Body Snatchers (1993) Retrospective

Steve Malone, an agent from the Environmental Protection Agency, is sent to a military base in Alabama to test possible effects on the surrounding ecological system caused by military actions. With him is his teenage daughter from his first marriage, Marti, his second wife Carol, and Marti’s half brother Andy. On their way to the base, they stop at a gas station. In the restroom, Marti is threatened by an MP member with a knife. When he notices her fear, he lets go of her, satisfied that she shows an emotional response. Before she leaves the room, he warns her, “they get you when you sleep”.


Steve and his family move into their new home on the base, and Marti makes friends with the base commander’s daughter Jenn. On his first day in day care, Andy runs away because he is recognized as an outsider among the other somehow conformist children. He is picked up and brought home by helicopter pilot Tim. Marti and Tim quickly feel attracted to each other. Meanwhile, while examining soil samples, Steve is approached by medical officer Major Collins, who asks him about psychological effects, particularly narcophobia (the fear of sleep), and their possible relation to toxication of the environment. Steve believes that a physiological reaction would be more likely.

In the evening, Marti and Jenn go to the bar attended by the station’s military personnel, where they meet not only Tim but also the MP who threatened Marti at the gas station. He denies that they ever met before. That night, a group of soldiers can be seen picking giant pods from the river running by the base. When Andy wakes up and enters his mother’s room, Carol’s body crumbles to dust, while a naked soulless double emerges from the closet. Nobody believes Andy’s story that his real mother is dead and the person pretending to be Carol is only an impostor.

The following night, Marti and her father are nearly “taken over” too by duplicates emerging from the giant pods. Carol attempts to convince Steve that the takeover is a good thing, claiming that it ends confusion and anger. She also claims that there’s no place to go, as the events at the base are not an isolated incident. Steve is almost shocked and saddened into compliance, but Marti and Andy drag him out the door. Carol emits a shrill and mechanical scream that alerts other “pod people” to the presence of a human being. Now the majority in numbers, they swarm over the base chasing the remaining humans.

After hiding Marti and Andy in a warehouse, Steve enters Major Collins’ office. The hysterical Major tries to call for help, but the line is blocked. While swallowing sleep-prevention pills Collins announces that it is too late to run; all they can do is fight. Their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of a group of pod people, led by base commander General Platt. While Steve hides, the pod people try to convince the Major that the individual is not important, and that only conformity can solve the world’s problems. The Major shoots himself rather than live in such a world.

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Steve returns to his children and tells them to follow him, claiming to have found a way out. They drive aimlessly through the military base, as loudspeakers shout out instructions for spreading the invasion by carrying out pods in trucks. Realizing that her father was replicated while he was away, Marti swerves the car to the side and tries to escape with her brother. Tim, who escaped his former comrades who tried to turn him into one of them, suddenly appears and Marti takes his gun and shoots the Steve duplicate. Pod Steve’s body shrinks into a mass of seething, bloody goo.

Tim manages to get hold of a helicopter gunship, but Marti and Andy are taken away by the pod people. They sedate both of them and take them to the base infirmary where the remaining human beings are being systematically duplicated by pods. Tim is able to rescue Marti, despite her pod duplicate trying to seduce him into compliance. Incomplete, it dies when he pulls its connecting tendrils off Marti.

Marti and Tim leave the building, pretending to be pod people so they can get to Tim’s helicopter to escape. However, they are spotted by Jenn, now a pod duplicate, who gets suspicious and tells Marti she saw Andy looking for her. When Marti reacts by displaying emotion, Jenn responds by giving out a pod scream to alert the other pod people. Tim and Marti manage to get in the helicopter and are joined at the last minute by Andy who runs up to them. But right after taking off, Andy, who is actually a pod duplicate, attacks both and tries to bring down the helicopter. After a short scuffle, a heartbroken Marti is forced to throw Pod-Andy out of the helicopter and he gives out a pod scream while falling to his death.


