Invasion of the Bodysnatchers (1978): The Loss of Self

 

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) 115 min – Horror | Sci-Fi

As a general rule, I like to avoid reviewing and analyzing  horror movies that are already heavily reviewed. My thinking is that there is little for me to add to the discussion, beyond what’s already been said. I think this year I may make an exception, and cover some of my favorites, and I can at least explain why it is I like them so much. Sometimes, in examining my tastes in visual media, I realize I have a type of film that I gravitate to, or find out what it is that is really scaring me, and such is the case with Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Bodysnatchers.

 

In order to understand why this movie works so much better on me, than the others, I have to put things into historical context. America was just coming out of a period in the 60s, where people were greatly consumed by the idea of community. People had this idea that world peace could be brought about by a lessening of the concern for the individual, and more concern for those outside of oneself, something which  could only be achieved by living communally, also known as communitarianism. But this was a failure, and as a result, there were many  failed communities, with the most infamous being The Jonestown Massacre, in the late 70s, which marked the end of that particular era of thinking.

https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/jonestown-massacre-what-you-should-know-about-cult-murder-suicide-w512052

The Jonestown Massacre took place in 1978, and really was the last gasp of the Hippie/Free Love Generation, cementing the idea that communitarianism was a complete failure. By the time of the massacre, most of the hippies had given up that lifestyle, and America was fully enmeshed in the Me Decade. I was old enough to understand what happened at Jonestown, and  have the distinct memory of watching the news stories about it. A few years later, I watched, with horrified fascination, the Made-for-TV movie, while my mother explained the details of it to me, in ways than I was more able to understand, than when I was 8.

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In the Me Decade of the 70s, the focus was on the improvement of the individual self, the development of, and getting in touch with, one’s better nature. People took up esoteric hobbies like Chinese cooking, in order to better themselves, they went to see psychiatrists for fun, and they joined movements, like transcendentalism, to reach their higher mental self. Dr. Kibner, a psychiatrist played by Leonard Nimoy, is the embodiment of this idea. But you can see elements of it in Matthew Bennell’s lifestyle, as he darts around his kitchen, frying up dinner in a wok, and in the everyday life of the Bellicec’s, who run a mudbath/spa.

https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/culture-magazines/1970s-me-decade

Economic and political shifts help to explain much of the change. From the end of the World War II (1939–45) until the end of the 1960s, the American economy had enjoyed one of its longest extended periods of growth. That growth came screeching to a halt in the 1970s, and matters got worse as the decade continued. An Arab oil embargo halted shipments of oil to the United States, forcing gas prices to raise dramatically and forcing rationing. Another oil crisis in 1979 continued the economic shock…. Many Americans turned inward and focused their attention on their economic problems rather than on problems of politics or social justice.

This version of The Bodysnatchers sits squarely  in the center of the Me Decade, with its insular focus on the self, and captures all  the dread and fear  in losing that sense of individuality, which the aliens represent. This movie could not have happened in the 80s, in the same way,  as  self development had advanced into narcissistic self involvement, by that time, and was called the Me First Decade, or Decade of Greed.

Several times in the movie, characters state, that when a person is duplicated, all the person’s memories are left intact, but since the fibrous bodies of the pod people are not organic, in the same way that human bodies are, the chemical rush of emotional connections are missing. You’re still an individual, but lack any ability to care, and there is no emotional connection to anything, which  would have seemed nightmarish to people who had spent the past decade caring very, very, deeply about everything.

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I have spent a lot of time and effort in developing who I am as a person. As a young girl, I decided there was a type of woman that I wanted to be, (a combination of Grace Jones, Nyota Uhura, a dash of Ellen Ripley, and my Mom), and pointed myself towards being that person, with varying degrees of success. So developing and understanding who I was, am, and meant to be, is of huge importance to me. My formative years were during the 70s and 80s, when self discovery and enlightenment was of primary importance in popular culture. It helps that I saw this movie during that ten year time period, when I was discovering  what qualities I considered important for being my best self. I definitely think all of that  informs my reaction to this movie.

