Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Perfect Retro Horror Film for Our Era

The whole world changes around you. You're the only one to notice the change, and no one believes you. This is the premise of one third of all Twilight Zone episodes. It is well used in the 1950s classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The film is a classic science fiction, horror film that holds up well for a variety of reasons. My wife fully expected a 1950s movie that would be borderline Mystery Science Theater 3000 cringe-worthy. She was surprised and enjoyed it. I have watched it multiple times, and appreciate the flick. It is helped by having only one recognizable face (the lead) and being in black and white. Invasion holds up well also because it is focused on the story and less on the effects. It is also a postcard of an America long gone. Let's think about the Invasion because sometimes it does feel like we are living in the movie today. 

Invasion was an adaptation of a science fiction novel. It differs from the book with less action fighting aliens, and less involvement by the FBI, but this was probably due to the limited budget and maybe a focus on the human element. Invasion is set in the small, fictional town of Santa Mira, California, with the small town farming feel to it combined with Main Street USA at Disney for the town center. It is set up as a frame story with a man raving about weird shenanigans. The madman is Dr. Miles Bennell, and this is his tale. Dr. Bennell returns home after being away for a while to some towns people he knows well complaining that their loved ones just ain't right. Something is the matter, but it is hard to point out. It is like they are another person, but everything appears normal. A second doctor, Dr. Kauffman, assures our hero that this is just mass hysteria, like a flu going around the town. Dr. Bennell has a love interest, Becky, a smoking hot brunette divorcee, and Dr. Bennell is divorced himself. They were college lovers, and there is plenty of flirting but it is cute 1950s kind of flirting. They even go out for a date to go dancing. "Dad, there were places people could go for dinner, drinks and classy dancing?" The film takes a turn when Bennell's friend Jack has a "thing" with his features in his home just lying around. They investigate the oddity. When Bennell returns Becky home, something she said and her father tinkering in the basement sends him back to investigate her cellar. He finds a duplicate of her in a cellar compartment, dunh-dunh-dunnnnnnnh. 

He calls the authorities, who come to find no duplicate, and the duplicate of his friend Jack (Jack's wife is played by young, bright eyed Morticia Adams) was just a madman killed in a barn later. Later Bennell finds pods out back that hatch not fully formed duplicates of him and his friends. They try to call the state capitol and the FBI, but the phone operator is one of them and won't put them through. Bennell sends his friends to make a run for it, and he and love interest try to recruit his nurse. She is one of them too, and they are installing the pods near the regular people to take over! There is a fight and they make a getaway. Eventually they get cornered by the authorities, and yes, they turned his friend Jack into one of them. See, the pod people come from spores in space, and they replace you, but you don't quite feel it. In fact, you don't feel anything. Feelings are gone. You are calm, cool and rational. No more conflict or stress. Why love? Love just leads to conflict. They place pods nearby, but the Doc has a few tricks up his sleeve. He and Becky overpower the trio. Straightforward action scene that feels more realistic than today's jump cuts and fast movement ADD scenes. Becky even helps Dr. Bennell take the trio down, but not in an obvious "this is some girl power" way, just simple strategy and fighting. 

The lovers make a run for it through the hills with pod people following. In the end, Becky falls asleep and is replaced by the pod person (vague on the replacement mechanism). She changes but not before sexy Becky says, "I don't want to live in a world without love or grief or beauty, I'd rather die". It is actually a touching scene, because they are alone. It's just them holding out. She changes though as she just could not stay awake. They get you in your sleep. Dr. Bennell must go it alone. Bennell eventually gets caught in traffic at night with the famous "You're next" scene. Do the authorities believe him? Come on, this is the 1950s. He is proven correct, and not mad, and the FBI is going to come in to tackle the problem. The pods may be on the move, but the FBI is on the case now. Aliens, watch your back. 