The ending of the film is an ambiguous one. Tim destroys the trucks filled with pods with the helicopter’s rockets, while Marti confesses her profound hatred in a voice-over narration, thereby hinting at a loss of humanitarian quality. While they land on another base, the words of Marti’s replaced stepmother earlier in the film can be heard, suggesting that the phenomenon may have already spread beyond the army base: “Where you gonna go, where you gonna run, where you gonna hide? Nowhere… ’cause there’s no one like you left.”


The Body Snatchers project has been kicking around for a long time. “I began thinking about Body Snatchers again around 1987,” Solo explains. “Once I made a deal with Warner Bros. to produce the film, Larry Cohen was the first writer, which seemed appropriate given that he stole the idea of Body Snatchers for The Invaders TV series,” Solo laughs. “He’s said as much to me. Anyway, he did two entirely different scripts, and Warners liked the second one but decided they wanted to go younger.

“Last January, a new executive was assigned to the project; he thought the script was terrific, but wanted to get some work done on it,” Solo continues. “So Stuart and Dennis started rewriting and rewriting, for the better part of six months. Then Warners brought in another writer, who did five or six drafts. Meanwhile, Stuart was working on another film, Fortress, that went pay-or-play. Stuart didn’t want to leave Body Snatchers, but you have to make a living; he went off to Australia, and we had to find another director. Abel came in, and he wanted to work with his own writer. So we started all over again; that must have gone seven or eight drafts. It was endless. Finally, they approved a script in November, and here we are.”

After producer Robert Solo had Larry Cohen write a couple of drafts, Stuart Gordon and his writing partner Dennis Paoli came aboard the Warner Bros project in December 1990. Gordon committed to direct FORTRESS in April after Warners sought to entice Stephen King to do a rewrite.

“Our feeling was that if you’re going to have a new writer come on board, it should be someone really sensational,” said Gordon. “Stephen King sent back this wonderful note saying, ‘I was interested in doing the adaptation, but the script is fine the way it is. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.””

King’s praise prompted Gordon to prod Warner Bros to give BODY SNATCHERS a green light, but they insisted another writer be brought in to polish the script. Gordon worked with Nebin Shreiner until he left to direct FORTRESS in September 1991, but he would have preferred to direct BODY SNATCHERS had he been given the go ahead.

When informed that director Abel Ferrara’s scripter, Nicholas St. John, toned down the graphic nature of Gordon’s draft, Gordon responded, “It takes a lot more to scare people now that it did in the ’50s when the first movie came out.”

One Gordon concept not retained was the idea to provide the pod organisms with human exteriors, but insides of pure plant material, like Howard Hawks’ THE THING (1950). “To me, that idea had a lot of potential,” said Gordon. “Unlike a human being, whose brain is located in a specific part of the body, the consciousness of the creature is spread throughout so that if you were going to, say, slice off its head, it would still be able to think.”

A sequence in Gordon’s draft had pod people closing in on a family trapped in a garage. “The family was using gardening tools—spades, rakes, hedge clippers—to fight back,” said Gordon. “Ultimately they discovered that weed killer was the only thing that could stop the pods. It dissolved them,” said Gordon.

Gordon revealed that the memorable pod scream from Solo’s 1978 version (created by Ben Burtt) will be reused in BODY SNATCHERS. “Sound has a huge effect on you psychologically,” said Gordon. “The cry when they discover an intruder in their midst is wonderful.”


Though Solo and Ferrara were said to have beefed up the action in the film, Gordon noted his version had a “sequence of them dropping defoliant on the pod people at the end of the movie. The idea for a helicopter dog-fight at the climax came from Bob Solo, if I’m not mistaken.”

Gordon noted that he and Paoli played with several endings. “We had one where they just fly off into the sunset, not knowing what they were going to find,” said Gordon. “Another had them landing only to find that the people were pods as well.” Gordon hinted that further sequels might be planned. “There’s some talk about setting the next one in Washington, D.C.”