I have lost track of how many times I’ve watched this movie, and it has never NOT been scary to me. Unlike the first movie, where the emphasis was on the fear of  sameness, and conformity, the primary theme, of this story, is the loss of the  self, a loss of the uniqueness of self. A subtle, but important difference, although both movies contain elements of both themes. The 1978 version is able to  capture this better than any of the other versions, because it’s so well situated in the center of  the ME Decade, in the original city of self love, San Francisco.

The opening credits are interesting. It’s one of my favorite parts of the movie, because its one of the more unique versions, depicted on screen, of an alien invasion. And also because later in the movie, Nancy Belicec acknowledges this, by asking, “Why do we always expect metal ships?” And she’s  right. There’s no reason to assume that aliens cannot transport themselves through the vacuum of space in some other manner. In this movie, it happens in the form of spores, that travel along solar winds.

https://www.space.com/5843-legged-space-survivor-panspermia-life.html

The revelation that tiny eight-legged animals survived exposure to the harsh environment of space on an Earth-orbiting mission is further support for the idea that simple life forms could travel between planets.

This idea, called panspermia, is not new. It holds that the seeds of life are everywhere, and that microbial life on Earth could have traveled here from Mars or even from another star system, and then evolved into the plethora of species seen today.

 

 

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The Bodysnatchers is horrifying, not just because of the inevitability of the invasion, but because its horrifying to watch this happen to the funny, quirky, vibrant individuals in this movie. For as little screen time as we get to spend with Elizabeth’s boyfriend, Geoffrey, we still  get an idea of what a vibrant, and energetic, person he is. The actor, Art Hindle, imbues him with such an  amount of character, in such a short time, (he’s an asshole), that his change after his duplication, (into a completely different type of asshole), is as jarring for us, as it is for Elizabeth, and we start to identify with her through her anxiety over this change.

Elizabeth becomes increasingly suspicious that Geoffrey is not Geoffrey, as she follows him to his appointments, stalking him through the city. There’s a scene of her striding swiftly through the downtown streets of San Francisco, the swish of traffic, and the low rumble of human chatter, the only sounds, as the camera pans jerkily around, illustrating her wound up emotional state, her paranoia, and her disconnect from the rest of humanity. The first part of the movie is full of such scenes of chaotic city life, as the camera jitters and shakes. The city is energetic, and loud, and vibrant, and these scenes show the disconnection between people, that city life encourages. People don’t actually know each other in the city, the population is too transient, and no one is really close to anyone. Well, the duplication process,  simply amps this quality up to eleven. As a Pod Person, you aren’t just disconnected from others, you’re no longer connected to yourself either.

Matthew Bennell works for the city health department, and is very obviously in love with Elizabeth, although it is unclear if she is aware of his feelings, his friends are certainly aware of his feelings, (including Dr.  Kibner). Elizabeth is either unaware of what he feels, or unaware of her own feelings. One of the more tragic moments, for me is, after Kibner has been duplicated, he declares  love to be irrelevant, and Elizabeth’s immediate response is to turn to Matthew, look him in the eye, and matter of factly state that she loves him, because she knows  she’ll be incapable of saying so, after her duplication. She knows that not only will she not love him, she won’t be capable of loving him, and what’s more, she won’t even care. According to the Pod people, she will remember that she once loved him, but she won’t be capable of caring that they used to care about each other.

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Part of the horror is watching these friends fight against their inevitable duplication, as they argue, and love, and laugh. Then, as they are duplicated, one by one, we can see that the duplication process is not as peaceful as the Bodysnatchers would have their victims believe. They are alive, in that they appear to be who they once were,  but that essential part of who they were, what made their life worth living, is all gone. (I think this is where the other movies fell flat for me. I was not invested in the characters, or what happened to them.)

The aliens keep emphasizing that the process is painless, and that all the memories are left intact, and you can tell by this statement, that they lack  any ability to understand why the  humans are defiant, or why they might be afraid of the process, attributing their fear to pain, or loss of memory. The aliens are often puzzled by the emotional defiance of the humans around them, and  incapable of  understanding  that memories, without any emotional context, are  meaningless, and are an erasure of the “self”. Kibner flatly states, “We don’t hate you.” None of this is a personal thing for the aliens, and they are often mildly baffled at the personal reactions of the humans, to being duplicated.

