There was something of a rush of new adaptations of classic horror conceits during the early 90s, but unfortunately Abel Ferrara’s reworking of Jack Finney’s classic novel (already filmed to good effect twice before) got somewhat lost despite good reviews & a nomination for the Golden Palm at Cannes, disappearing straight to video in the UK. It’s a shame because this is a film that is ripe for rediscovery & which arguably has more in common with such gory 80s remakes as The Thing & The Fly than it does with Coppola’s Dracula or Nichol’s Wolf, even if it’s not quite up to their high watermarks of the remake train.
With the story already having been filmed twice before, you’d be forgiven for thinking that there was little new this version could add to the mix. However, the script has passed through some reliable genre hands, including Larry Cohen & Stuart Gordon and his regular writing partner Dennis Paoli. Having so many people involved with the script (Raymond Cistheri & Nicholas St John are also credited) is not usually a particularly good sign but between them they add some interesting new ideas & concerns. The three main ideas are fear of the military & an unthinking, following-orders approach, worries about toxic waste & environmental damage, & a sense of teenage isolation & dislocation. There is a worry early on that the film may become a standard teen horror flick, but under Ferrara’s sure direction (& with an excellent performance by Anwar) there is a sense of genuine anxiety as she discovers that all the adult actually are aliens. In addition, unlike many later teen horror movies, the film is certainly not afraid to show off gore effects or flash a bit of skin as the plot dictates.
This is by far Ferrara’s most mainstream & accessible film to date, & it’s not hard to wonder if he took it purely to give himself a box-office success so he could have more freedom to pursue projects closer to his heart. It’s a shame that he’s not made another film in this style though, because he makes a very strong job of it. Having only ever seen the film in pan & scan, it’s no exaggeration to say that seeing the film in it’s full 2.35:1 ratio was a revelation. Ferrara’s use of the full width of the frame is exemplary & invites comparison with Carpenter or Argento. At the risk of using an old cliché, if you’ve only ever seen this film in P&S, you’ve never really seen it. With some inventive choices of angles & Bojan Bazelli’s good-looking photography, Ferrara builds a great sense of building unease & tension into the first half of the film with many moments of strong suspense & excitement –aided by an excellent driving Joe Delia score. Which may make you wonder why the film has only got a 3.5 skull rating, & indeed for the first half it’s well on the right side of 4. Unfortunately the second half is less effective, as it becomes a rather more routine chase film that, whilst not without its moments, doesn’t quite match the cracking opening. The only real disappointment though, is the literally explosive finale. Still running at only around 80 minutes, the film manages not to outstay its welcome & you barely have time to worry about its weaknesses. Ferrara’s Body Snatchers is an undervalued minor classic ripe for rediscovery now we can see the full scope of his visual style.
Warner Home Video release Body Snatcher in the UK on R2/PAL format, with a good-looking anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer which does suffer from some fairly minor artefacting & interlacing problems, but not really enough to distract from the viewing experience. The Dolby 2.0 English audio is good & clear, although the lack of a Surround track is slightly disappointing. Not as disappointing however, as the fact that Warner’s has completely failed to include any kind of extras whatsoever – not even a trailer! Still if the price is right, the film itself is good enough to make it worth a pop.