Gordon likes both of the earlier film versions, but the 1956 Don Siegel film is his favorite. “It’s a brilliant, timeless movie that holds up just fine,” said Gordon, who finds the 1978 Philip Kaufman version more “dated” despite it being the more contemporary of the two. The theme of all the versions, springing from the Jack Finney novel, is the same, i.e. conformity. “It was a strong force in the 1950s, but it’s still very much with us,” said Gordon. “One of the points we got into in the script is that the people who had the best chance of surviving against the pods were the rebels, people rejected by the system.

Screenwriter Nicholas St. John is an unusual presence here. Although many directors don’t like having the writer on the set, Ferrara and St. John work differently. The pair have collaborated for many years, so when Ferrara agreed to direct Body Snatchers, he asked St. John to rewrite the script by Gordon and Paoli.

“Everybody was looking at the third act,” says St. John of problems with the then-existing screenplay. “We wanted to take it in a different direction from what was originally envisioned.

We wanted to get the general feel more toward the original movie, more toward the psychological aspects than the spectacle. We ended up having plenty of spectacle, too, but we’ve set a different tone. Even this scene we’re shooting tonight is very dark, going along with this Gothic feel. and that’s what we tried to get into. That’s what I think the first movie did.”

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Much of the story remains from the earlier screenplay, according to St. John, including the premise and the heroes. “We inherited the military base [from the Gordon-Paoli draft], and we stuck with that. The protagonists are young, as opposed to the other movies, where they were older.”

The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers reflected the paranoia of the 50s McCarthy witch hunts, while the *70s film displayed the then-prevalent New Age “Me Decade” thinking. St. John says that this new film reflects a different theme for the ’90s.

“For me, it’s involved with a very, very grand scheme of evil vs. good. The evil that you see every day pervading mankind is so seductive. There must be a reason why all of these things we see in the world happen. You go to sleep one day, you wake up the next, and you have the disease, and the disease spreads! You’ve got to be strong, you’ve got to have love; you’ve got to have all of those things in your heart to beat it.”

You can’t think about that while you’re writing it, you must remain true to what’s in front of you,” he says. You have to build a world and inhabit in with the people that you need to do it with and you must keep it true to itself. After that, you hope people like it and that you did as good a job as the other guys have done. But, I feel confident and really good about it, because it’s a strong piece and a real strong idea, Body Sculpting The writer says he und Ferrara worked on the script together to make the characters more emotional and to emphasize the family structure much more than in the first two films, “We take characters to their emotional and logical extremes. We push them to the edge, and that’s what you need to do. That’s what I think our films do we really get out there with them, put them in a situation and tum the screws on them .

“That’s what I think we’ve done here. We have this incredible antagonist who has just taken over everything. So, we’ve had a good time-we can really get some truths in here and make statements that normally, we couldn’t do. If people reacted in that way, you would say, “Huh? Who would believe that?! But we can do it here because of the sel-up.”

Another principal difference with this Body Snatchers is that the hero isn’t a Kevin McCarthy or Donald Sutherland type, a teenage girl-thereby giving the story a more youthful slant. There were choices made before we got involved,” St. John reveals. “I don’t know if I would have made that choice from the beginning to make her a 17-year-old, I don’t think I would have, because I don’t know how much I have in common with a girl like that. It certainly is different! The other films were geared for an older generation.

“Look this is a sophisticated message, and they were trying to give it to a sophisticated audience. We’re giving to the kids on this level, and they have to learn to deal with good and evil as well. If we can get the 17, 18 and 19-year olds out there, they’ll get a good film with plenty of excitement. At the same time, we want to put our Vision of the world into it, which is “There is an enemy

“There were a couple of plot turns that we really liked, and we’ve tried to keep them through all of the rewrites,” he adds. There’s one thing specifically in the last five minutes, and I hope it stays. It’s rough, but it’s good, and it was really powerful.”