In the scene where Elizabeth first meets Kibner, they are at a party, and a woman is having an emotional breakdown, as she insists that her husband isn’t her husband. She knows this because he got his hair cut short. He has a scar on the back of his neck that he always used to cover up by growing his hair out, but now, he no longer cares about the scar. There’s no emotional context for a habit he kept up for, possibly, decades. He simply doesn’t care. He can’t. That is the tiny erasure of a personality quirk that his wife understood, and possibly found endearing,  and that itty-bitty erasure of self, is for her, the clearest indicator that he is not who he claims to be.

During this woman’s  breakdown, the other party goers look on with detachment, some of them with faint distaste. These are Pod people. They don’t know, care, or begin to understand this woman’s hysteria, and just want her to stop making a scene. Actually, the aliens do have emotions…of a sort, but they are very faint, and very far away, a distant  memory of what they used to be. They all  display a faint,  muted, (as if through a thick wad of cotton batting), contempt for humanity.

 

Ironically, contempt for other people is such a part of Kibner’s natural human state, that one can see little change in his behavior after his duplication.When Kibner first meets Elizabeth, he engages in the worst sort of psychiatric practices, telling her what she’s feeling and thinking, instead of listening to what she says. This entire scene is infuriating  to me, having been on the receiving end of more than a few armchair psychiatric diagnoses, of whatever pathology that someone decided to slap on me, because I was doing something unexpected.

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When Kibner is  counseling Elizabeth, he interrupts her,  and doesn’t  listen to what she’s trying to tell him, as if he knows better than she does, what she’s feeling, and why. Instead of helping her to explore why she thinks what she thinks, he already has a theory handy, and applies it to her circumstances. He tells her  she wants to get out of her relationship with Geoffrey because she’s frightened of having one, and that what she’s saying about Geoffrey is just an excuse to do so. It’s  the  same advice he gives to the hysterical woman at the party,  diagnosing their problems as  societal ones, rather than  personal ones, based on his newest book.

The scene where Kibner is counseling Bennell’s  group of friends is fascinating, because you don’t realize Kibner has been duplicated. He comes across as just a more sedate version of the man we saw at he party the night before, and it is not until after he leaves the meeting, that we realize he is an alien. This makes  sense of how uniquely unhelpful he is to the Bellicecs during that scene. Calming them down is not his objective, because, as a Pod person, he can’t do that. He has no understanding of their emotions, so can’t possibly counsel them. He only causes them to become more upset, and he is, once again, mildly baffled by their hysteria. Afterwards, Kibner says to the Geoffrey duplicate, that the duplication of Bennell, and his friends, can’t happen soon enough, and says it in  a mildly disdainful way. Those messy emotional humans!

The Belicecs are my favorite characters in the film because they really do seem like a quirky, odd couple, who also happen to be deeply devoted to one another. After they thwart the duplication of their entire group at Bennell’s home, they are pursued into the streets by Pod people. It is Jack who uses himself as a distraction so that his wife and the others can escape the crowd. Nancy, however, is having none of that and, refusing to be parted from her husband, chases after him.

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Surprisingly, it is Nancy (played by a superb Veronica Cartwright) who turns out to be the most resourceful. Its surprising only because  you are not invited to think this way about her during certain scenes,  although in hindsight, all the signs of her pragmatism are there. She runs a successful business, and compassionately, but firmly interacts with the customers. As one of them pressures her to turn off the spa’s music, she resists, saying its good for the plants (a tongue-in-cheek reference to the pods, I think). She may have a head full of fringe ideas, and her reactions are a bit extreme, but she knows how to take care of herself, and is the only one who figures out how to successfully trick the aliens into thinking she’s one of them.

We spend the rest of the movie with Matthew and Elizabeth, as they  attempt to outrun the invaders, getting caught and drugged by Kibner at one point. They escape Kibner, and a duplicated Jack Belicec, but the drug eventually kicks in. Elizabeth falls asleep, and  gets duplicated. The pointlessness of all that fighting and running, their defiance of the inevitable, is what fuels the horror, because everyone has to sleep, eventually. Matthew, in a fit of spite after Elizabeth’s death, manages to burn down a couple of warehouses full of pods, but that act is meaningless. The pods and their caregivers have had at least a couple of days to ship them everywhere. Eventually Matthew is himself captured, and duplicated.

