! Great, maybe there's hope.

    Scccccccreeeeeeecccchhh.

  • OldMexican||

    "No! Oh, Matthew, no!!"

  • Stormy Dragon||

    That reminds me. If you have not seen it yet, be sure to go see The World's End; easily the best movie I've seen this year.

  • Floridian||

    I was slightly disappointed. It is probably because my expectation were too high. I love Shaun of the dead and hot fuzz. I felt worlds end fell a little short of those two.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    I loved them too but thought the new one was better. Personal taste I guess.

  • Floridian||

    I'll still buy it and watch it again. Sometimes the second time I watch something it's funnier somehow.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    One thing I need to check out when I rewatch it: I read an article arguing the 12 bars correspond to AA's 12-steps, and each one has Gary doing the opposite of what you're supposed to be doing at that step in terms of his issues while the movie as a whole is doing what is supposed to be happening at step in terms of the story arc.

  • Floridian||

    It wouldn't surprise me. Frost and Pegg love doing subtle things you have to really pay attention to catch.

  • ||

    The Star Wars' that almost was

    An Empire has spread across the galaxy, and the few remaining Jedi defend themselves against the Sith. At the same time, a dispute over trade and treaties is interrupted by ... General Luke Skywalker?

    A little confused?

    That's because these familiar elements from "Star Wars" lore are part of George Lucas' rough draft for the first movie ("Episode IV: A New Hope" for the uninitiated), illustrated for the first time by Dark Horse Comics as "The Star Wars." The first of eight issues of the comic book series is out now.
  • ||

    the studio version ends with Miles breathing a sigh of relief as a psychiatrist alerts the FBI to the invasion

    It does? My recollection was the final shot was just of the truck full of pods driving off and the main character was left helpless in the street. I don't recall the FBI alert at all...but admittedly it's been a few years.

  • Jesse Walker||

    My recollection was the final shot was just of the truck full of pods driving off and the main character was left helpless in the street.

    Then you saw the director's cut.

  • ||

    I guess I would've figured that the Director's Cut would've only been available from Criterion or whatever. I'm pretty sure I first watched this on Creature Double Feature and many times since on broadcast TV.

  • Lord Humungus||

    I have the flick on DVD.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WuL2QwsNeM8

    The movie does go a but further than the link above. Off the top of my head, someone comes rushing in telling of a truck accident, and the strange pods being carried within. The government is alerted and everyone breathes a sigh of relief.

    btw, the part when the main character realizes his GF has become one of "them" is one of my favorite clips.

  • Longtorso, Johnny||

    The answer my friends...is Ronald Reagan.
    The answer is Ronald Reagan.

  • Floridian||

    Yes. But what is the question?

  • Longtorso, Johnny||

    I must be the only one to remember that SNL skit.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I don't remember that one, but I'll never forget the day Buckwheat got shot.

  • Ornithorhynchus||

    I remember it. Invasion Of The Brain Snatchers from the episode hosted by Strother Martin.

  • anon||

    Only version I've ever seen of "Pod People" is the MST3K version. I can't imagine anyone actually enduring the film without some sort of comic relief.

    I think something's wrong with me.

  • Jesse Walker||

    Different movie. That one's an ET ripoff. Doesn't have much to do with the body-snatchers theme, despite its name.

  • anon||

    From what I can tell, the mst3k one doesn't have much to do with anything.

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