Although many screenwriters aren’t welcome on film sets, the improvisational manner in which Ferrara works makes St. John a vital part of the shooting process. “Abel has to have some kind of control or conduit to make sure it doesn’t go all over the place—and who better than the writer?” says St. John.

“I understand the structure, I understand what each scene is supposed to do, and if the actors want to say, ‘Hey. I’ve got an idea,’ we can talk about it. If it’s off the mark, I’ve got to stop them. I’ve got to control it, to make sure it gets where it has to go. That’s really it. I’ve worked on all of our films: I’m always on the set with Abel.”

As they have throughout their partnership, St. John says he and Ferrara “have been close throughout” in developing the film’s final screenplay. “He doesn’t sit down and write scene-by scene. We’ll talk out the ideas together, and then I’ll run with it. I usually knock out a first version for general guidance, and then we start to get more specific, and as we get actors, we really hone it down.”


To assist him on the visual side, Ferrara brought in cinematographer Bojan Bazelli, who shot his China Girl and King of New York. Both films are distinguished by rich, stylized lighting and sinuous camera movement; even people who hate the films have to admit that they look great. The Yugoslavian-born Bazelli has also been responsible for the lush look of such films as Pumpkinhead and Deep Cover. “But Abel is my creator,” he relates in his slightly accented English. “He found me. I was in LA, six or seven months after I arrived from Europe. All I had done was school work and a low budget feature in Czechoslovakia. Somehow Abel got hold of some of my work and offered me China Girl. Next thing I knew, I was in New York, sitting on a crane on Mulberry Street. First day on the set.”

Bazelli sips a cup of coffee and continues. “I’ve done many things since then, but my best artistic work is with Abel. He doesn’t just want functional film language enough light to see what’s happening and for continuity. He wants film language that’s expressive.


“The colors are very important in this movie, or, more accurately, the absence of color,” Bazelli explains. “Black and white in color. It’s all tones, a palette of monochromatic hues—shades of gray. The sky is white in virtually every shot, and often the foreground is very dark, a little ominous. We used different film stocks for the pre-pod and post-pod periods, and though the difference is very subtle, audiences will see it, even if they’re not consciously aware. The camera is constantly in motion, and the compositions are very much off-center, people over in the corners of the frame. That helps achieve a feeling of weirdness. uneasiness.

“I just love it!” he exclaims. “I loved the 56 version. There’s something about the MacGuffin that has always fascinated and intrigued me, and that’s why I did the *78 version. It works, so why not? There’s something really insidious and terrifying about it, and it’s something people can relate to: That there are forces beyond their control, that their lives are really not in their own hands, and that unseen forces are really running our own country and our world. We’re just pawns, and they are taking over! In a way, you see some of that in the contemporary politics of the Far Right-‘they’ are taking over, and ‘we’ are being wiped out and taken over by them, whoever the ‘them are.

So, there are always people who feel a kind of alienation and powerlessness, where their lives are being run by unseen others. That’s what touched a chord in all three movies. That’s why people feel it in a kind of visceral way, and that’s why the films work. We can relate to the people involved, and things aren’t the way they used to be. “Something’s happening and life isn’t the way it used to be. I’m not living as well as my parents did.’ ‘What’s going on here?” “Our factories are closing. Who’s doing this?’ They are! I’m not saying this film is a metaphor for that, but that’s an aspect of the Body Snatchers’ MacGuffin that I think touches people.”

St. John is pleased with the way the actors help him sharpen their lines and characters. “Everybody has brought much life to these characters. It’s amazing! From little Reilly Murphy, who plays five-year old Andy, to Meg [Psycho In Tilly, everyone is awesome! I only had a fuzzy picture of the faces of these people, but now, they are the characters! It’s amazing, but it happens every time I do a film. I have a general idea, a phantasm in my mind, and suddenly, “Yeah! That’s Tim!'”

Meg Tilly took a very internal approach to the transformation. opting to convey it in a subtle, low key manner. “I just made a switchover in my way of thinking, my way of looking at things,” she explains. Searching for an example, she says, “I look at my children in one way, and a chair in another. Because they’re different–one is a living being and the other is an object. When Carol stops being Carol, there’s no longer any difference for her between the chair and the child.”