The first time I saw this movie, I still held out hope that maybe Matthew had  managed to escape his fate. Part of the reason I got my hopes up, was at the end of the movie, he is seen walking aimlessly around the the areas he frequented when he was human, quietly observing the activity around him, engaging in his usual hobby of cutting up newspaper articles, or going to work, and I remember Nancy’s ability to fool the aliens. I hope that’s all Matthew is doing but how realistic is that?

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We can see what life is like in Pod-land, when Matthew goes to work. At the beginning of the film, he started his day with newspaper clipping, and he does so at the end of the movie as well. This is just a habit he remembers doing, and it makes me wonder if the articles he clips, when he is a pod-person, are different from the ones he clipped, when he was human, and it’s also sad, because without any emotional tie to what he’s doing, it’s just as pointless as his fight against being duplicated.  After all, whatever he’s clipping can have no emotional resonance for him. He wanders into Elizabeth’s department, and the two of them look at each other, through each other,  and don’t acknowledge each other’s presence. Elizabeth slowly reaches over and turns off a Bunsen burner, as if in dismissal of Matthew’s presence, and he slowly walks away, as if he’d forgotten why he stopped there. The  clicking of the burner, as it slows and stops, feels like an acknowledgment of the death of their relationship. There’s nothing to see here! Move along!

Ironically, Kibner’s theory about people moving in and out of relationships too fast, and searching for excuses to get out of them, has actually come to pass. Being duplicated is the ultimate relationship killer, and it also perfectly illustrates one of the movie’s premises about living in the city. People really are disconnected from each other now. Imagine the horror of  not being able to feel anything for your kids, although you certainly remember they’re your kids. Or your spouse. Or your parents. You remember that you have relationships with these people, but you don’t care. No one  acknowledges anyone else’s presence, as they all glide slowly through their routines, with the blank expressions of robots. A bell rings and everyone rises in unison for the exits. It’s time to go home, and do what? They are all just going through the motions of living.

This brings up a point that was well illustrated in a scene from the 2007 version of the movie. In that scene, several pod-people are having dinner, as  television news reports are heard of the Middle East Peace Agreements, and the de-nuclearization of other countries.  In such a world, everything that arises out of human emotions is meaningless. Jobs, money, bills, all of the usual anxieties of life are gone, but then so are all of life’s biggest issues. There are no wars, no pogroms, no rape, no domestic abuse, no violence of any kind. For what reason do people have to harm one another, in a world in which nobody feels anything for,or about, anyone? Kimberly says it best, it is a peaceful world, a world without strife or anxiety.

Recall what I said in my last review of these films, that the next remake of this movie should be done from the point of view of those right in the middle of some crisis, and not, yet again, from the  point of view of comfortable, middle-class, white Americans. What happens in an environment, (or to protagonists), who actually welcome the alien invasion, because it means an end to their suffering. The war has suddenly stopped. No more police brutality. No more racism. The prisoners have all  been freed. Your husband no longer hits you. Can you still make a horror movie out of such a theme? What if there’s world peace, and your personal crisis is over, but you don’t feel relief or happiness, because you  no longer care. What price to pay for this? This is part of the horror.  What if the revolution occurred and nobody cared?

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*(Hey! You there! I love, love, love this movie, and writing this was a labor of love, so let me know if you loved it, too. Like it and leave a comment (if you’re not too shy!) let me know if I should keep doing these long form film essays. The topic for this series is The Foundations of Fear.)

Favorite Movies of My Life Pt. 1 (1969-1980)

This was inspired by a Twitter challenge to name the favorite films for each year of your life, starting from birth. You under thirty film folks have this pretty easy, but I’m an oldy (but goody), so its going to take me  time to lay all this out, and I’m obviously going to have do this in installments! This doesn’t mean I saw these movies in that year. It’s just the year of the release.