I would recommend this just for the black and white alone. Black and white has one major advantage over color: playing with shadow and light. There are shots in this movie that use shadow in a great way to convey menace, fear or get your attention. In color, it would not be possible. In black and white, light can appear where there should be no light source. Watch Strangers on a Train for the love canal scene to see shadow in black and white used to perfection. Another great example of this black and white advantage is in Schindler's List when the kid jumps into the outhouse toilet. It's obviously dark, yet when he is down in the crap, there is a perfect circle of light on him to show how he is alone and the other kids in the crapper don't want him there. There should be no light, but this is the beauty of black and white. Powerful. If you consider film one of the arts, black and white can be when film is deployed at its best. This film holds up better than other '50s sci-fi or horror because there are no special effects beyond the pods and the hatching of the pods. This is about a story, a mind switch. The story's power and fear helps Invasion hold up better than every "man in a rubber suit" or "pie plate flying saucer" movie. 

The wonderful thing here lost on many people is that the hero still trudges onward and does not give up despite having nothing personal to save. The '60s would also change film where rebels and flipping the old order for a loop would be portrayed heroic. In essence, that is the core message of Pleasantville that was set in the '50s but made in the '90s. If Invasion were made in the '70s, the heroes would have committed suicide, died, or been defeated. Amazing coincidence, Invasion was remade in the '70s and that is exactly what happened. The futility of any heroic effort was a theme to '70s flicks that Star Wars pushed back into the cellar. Even made today, there would have to be some personal reason the hero trudged on (a kid, his lover, etc.), unlike Dr. Bennell's sole purpose of fighting on for himself and to warn society. Bennell was part of something that he wanted to preserve and save. He was facing long odds, but he was not going to give up. He was going to try despite every pod alien telling him no, telling him he'd be better converting and telling him that it was inevitable. Audiences in 1956 identified with that obligation. After all, many of them were war veterans who had grown up in the Depression. Newer films' heroes need that personal reason, because we 21st century people need that reason. Being atomized, individuals seeking self actualization does not create selfless heroes to take out aliens when you have nothing left to protect. 

Something not lost on viewers of today is the obvious messaging, but here's where the horror goes deeper for us. Academics look at this and discuss the elements of fear of subversion but harp on the echoes of McCarthyism and hysteria. Normal human beings look at this and see this for what it is, those dirty commies could be next door and you would never know because they look and talk like us but there is something off about them. The fact that the FBI is called in as a reliable force is a signal for us normies since the FBI was the sole USG entity that even attempted to go after Communist infiltration on our shores in that era. The horror is that we have academics willing to push the McCarthy angle and disregard the slap you in the face obviousness of commie invasion. Our academics are the pod people. They see McCarthyism as a hysteria in this film when really the characters with the hunch something is wrong are correct, which is like McCarthy but not the meaning they want to assign McCarthyism.

Our invasion is ongoing. Just think back to your family members telling gay jokes 20 years ago, and listen to them prattle on how much they support same sex marriage now. They will practically exile you if you are not carrying the HIV blood stained rainbow flag. "But but my dad... he's the same... same look, same voice, same memories... he was against the Iraq war on principle but now he supports droning anything Muslim that walks and overthrowing Middle East dictators... he just loves gay guys now, not romantically, but he'll fight to the death for them to marry... he doesn't even know any gay guys! Worst part is that he won't even admit that he has changed. I'm not goin' mad am I, Doc? He changed overnight and is not the same person!" The Overton Window that moves left and sucks in your loved ones still leaves them behind intact except something is off. But you're not changed, and they won't admit it. In fact, when you try to tell them anything about the change, they look at you weird and say "yeah, well we evolve, man". 

You cannot even discuss the obvious changes because the pod people stop you. Simply looking at the avalanche from our borders should stop anyone cold for the rapid changes. Look at Invasion's setting. Santa Mira is a slight change from the real life Santa Maria, California but is the stand in as the town was used for exterior scene filming. What has happened to quiet little Santa Maria that was a cute All-American town in 1956. There was an invasion. Looking at the 2010 census, the town is now 70% Hispanic, and that is up from 47% in 2000. Roughly 45% of adults now have less than high school for educational attainment. They vote much more reliably Democrat now (Gore 47% in '00, Obama 57% in '12). Crime has popped up a bit after 2000, so the generational decline Pinker discusses is not being felt here. Santa Maria's invasion was an invasion of squatters. Guess the body snatchers got to them after all. 