Discussing Body Snatchers director Abel Ferrara is easier. “Abel really threw me, because he doesn’t work the way I’m used to,” she offers. “I’m the kind of person who likes to know exactly how many steps I’m going to take and when I’m going to look up, and that’s not him. Body Snatchers has been like a roller coaster ride… Whoa! And away we go!” Tilly snaps her head from side to side to illustrate. “At first I was like, ‘Help, I’ve got to get off!’ I’d be agonizing over individual words, and I’d come in and the dialogue would be completely different. Then I’d be totally flipped out, saying, ‘Abel, you’ve got to help me here.’ I wasn’t sure I would be able to cope, but I have. It’s been all about letting go and not having to know exactly what I’m going to do.

“Now I feel like a rodeo rider: I’m slammed on this wild horse and it’s bucking and bronking and I’m really exhilarated, but I’m hanging onto its ears and mane and screaming. It’s fun, but it’s scary as hell!” Tilly laughs. “I’d work with Abel again; I’ve actually really enjoyed myself on this movie. There are some directors you put up with and some directors you love, and I really love Abel.”

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Getting St. John’s concept of disease onto the screen is the responsibility of makeup effects expert Tom Burman, who worked on Solo’s 1978 version under arduous conditions (out of a suitcase, no less). For BODY SNATCHERS, Burman redesigned the pods and devised a method of depicting what occurs to the bodies of those who are taken over. “Science fiction audiences are more demanding today,” said Burman. “I feel that they are owed an explanation of what happens to the old bodies.”

Surprisingly, Body Snatchers isn’t a state-of-the-art makeup FX festival. “This isn’t Terminator 2,” Solo says. “It’s not a $60-, $70-, $80-million film, and we’re not using ILM or morphing. It’s not that kind of picture.” But what about the body snatchers? “Abel didn’t have a strong vision of the special effects,” makeup FX designer Tom Burman, who also worked on the 1978 edition, carefully explains. “I love the guy, and we didn’t fight or argue, but at the same time he didn’t have a clear vision of what he wanted from us, so it’s hard to say what’s going to end up in the finished film. He really wanted to see what we could do and then decide. But that’s a problem, because you often find yourself painted into a corner, and effects aren’t very flexible.”


Nevertheless, Burman designed a full range of pod FX, including “effects that show what’s happening inside the pod as the replicas are developing, which is something that wasn’t done in either of the earlier versions. In those, you see the pod replicas from the outside as they’re forming, and you see them emerge when they’re complete. For the pods themselves, we tried to create something that was ominous and unfamiliar looking, yet organic. We tried to go in the direction of things that looked like a distortion of something you might find here on Earth, rather than something that screamed “outer space.


Burman was not on the set continuously, but he did arrive in order to supervise one of the movie’s most startling effects in which female lead Gabrielle Anwar shoots her “father” and he appears to deflate, leaving nothing but his glasses, ring and bloodstained clothing. The craftsmen achieved this effect molding a likeness of actor Terry Kinney’s torso and then attaching a suction device which reduced the body to virtually nothing.

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A major component of the film’s effects is, of course, the body snatching pods themselves. These were replicated to Burman’s specifications by Matt Marich and Star Fields on location in Alabama. “Originally they wanted 50 pods,” said Fields. Then they decided they wanted a hundred—just to fill the trucks. But once we hit a hundred, the producer just said, “Keep going.’ Tom designed the prototype, and they wanted different sizes, so, going off his design, Matt sculpted the rest.”


As humidity, cold or any extreme of temperature affects the latex casting, heaters were set up inside the Alabama shop in order to maintain a constant temperature of approximately 90 degrees. Raw pod-making materials had to be shipped from Los Angeles, some of it by ground transportation because it contains hazardous chemicals. Marich confirmed its volatility. “It’s a pretty toxic paint that we’re using because we wanted to be sure that once we start working in the swamp that it doesn’t rub off. Heck of a buzz from it. We had to go home early a couple of days.”