I thought you guys might find it interesting to know what films I consider the most influential in my life. I know compiling this list surprised me a little bit. I’d never given this a whole lot of deep thought, and I was pretty certain of what movies I knew I liked, but this was pleasantly eye opening. Also, I’m definitely giving away my actual age, but I’m not ashamed of my age, so here goes:

1969 – The Valley of Gwangi

Well, I had to pick one film a year and this was it. In fact, its appropriate, becasue this is really the first dinosaur/kaiju movie I’d ever seen, and influenced my fascination with Godzilla, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, the Ymir, and those Sinbad movies. It also introduced me to the work of Ray Harryhausen, who I have a soft spot for.

Anyway, this is a ridiculous Western/Fantasy movie, about some cowboys who encounter a valley full of  giant beasts. A tyrannosaur gets captured and brought back to the city where it, naturally, escapes, because that’s what such creatures do, thereby ensuring my lifelong love of giant monsters destroying cities.

Ray Harryhausen is also the man responsible for this. These skeletons scared the shit out of me when I was eight, and I’ve loved him ever since:

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1970 – A Man Called Horse

I first watched this movie with my Mom, because it contained some graphic scenes, and I was a kid who needed adult supervision, or so she said, so there’s definitely a nostalgia factor involved in me liking this movie, which is basically, Tarzan in the Old West. A White Englishman gets captured by some Native Americans, they torture him for a while, but eventually he wins their respect, by going through various manhood trials, which look little different than the torture he’d undrgone earlier in the movie, which had been to less purpose. At any rate, I liked the lead actor, Richard Harris, and was a fan of his ever after.

It was while watching Westerns, that I really began to question the  tropes presented about Native Americans, like why they all wore headbands, and spoke broken English.

I watched a lot of these Westerns with my Mom. She was a fan of Richard Harris, too. She heavily influenced a lot of my early movie watching experiences, by just sharing her love of various movies (and actors) with me, until I started developing my own tastes. She introduced me to The Big Valley because she was a huge Barbara Stanwyck fan, so I liked Barbara, too. She loved Bonanza because she was a fan of Lorne Greene, so I was a Lorne Greene fan, and started watching Battlestar Galactica.  I became a fan of a lot of old actors just because my Mom liked those movies and invited me to watch them with her.

Our movie tastes have  diverged over the years, as I tend  to be more adventurous in my movie watching, (as you will see), and will watch quieter, more intellectual films, while she prefers a lot more drama and bombast.

My mom is of the generation that considers movies to be nothing more than entertaining, or melodramatic, spectacle. I’m of the generation that enjoys  movies that have some level of philosophical insight, or intellectual depth, to go along with all the spectacle, which is basically anything released after 1965. Not that movies didn’t have that before 1965, but moviemakers started making more of these types of movies.

1971 – A Clockwork Orange

There were a lot of great movies made in 1971, and I had a really hard time choosing one. I had a choice between Spielberg’s Duel, George Lucas’ THX-1138, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (a big contender in this category), Shaft, Willard, but I chose Clockwork because its one of the first SciFi films I watched without my Mom’s supervision. I don’t think she knew about it, or she would have had something to say. This wasn’t my first Kubrick film. That was The Shining, which I did watch with her. But I was hooked. I made a point to watch as many Kubrick movies as I could after that.

It may sound as if I watched these movies at a very young age but I was in my teens when I saw  most of these  films, and a lot of the movies I watched, when I was very young, were edited for television.

1972 – Aguirre: The Wrath of God

I know a lot of people choose The Godfather, or  Lady Sings the Blues, but I didn’t watch those movies until I was an adult, and I wasn’t impressed by them, by the time I saw them. I think you have to be of a certain age for a movie to have a great influence over you. I didn’t see this until I was in my twenties, long after I’d watched Salem’s Lot.

This is Werner Herzog’s movie about the conquistador, Lope De Aguirre, heading down the Amazon River to find the city of El Dorado, and starring  Klaus Kinski, who is not a pretty man. The grotesque is what occasionally fascinated me about foreign films.  Now here’s how my thought processes work: I first saw Klaus Kinski in Herzog’s remake of Nosferatu, when I was maybe fifteen. My interest, in that particular version of Nosferatu, was prompted by learning that the vampire from the TV movie, Salem’s Lot, was based on him. which I saw Salem’s Lot the  year it was released, and of course, I watched with it my Mom!