The America in Invasion is lost. Nothing ever stays the same, change is always constant. The body snatchers walk amongst us, but at least now they have visual markers to signal their status, making it easier for us than Dr. Bennell. The mind virus that is progressivism is a horror, and it could happen to you. You could be next. Your lover... your kids. The subversion promises the gift of no more conflict, no more worries, no more struggle. It is a lie. It is a cheap bribe. Remember, Becky says she wants grief, not just love and beauty. Struggle, pain, enduring and overcoming are what make us human and what make us whole. Those trying times develop your soul. That is what Dr. Bennell and Becky were fighting off, the removal of their souls. Keep your wits about you, and fight. Dr. Bennell saw everyone he knew and cared for replaced, but he still trucked on to warn others. You might feel alone, but you're not. There are things worth fighting for, and you do belong to something greater than yourself.


Toddy Cat said...

"Our academics are the pod people"

This was a great review, but it was worth reading for that line alone...

nikcrit said...

The subversion promises the gift of no more conflict, no more worries, no more struggle. It is a lie.

You were referring to 'progressivism.' True enough, but the same would apply to some secessionally created white 'ethnostate' that is frequently fantasized about in the DarkEnlightenmentsphere.

No struggle? Then ultimately no joy?
No nigger, no other? No white exaltation.
The racial dichotomy is a siamese twin; there's no escape short of death.... how's that for a horror?

Toddy Cat said...

"No nigger, no other? No white exaltation"

With all due respect, Nikcrit, black people tend to overestimate their importance to white people, both pro and con. Personally, I can get along without racial exaltation just fine. Maybe you're right, and I'm not typical, but what do you say we give it a try? Obviously, what we have now isn't working...

nikcrit said...

but what do you say we give it a try?

I actually got into it with a commenter, 'trainspotter,' at CH's blog where we discussed what you suggest; we supposed that,say, Wyoming and Montana seceded from the u.s. and formed a new white ethnostate; i said it was my hunch that roughly five-to-ten percent of existing white americans would immediately want to move there, depending greatly, of course, on bunches of other factor; i.e., taxation levels and methods, form of govt., etc.

Anyhow, i wasn't being academically serious, or anyh other kind of serious really, in that particular moment ------ but I do think that whites and blacks, in both their mutual self-interest and complaint, depend and/or refer to each other a lot more than they may often realize.

But then, again, perhaps I would say something like that....lolzz.

Son of Brock Landers said...

Nikcrit - Ethnostates easily have an id without an other. Look at Canada. Majority of their id is mocking fellow white US.

nikcrit said...


In grad school, i read or was referred to tons of lit that described the elaborate Anglo-Canadian vs. French-native American identity dichotomy; it was as if the french-anglo divide was as piercing and absolute as the American black-white stalemate. for the record, i was somewhat outside and uninvolved in the details, as i conceded absolute alienation on as much, but the similarities to more familiar cultural standoffs leads me to take each particular take with a grain of salt when one or the other side gets a bit to ambitious and grandiose in their fealty.
I think the definitnion of Canada itself could be facetiously but somewhat accurately described as a earnest folk in search of its 'other.'

Toddy Cat said...

It's true, but Canadians had a bad case of "black-envy" in the 1960's, so they pushed French-Canadians into the void, so they could have a minority to uplift, just like big brother down south. Personally, I think that this says more about the strange love-hate relationship that Canadians have with the U.S. thank it does anything else.

"roughly five-to-ten percent of existing white Americans"

I'd be willing to bet that the number is closer to 25-30% and will climb. How many Blacks do you think would move to an all-black state in Georgia and Alabama? I'd bet many fewer. What do you think?

nikcrit said...

I'd be willing to bet that the number is closer to 25-30% and will climb. How many Blacks do you think would move to an all-black state in Georgia and Alabama? I'd bet many fewer. What do you think?

I can't even guess; but fwiw, i think your white figure is too high..... as for the figure for a black ethnostate: it would depend totally on how well the state was set-up in advance; but if it required fellow-black faith? forget it....

I really belief those aforementioned 'intangibles,' i.e., kind of govt., taxation methods and levels, cultural and national bylaws, etc., would have everthing to do in determining the number.

A few times as a kid, however, i wondered on my own what a biracial ethnostate would be like.