From what does one construct a pod? “These are, mainly, just an AB urethanetype foam,” said Marich. “We’re also making about 75 of the rigid lightweight foam ones because when they’re harvesting them, they have big nets and so we had to make some light enough to be carried.

Abel Ferrara
Abel Ferrara

Interview with Abel Ferrara

What are your memories of making Body Snatchers?
Abel Ferrara: Jack… what was the name of the guy who wrote the original story? Jack Finney. That original story’s a masterpiece. It’s brilliant writing. Don Siegel’s movie was a pretty impressive movie, and he was impressive as a movie director. But it was very true to the book. Then Warner Bros, they switched it around.

So you spoke to Jack Finney?
Abel Ferrara: Yeah, absolutely. That’s one of the perks of being who I am! You get to talk to Jack Finney, you get to talk to William Gibson. But then you’ve got to work with the Warner Bros guys! The difference between Jack Finney and Warner Bros… Jack was really cool, very helpful, just what you’d expect. Then I got a call from the Warner Bros guys saying, “Don’t talk to that guy, because, like he basically got $500, and that’s all he’s gonna fuckin’ get, and we don’t want him asking for more.” So that ended that conversation.

That seems to be a common theme with writers of these stories. The same thing happened to the guy who wrote The Day The Earth Stood Still. I think he got $500 too.
Abel Ferrara: That was the going rate for masterpieces back then! Five hundred, and yeah, be happy you got that!

Body Snatchers is more mainstream and commercial than your early work. And at $17 million, it’s a big budget movie by your previous standards too.
Abel Ferrara: It isn’t commercial at all. And I personally don’t think it’s as good a film as Driller Killer. I’ve made big budget movies like it before. And I was the first person to be offered Die Hard. Take Fear City which I made in 1985 for $6 million. That figure would be tripled today allowing for inflation. If I can get a film of just close-ups of Harvey Keitel in The Bad Lieutenant then I don’t need $17 million. If I’m working with a thousand extras and helicopters like in Body Snatchers, then I do. You dig?

Body Snatchers is the first movie you’ve directed not based on your own original material.
Abel Ferrara: You make a concession working with someone else’s ideas. It’s a step away from your ego. I just thought the Siegel movie was so great, a f**king masterpiece. I’ve seen it 200 times now. The way that cat set up his shots. That’s why I decided to make it. Why Warners decided to back it had something to do with Martin Scorsese remaking a Fifties movie, Cape Fear, and having a hit. You know, Finney only got $500 when they optioned his novel in 1954. And it went on to make three feature films! I found out he was still alive and called him up a month ago. He’s still writing at 75 years old and had no idea we’d made a new version of his story. No one at Warners had told him because they were afraid they’d have to pay him. That’s f**king Hollywood right there, man. They f**ked him and went on to burn him big time. And this is the man whose novel was outrageous for the time. When I first read it, it was like a door being opened in my imagination.

Many people are credited for the Body Snatchers script including Stuart Gordon, Dennis Paoli, Raymond Cistheri, Larry Cohen and Nicholas St John.
Abel Ferrara: And only Nicky St John, my longtime screenwriter, deserves the credit. I never met those other guys. It was purely contractual. I took their shit and threw it out, man, it was pathetic. Really pathetic. I wouldn’t know those other people if I fell over them. Nicky wasn’t that enthused over the Body Snatchers idea but I talked him into it and he saved the f**king picture.

Was it St John’s idea to have the aliens invading through the military?
Abel Ferrara: No, that was in the first script Warners gave me. I felt it was a strange idea at first. The novel was set in a small town. All those ideas in the script from the guys I’d never met were all bogus, all wrong. How can anyone say you aren’t you if they didn’t know you to begin with? I thought the story had to take place in the town the lead guy grew up in. Like in Siegel’s film. Kevin McCarthy was a doctor who knew everyone and could therefore tell the difference when the pods took over. Putting complete strangers on a military base was ridiculous. But we accepted the concept and said it sounded a good idea. You tell me if it’s a fatal flaw or a brilliant concept.