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Watching this movie, I think,  informed my love of documentaries, and books, about exploring the Amazon. Up til then, I’d pretty much been consumed with books about exploring Arctic landscapes, or climbing Mt Everest. (I think at one point I aspired to be a Sherpa, but I was  later disappointed to find you have to be born a Sherpa, I guess. )

1973 – The Exorcist

A lot of good movies were released this year: Mean Streets, Don’t Look Now, Enter the Dragon. I like all those movies but The Exorcist is the movie I keep coming back to over and over. I will watch this whenever it comes on TV. I’ve watched it with all the commentaries. I never get tired of it, but I have seen it so many times that I can get a bit snarky on the parts I find exasperating.

Here’s a funny story:  I remember lobbying my Mom to watch this movie. She was a bit dubious about that, because I was all of maybe twelve, the same age as Regan in the movie,  but I convinced her that I was mature enough to handle it. So, I watched the TV edited version, with her supervision, late one weekend. I know it was aired past my bedtime, and I needed her permission to be up, anyway.  I watched it, and she saw that I didn’t seem unduly affected by it, and didn’t give it any more thought.

Now, I live in the Midwest,  an area of the country that is not known for having earthquakes, but guess what? We had an earthquake a couple of nights later.  A pretty strong one, at about a 6.0, and you don’t want to know how quickly I sprang out of that bed and ran screaming to my Mom’s room. It took her a while to calm me down, and make me understand that my bed was shaking because there was  an earthquake. She’d been watching the news when it happened, so she was perfectly calm.(It did not help matters that I was going through my existential crisis period, where I was questioning God, religion, and my existence in general.)

Yeah,  she was kind enough to indulge me sleeping  in her bed, for a couple of nights.

1974 – Deathdream

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I know everyone always picks Blazing Saddles or Young Frankenstein, and I love both those movies, but this one had a much bigger influence on me. I saw this movie as a teen, and it was the first modern era  vampire movie I’d seen, outside of Salem’s Lot. It’s set in the modern era of 1970 something, when a young man comes home from Vietnam.

Unbeknownst to his family, he died in that war, and what came home was a revenant, responding to his mother’s fervent wishes that he return.  You can tell something is seriously wrong  with him, from the moment you first see him, but his family is so happy he’s home, that they don’t want to  see it. He needs blood to live, but the blood becomes increasingly less potent, and he starts to break down,  becoming more ghoulish as the movie progresses, attacking his family and neighbors, and behaving very badly. 

The movie is notable  because its narrative is an indictment of the Vietnam War, and what happened to the young men who fought in it, who came home haunted,  broken, and forever changed. This movie had a  greater  influence over how I think about movies than Night of the Living Dead, which also had a socially conscious message. It’s also a great illustration of family dynamics, as the drama is every bit as compelling as the vampire part of the story. The mother, who was hanging on to her last threads of sanity before her son came home, and the father who realizes that something’s horribly wrong with his son, but can’t speak to his wife about any of it, because she is delusional.

1975 – Trilogy of Terror

I would have chosen Jaws, but I chose this movie instead, because although I love Jaws, and watch it every time it comes on TV, this movie had a much bigger influence over me as , once again, I watched it with my Mom, and she was a Karen Black fan. I’m only a middling Karen Black fan, so I didn’t get that out of this movie. What I got out of this movie, was a love of Richard Matheson, as his short story, Prey, makes up the third part of this movie, and I thought that part of the movie was awesome. In it, an African doll, He Who Hunts, comes to life and chases a woman all over her apartment. But its harrowing, intense, and  hilarious as this tiny, screaming, doll gets the better of this huge woman, as Karen Black is no delicate two Oz. damsel.

This movie might have something to do with my inarticulate fear of inanimate objects, that come to life,  and move around. I was about ten years old when I saw this movie, and was quite reasonably, terrified. The new Ghostbusters has a scene in it, where a mannequin chases Leslie Jones’ character, and I nearly shit myself.

