6. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
This is the only direct remake on the list, remarkable because of the way it transplants the original small town setting of 1956 to the more metropolitan environs of San Francisco. The result of this is to create a much greater feeling of isolation. The isolation in the original is derived from the geography; stuck in a small town with no possibility of escape.
In the updated version, the isolation comes from the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of strangers around and no-one knows who to trust. The faces that we see around us every day are there and their expressions can be interpreted any number of ways.
Is that person staring at me because they are a duplicate or because I am acting suspiciously? This feeling of being surrounded and without anyone to trust comes across brilliantly throughout the film as more and more people are revealed as being in on the conspiracy.
Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams are very sympathetic leads and they have fine support from Leonard Nimoy (who plays the role of the psychiatrist from the original in a much more sinister way), Veronica Cartwright and a young Jeff Goldblum.
There are also a lot of cameos, including Don Siegel and Kevin MacCarthy, which are reverential nods to the original. The other notable aspect of this remake is its brilliant score, put together by jazz pianist Denny Zeitlin. This was his only work in film and it adds greatly to the mood and tension.
7. The Thing (1982)
No film on this list lives up to the ‘snatcher’ tag quite like John Carpenter’s masterpiece, The Thing. The fantastic work of Rob Bottin and Stan Winston shows bodies ripped apart in the process of being taken over by the thawed-out alien of the title. These are some of the most unforgettable visual effects sequences in motion- picture history and have spawned a raft of imitators over the years.
The plot is based on John W. Campbell’s novella, Who Goes There? (which had already been adapted more loosely in the 1950s), set in a US Antarctic research outpost that is torn apart by a rampaging alien that has been dug up by some neighbouring Norwegians. Having escaped from that camp in the form of a dog, it makes its way to the Americans where it skulks around waiting for an opportunity to assimilate the body of one of the humans.
One by one, they are taken over or killed until nobody knows who to trust. The brilliant ensemble cast including Kurt Russell, Keith David and Donald Moffat shine as they attempt to weed out the invaders among them. Things get progressively worse for the humans until the film ends in a nihilistic standoff between the two who remain.
The visceral nature of the effects was incredibly controversial at the time and seen by many as brilliant but excessive. The film performed poorly at the Box Office, largely due to the market being saturated that year with two other notable science fiction films that were released – ET: The Extra Terrestrial and Blade Runner (the latter released on the very same day). The negative reviews were hurtful to Carpenter and it took years for the film to be re-appraised and elevated to the high status it enjoys today.
8. The Hidden (1987)
Jack Sholder’s film is different from the others as there is no grand plan for taking over the world. The invading entity is simply bent on all the things that lots of people were obsessed with in the 80s: Ferraris, loud music and cocaine!
The alien parasite hides inside a human host (entering and exiting via the mouth in a particularly horrific way) and uses it to get whatever it wants in terms of hedonistic excess until the body is worn out or destroyed and it has to move on. It slithers from man to woman to dog to Presidential candidate during the course of the film but remains obsessed with the same goals.
In pursuit are an overworked police detective (Michael Nouri) and a young FBI Agent (Kyle Maclachlan). Maclachlan’s character is himself an alien hiding in human form who has tracked the creature across the galaxy to avenge the deaths of his partner, wife and child.
He and Nouri make an entertaining pair, with the latter nominated for a Saturn Award for his performance. His exasperation over his young colleague’s inability to understand basic human customs is a good source of comedy in amongst the darker moments. Maclachlan plays his role brilliantly with a detached, laid back grace and calmness. There is a particularly funny sequence involving aspirin and Alka-Seltzer that highlights his brilliant timing.
The graphic violence that was so prevalent in the late 80s is here in great quantities, with people gunned down or run over with abandon. It’s not simply extras who are dispatched; central characters are blown away with impunity and even the disabled are not spared! The Hidden is very well-paced and it all fits together brilliantly into a film that stands up well when viewed today. The ending can also be taken two ways which gives some mystery to discuss when the credits roll.
9. The Faculty (1998)
The familiar tropes of Invaders From Mars and Invasion of the Body Snatchers are updated and moved to a High School setting in Robert Rodriguez’ star-studded teen horror film. Written by Kevin Williamson, the plot involves teachers being overtaken by an alien parasite and then attempting to infect children and other authority figures in town as part of a vanguard for a complete invasion of the planet. A Breakfast Club-style group of students band together to fend off the alien menace.
There are some wonderfully enjoyable performances in the film, not least from T2’s Robert Patrick as the school’s football coach. Despite being heavily derivative and borrowing from lots of other films (especially two sequences cut and paste directly from The Thing), the story is tight and builds to an exciting climax in the school gymnasium.
The special effects are well done, suitably gory in places and the film stands up very well to repeated viewings. The mixture of horror and homage never feels forced and the cast line-up is very impressive, drawing as it does on the post-Scream trend for teen horror movies that brought Williamson’s script to the screen after a few years gathering dust.
10. Slither (2006)
The final film on the list is another tale of an alien parasite carried to Earth by a meteor. It arrives and infects a South Carolina used car dealer. The parasite then spreads throughout the local small town, leaving only a rapidly diminishing group who have any power to stop it. Slither is the directorial debut of Guardians of the Galaxy’s James Gunn. It attracted a great deal of hostility from some quarters upon its release due to its similarity with 1986’s Night of the Creeps.
In truth, however, the film takes parts from a range of other films and blends them together into a very enjoyable B-movie. Gunn takes little bits from Cronenbourg, Carpenter and others an adds little touches of his own such as the idea of all the infected people being essentially part of the patient zero, Michael Rooker’s Grant.
Rooker is fantastic, as is Nathan Fillion who we deserve to see more of on the big screen. They’re helped by a very funny script which includes some quality one-liners. Slither sits very comfortably in the same camp as films like Tremors and Lake Placid, having as it does a great mix of horror and comedy.
The visual effects are suitably disgusting, including a man being sliced in half; his innards spilling out as he collapses, and a woman inflated to the size of an elephant by so many of the parasitic slugs finally exploding in a scene bizarrely reminiscent of everything from Live and Let Die to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
In all the things that Slither borrows from the films that came before it, it proves the longevity of the ‘body snatcher’ genre and its continuing appeal. As long as paranoia about our neighbours exists along with the fear that we can be overcome by our desires, we will continue to enjoy films like these.
Author Bio: Richard Austin is a Primary School Deputy Headteacher who’s just finished his first novel and is saving up to get it edited. When he was a kid, he used to keep a little book of the films he went to see at the cinema, giving them ratings out of 5, which his family and friends find highly amusing to this day! He also has a website where he writes his random thoughts about science fiction.