So if you were to remake it, you would take it back to the small town.
Abel Ferrara: Yeah, absolutely. The doctor in the small town somewhere. Why change that? It’s brilliant. Why would you change that? If you’ve got a great reason for changing it, then yeah. But if you’ve got an arbitrary reason? You’re gonna make a $40m film on some arbitrary, dopey-ass fuckin’ chase some idiot screenwriter made – that was fired anyway? That’s it in a nutshell.

What about the pivotal ‘sleep’ scene where Gabrielle Anwar is dozing in the bath and the alien tentacles are crawling all over her body? She comes round, runs out of the bathroom yelling, and suddenly she’s wearing a towel! How did she have the time to grab the towel if she was so terrified?
Abel Ferrara: I hate that scene. It was a major error. The actual snatching process is good though. I thought it would give the movie a more ’90s look and make it tougher if we showed the things that were hinted at in the other versions.

The visual style of Body Snatchers is very distinctive.
Abel Ferrara: It’s my third film with cinematographer Bojan Bazelli. He shot China Girl and King of New York. He’s awesome and his work speaks for itself. He’s from the Prague Film School and is half Italian too. Powerful and brilliant stuff. I don’t want to swell his head but he’s a bad motherf**ker. Whatever critics say about the film, it looks fabulous and it’s shot in Scope, which is like a big trip Jack, know what I mean? It’s state of the art in motion pictures and with $17 million at my disposal I could well afford it. Much of the movie was shot at night and everything was back-lit. It was very difficult to match the day stuff as a result. Warners were very unhappy because they couldn’t see the actors’ eyes. They asked for reshoots. But that was a conscious artistic decision on my part. However, it wasn’t my idea to paint all the trees on location black!

How did you find Reilly Murphy who plays young Andy Malone in Body Snatchers?
Abel Ferrara: He’s my discovery, my Macaulay Culkin! He’s great, right? It was a classic major studio search. We looked at hundreds of boys and ended up finding Reilly in LA. He’s the grand nephew of Lloyd Bridges so he comes from good movie stock. He was very natural in his feelings and instincts for the role. He plays Harvey Keitel’s son in my new movie Snake Eyes. For the youngsters in this film, it’s about finding a sense of identity, of their own individuality, that’s missing in their lives. It takes a cause to rally around, and ideals to believe in, to make them aware of their humanity and fight for it.

Did you have a fight with the studio over what happens to Reilly at the end of the movie?
Abel Ferrara: Let’s say they weren’t too happy. They wanted to know why he had to meet the fate he does. We fought back and forth over that. Solo wants to try another take on the Body Snatchers because of his affection for the subject matter.

What do you think is the core of Body Snatchers that makes it so resonant?
Abel Ferrara: Spirituality of the writer. Him trying to come to terms with the possibility that the world could possibly blow up in his face. It’s just a beautiful work of fiction, man. It’s creative. He was a talented guy at the top of his game. That’s why it resonates. They gave Jack Finney 500 bucks, and that was it. That’s all he got. They made four studio films based on that idea, and the guy got 500 bucks. And when I talked to him about it, he had no resentment at all; he said, “Hey, that’s the deal I made.”

Body Snatchers Score – Joe Delia
The film being scored is Warner Bros’ BODY SNATCHERS, the third adaptation of Jack Finney’s durable story of alien invasion and evil within. Ferrara is adding his own brand of horror to the classic tale, with the longtime friend and composer Joe Delia. Delia is to Ferrara what John Williams is to Steven Spielberg. Since being introduced to each other nearly 20 years ago, the two have worked together on eight films.