And you’re probably also seeing a theme developing here, with  people with fangs and appetites, who aren’t what they seem, preying on other people.

 

1976 – Taxi Driver

I had a hard time choosing which movie was my favorite, for this year, because its the same year Carrie was released. Ultimately, I settled on this one because I think Taxi Driver is a much deeper film.

I didn’t see this until I was an adult. It’s the first Martin Scorsese movie I ever watched, (I backtracked later, and  watched Mean Streets) and only because I’d heard of its reputation from critics like Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael. Travis Bickle is a painfully awkward character to watch. I’m still unable to articulate how I feel about this movie. I go through periods where I’m loathe to watch it, yet compelled to sit through it. Watching a baby Jodi Foster might have something to do with my feelings about this movie but I’m not sure what.

 

1977- The Last Dinosaur

This movie is almost comically bad but I still love it. The special effects are awful, and the characters are ridiculous, but the movie makes up for that with its subtext and theme song. It’s by the same people that created some of the Godzilla films, and it shows in the awful acting and the rubbery monsters, which all move in slow motion, to illustrate how powerful they are.

Maston Thrust (yes, that is the character’s actual name), is a big game hunter who is tired, old, and jaded. He has hunted all of the creatures of Earth and is looking for new challenges. It’s the 70s, and Maston, a virile he-man, is a blatant sexist, and the world has changed around him so much, that he no longer recognizes it, and can find no place in it. The world doesn’t need rugged white men, who can kill things. He’s a dinosaur.

Given the opportunity to visit a Lost World and hunt a dinosaur, he jumps at this, and accompanied by his faithful Maasai tracker friend, named Bunta, (yes, I just typed that name), and a blonde female photographer, played by that era’s hottest blond, Joan Van Ark, they all head down. When he gets to this Lost World,  he, and the Tyrannosaurus Rex that killed the last expedition, develop an immediate enmity, as the Rex tries to kill everyone on his team (He enjoys stepping on his prey. He likes his food pureed.) The two of them spend the rest of the movie trying to outsmart each other.

Now, if this sounds like the plot of Kong: Skull Island, you are correct! Kong has better effects,, dialogue, acting, really everything but it doesn’t have a theme song. I first heard this song when I was a child, and have never forgotten it, as its a lovely song. It helps to think of the song as Maston’s theme.

 

1978- Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Wow, I do have a lot of favorites! This is one of the best remakes of a fifties SciFi movie ever made. This movie I think began the trend of eighties remakes that were better than the original movies. If it wasn’t for this movie, there probably wouldn’t be the remake of The Fly, The Thing, or The Blob. I didn’t really want to pick just this one movie because Halloween, The Fury, and Superman were all released in 1978, and those are all favorites, but the rule of the game is to pick only one movie.

 

1979-  Apocalypse Now

The first time I saw this movie, I didn’t get what made it so wonderful. Roger Ebert was a huge fan, and so was Pauline Kael, and I trusted their opinions. I watched it and liked it okay, but didn’t love it. It’s only after successive viewings that I grew to truly appreciate it. To give you some idea of how hard it is to choose just one favorite film from this year: Alien,  and The Warriors was also released, and I chose Apocalypse Now becasue its a deeper film.

You can start to see how my tastes have begun to diverge from my mother’s. She loved The Warriors, but was uninterested in this movie, and she  is mostly indifferent to Alien.

 

1980- Altered States

This was another tough one becasue I have a couple of favorites for this year, but I chose this movie because its such a trippy mess, and at the time I saw this, I had not yet seen 2001. This was the first movie that had ideas and concepts in it that I knew were important, but I was just too young to understand them.

Several viewings (and years) later, I was able to follow most of the arguments made by the characters in this movie, most of which involve a great deal of existential angst. it was also the first time I’d ever seen William Hurt. He’s a complete asshole for most of the movie, but he’s a cute asshole, and he  learns his lesson by the end.

My other favorites for this year are The Elephant Man, The Shining, and Fame, a musical with a diverse cast, which starred Irene Cara.

Next up: 1981 through 1990.