With Further Ado #049: Stay Awake! Screams & Screens & Invasion of the Body Snatchers

This year I’ve added another wonderful, yet admittedly weird, job to my resume. I’ve become a horror movie host for Auburn Public Theater’s Screams & Screens series. Every other Tuesday, we show B-Movies on the big screen, and yours truly provides a little background and the opening dialog. Local support has been incredible and we also give away a plethora of prizes each week!

I don’t quite fit into an Elvira outfit (nor do I want to wear one) so I’m usually just in a sports coat and let my enthusiasm for these fantastic films buoy the pre- and post-film commentary.  Our next film is one of my favorites: the original 1956 Invasion of Body Snatchers. 

It’s a fantastic film on so many levels. First, It’s beautifully shot. From today’s perspective, it almost seems like a mash-up of two genres:  classic Sci-Fi horror and Film Noir.  Secondly, the picture is populated with strong performances, most notably by leading man Kevin McCarthy.  Dana Wynter, a gorgeous leading lady, is wonderfully understated and delivers in spades when her big moment arrives. Like the lead character, Dr. Miles Bennell, you can’t help but fall in love with her. 

This year I’ve also taken a deep dive into The Twilight Zone, as we celebrated all things Serling this Spring at ITHACON .  Maybe I just have too much TZ on the brain, but in Invasion of Body Snatchers I also see wispy threads of Serling’s classic’s show all throughout it. One could almost see it as an extended Twilight Zone episode or as some long-lost pilot.

As a kid growing up in the 70s, my reprobate buddies and I loved all the us-against-everyone else movies like Planet of the Apes and Logan’s Run.  Does every young kid feel like he or she is fighting against the rest of the world? Or maybe there’s something about a blossoming romance, and that connection you build with a partner where it seems like you’re only two people on earth who matter.

The Greatest Divorce Movie Ever?

While Invasion of the Body Snatchers holds up as a thriller, I think it might also be the greatest Divorce movie ever.  In the early part of the movie, we meet Dr. Miles Bennell (played by Kevin McCarthy) who is returning to his hometown. He’s runs into his old girlfriend, Becky (Dana Wynter) and they coyly touch upon their mutual struggles as they reveal they have both recently visited Reno.   That’s 1950s speak for “I’m divorced”.   Las Vegas was the easy place to get married, and the other side of the coin was Reno, Nevada, an easy place to get divorced.

As divorced people in perfect-town, USA, these two characters are already outsiders.  Not only are divorced, but they dare not speak of it. Even amongst themselves, they must use coded language like “Reno”, and speak it all with a peppy cheerfulness.

As they realize that everyone normal is weird, is that a metaphor for the natural maturation, and dissolution of conformity, that divorced people often feel?

As a kid, I loved this movie as just a creepy, paranoid thriller. As an adult who was divorced, who fell in back love with his long-lost gorgeous girlfriend and who returned to his old hometown, I now see this movie through an entirely different lens.  (Thankfully, my “Becky” has not turned into a pod person.)

Stay Awake – Now More Than Ever

And there are even more threads to pull on that make this a relevant and important movie.   In the here-and-now, some of the more subtle messaging seems more important than ever. In the mythology of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, one becomes a soulless alien by falling asleep.  What a timely message that is for us all. Stay awake!  Pay attention!  The consequences of taking the easy way out, i.e. falling asleep, are dire for society and for our own souls.

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Screams & Screens runs every other Tuesday night at Auburn Public Theater, located on Genesee Street in the center of Auburn NY in the Finger Lakes. Admission is just $2.00, and that includes free raffle tickets for amazing prizes from our astonishing sponsors (The Schweinfurth Museum, Underground Bottle Shop, Comics for Collectors in Ithaca, Salt City Comic-Con, Larger Than Life Comic Shop, and Pickled Punks. Hope to see you there soon. I’ll be the guy eating popcorn and smiling ear-to-ear. More information can be found here.