For BODY SNATCHERS, a revolutionary approach to scoring is being employed. Using state-of-the art equipment at National Sound studios in New York, Delia is able together with Fish, creative director of the studio complex-to compose in ways he hasn’t tried before. The Synclavier—the most sophisticated instrument in the world has allowed Delia to micro-score the film, putting down and modifying theme after theme while BODY SNATCHERS is still being edited.

Joe Delia
Joe Delia

Ferrara, subscribing to the auteur approach, influences every stage of his film, including scoring. The Synclavier seems tailor-made for his stream-of-consciousness creativity. As a result, Delia’s scores are organic, with the ability to change at any time during the process: “Never a bit of music goes into Abel’s films that he doesn’t feel is right,” says Delia. “He likes to have near-finished music in hand as he structures his films,” Delia, (known in music circles as “Killer Joe”) is no stranger to films that shock people. His long list of credits include films that draw their terror from real life, creating a Dante-like Inferno for the characters: a man driven to using a power drill to kill people in DRILLER KILLER; a mute woman,an turned bloody vigilante after being raped twice in one day in MS.45; strippers brutally murdered in Times Square by a serial killer in FEAR CITY. In more recent years, Delia has scored Ferrara’s CHINA GIRL and last year’s sensation, BAD LIEUTENANT. He has also scored episodes of WAR OF THE WORLDS for television.

“This score is more textural and visceral than the first film,” says Delia of BODY SNATCHERS. Carmen Dragon (father of “Captain” Daryl Dragon of Captain and Tennille fame) scored the 1956 original. “Dragon’s approach was very ‘film noir,” says Delia. “We tried to stay away from the typical scary music. This score is synthesized with otherworldly sounds, which I think is good—it adds a different spin. The first film was more psychological than rock ’em shock ’em, although it was very, very scary. The new one remains true to that. It’s not “Freddy Krueger” at all; it’s much more subtle. Of course, there are a few moments that will send people through the roof. What I tried to create with this score was a composition that goes beyond music. There’s one theme-the pod theme-which keeps appearing throughout. It’s a throbbing, droning, bubbling musical bed that will make the film very scary.

“With BODY SNATCHERS, my music coproducer Peter Fish (who also wrote additional music for the film) and I abandoned the traditinal. approach to film scoring. We were brought in early in the game, working with rough cuts for a long time, getting ideas and themes together. Abel likes to have a lot of options.”

“In terms of musical keys, rhythm and tone, our approach was completely non-conventional,” says Fish. “There’s an internal logic to the score in that it comments very specifically on every scene and was composed because of the new technology available at National Sound—with a great sense of creative freedom.”

With BODY SNATCHERS the music was married to the effects. “With some cues, it was difficult to decipher what were sound effects and what was score,” says Delia. “That was the nature of the film.”

Delia’s scores for Ferrara always end up being part of the film’s guts. If that means the music doesn’t work as well without the film, that’s fine with Delia. “The music needs to serve the film first and foremost, everything else is secondary,” he says. A case in point is one of his favorite scores, for Ferrara’s MS. 45. In that film, the “internal logic” of Delia’s music, described by Fish, is borne out; music is used sparingly as a direct texture to the film’s more intense scenes. The music and images need one another to create the desired effect for the viewer.

Abel Ferrara

Robert H. Solo

Stuart Gordon
Dennis Paoli
Nicholas St. John

Raymond Cistheri
Larry Cohen

Based on The Body Snatchers
Jack Finney

Gabrielle Anwar as Marti Malone
Terry Kinney as Steve Malone
Billy Wirth as Tim Young
Meg Tilly as Carol Malone
Reilly Murphy as Andy Malone
Christine Elise as Jenn Platt
Lee Ermey as General Platt
Forest Whitaker as Major Matthew Collins
Kathleen Doyle as Diana Platt
Elvis Phillips as Pete
Tonea Stewart as Mrs. Fitzpatrick

Cinefantastique v23n04
Cinefantastique v24n01

One thought on “Body Snatchers (1993) Retrospective

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