Ok! MOVIE DIARY 2018 is back again this week with another batch of horror movie capsule reviews and an entry from one of my favorite cartoonists, Sloane Leong, on an all time feel bad movie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)! If you know Sloane’s work, you know this is a good fit and you’re getting very excited for me to shut up and get to Sloane’s entry.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
SPECIAL GUEST WRITER: SLOANE LEONG
Invasion of the Body Snatchers opens with a storm of galactic gelatinous gobs of translucent goo raining down through the atmosphere into flooded gutters, falling from the sky and clotting up trees and bushes. They make their homes on the undersides of leaves before sprouting out snaking tendrils that crystalize into seed pods and then bloom into enticing pink blossoms. Invasion drew me in with those creepy little rootlets and cocooned me immediately in its diseased charisma.
Invasion has a nasty beauty to it. Every frame is visually gritty and emits a range of tactile sensations through the screen, reveling in the harsh texture of mud and slime, cobwebby hair and veiny organic matter, crusted and porous. The stark lighting and muddled neutrals don't bother to please frame-by-frame which lets the chaotic warms that cut through the story sing against the wilted palette. The score is volatile and grating, music that dismantles and rebuilds itself into a terrorized heartbeat surging towards a violent peak. The camerawork is feverish, fidgeting and tilting erratically, always keeping a trembling eye on the survivors until they're close to sleep and then stilling, movement stagnant as their impending destruction draws closer.
The main group of survivors, also dressed to blend into the listless mire of their grey and ecru environments, glanced off of me except for Elizabeth. A connection struck me when Elizabeth tells Matthew about her boyfriend being weird. "...on the inside I can tell there is something different. Something is missing. Emotion, feelings. He's just not the same person.” My mind goes back to the times I could hear friends and family whispering about me in another room, not knowing I could hear them. I feel for her but I identify a lot with our stoic gooey invaders. My brain has been snatched before. At one time, all I could strive for was basic survival, subsistence, to keep the meat running. Space flower life, newborn into nothingness, no fingerprints of a past self. Elizabeth also gets her intelligence and experiences downplayed by the men around her which is a classic move in the Objective Authoritative Male Figure arsenal. They even sabotage her when she attempts to help another panicked woman who clearly knows something is terribly wrong. Having my thoughts and feelings corrected happened a lot and often with good intent by well-meaning people but if you spend long enough ignoring yourself, the self gives out.
Elizabeth's building paranoia also feels richer than Matthew's even though he gets a beautifully chaotic phone booth scene that cements his relaization of how screwed he really is. "I keep seeing these people, all recognizing each other. Something is passing between them all, some secret." She’s nauseous with dread, poisoned with it, and I could feel it in my belly too. When I was peak depressed, I couldn’t even manage the pretense of proper emotions, and then eventually forgot who I was trying to simulate in the first place. Everyone around me became alien, inscrutable. They had all been replaced by human-shaped cutouts that I filled in with malevolent intent. Could they all see how I couldn’t even feign personhood anymore? Do they think I’m a burden? What use was I? My brain chemicals had hit a vacuum and given up on cohering into anything beyond a conspiratorial emptiness. If I don’t keep an eye on my mental state and my meds, I drift back into that absence again, that bare subsistence the aliens called the function of life.
Invasion has grand allegorical themes but it didn’t affect me because it played out a conformist nightmare, revealed people will betray you at the drop of a hat or that you can never really know someone. It got me because it knows how terrifying it is to wake up and realize you’ve been made a different person without a choice, forced into a new neural chemical state, body smitten with a new virus. Towards the end of the movie, we’re offered a little sliver of hope in a brief exchange: “And when you sleep?” “We'll watch over each other.” Sickness loves to isolate itself and our only hope is another friendly diseased body at our back to snap us out of our stupor. But sickness also loves to think it’s the only one suffering and sometimes that backup turns on you, abandons you to nurse its own hurt. Invasion knows change is an inevitable, whether boon or threat. Meat has no choice but to multiply or metastasize until it decays. So go to sleep and when you wake up tomorrow, kiss your old self goodbye. You're already a whole new you.
Sloane Leong is a cartoonist, artist and writer currently living near Portland, Oregon. Her newest project is Prism Stalker, a psychedlic scifi adventure comic series. She also co-hosts Salt and Honey, a podcast focused on comics craft and storytelling with her friend Leslie Hung. Her twitter is @sloanesloane.
Usually with Argento movies they’re a little bit of a mess but it’s in service of disorienting the viewer to reflect the chaotic tone of his movie, but this one is just a mess. Jennifer Connelly is this American student at some fancy European boarding school for girls. She has the unfortunate problem of talking to bugs and having a celebrity dad that everybody wants to fuck. Everyone from the headmistress to her classmates seem to be trying to bully her into suicide because she sleepwalks and they all think she’s stuck up or something. She literally has one friend and even that’s marred by how her only friend won’t stop talking about how she wants to fuck her dad. Also there’s a killer that’s stalking the boarding school and everyone’s blaming her for it for some reason? She sleepwalks into the home of Donald Pleasance, who plays this reclusive entomologist. They strike up a friendship and she tells him about her weird connection to bugs then he gets murdered. Wait, I forgot to mention that he has a companion/butler and that that companion/butler is a chimp (There’s a lot going on with this movie). Anyway, more stupid shit happens, and then Argento panics and realizes he hasn’t shown anyone with any deformities or any horrific violence for almost an hour so he crams it all in the last fifteen minutes and makes Jennifer Connelly swim in a pool of mud and shit and skeletons before being almost decapitated by a piece of sheet metal. Before she gets her head chopped all the way off though, the butler chimp comes back from the woods armed with a straight razor and he kills the killer. I don’t remember who the killer was. The headmistress? It doesn’t matter.
The Mummy (1959)
There’s like this huge chunk of horror movies from all eras where the moral of the story is “Just leave it alone,” and none moreso than any Mummy movie. Literally every Egyptian guy is like, “Please leave it alone,” and the British guys are always like, “bbbBbUt ThE mUsEum!” I loved this one for its recycling the Peter Cushing/Cristopher Lee - Van Helsing/Dracula dynamic to be about the Mummy this time (Cushing is the embattled archaeologist and Lee is the Mummy). Sidenote: I think it’s cool how much mileage Christopher Lee got out of being a tall guy with haunted eyes. Christopher Lee is great in this movie and every time his Mummy lumbers into frame, he really makes his body seem so imposing and uncanny. The movie has a real pulpy feel to it, and it’s got that bright and gaudy technicolor that I always love to see, especially considering how drab the color palettes of most modern horror movies tend to be.
The Raven (1963)
I had no idea at all how zany this movie would be. I figured Roger Corman, Vincent Price, Poe adaptation — it’s going to be gothic and lurid, and I was wondering how they’d make an entire movie out of Poe’s poem, but it wasn’t any of that! The plot is about two rival sorcerers, Vincent Price and Boris Karloff and their romantic entanglements with the two-timing Lenore. Peter Lorre plays another, less capable sorcerer who was turned into the titular Raven at the start of the movie. Lorre’s son is a handsome drip played by Jack Nicholson, who’s in love with Vincent Price’s daughter. It’s a classic madcap spooky farce filled with ironic misunderstandings and a really hilarious sorcerer battle between Vincent Price and Karloff that I’m sure is 100 times better than anything in Doctor Strange, a movie I still haven’t seen and will probably never see because how could it possibly compare to The Raven?
Such a gross movie! Everything is sweating and dripping and bloody and there’s vermin everywhere. But before I get going let me just make one thing clear because I didn’t know this going into it: Our main dude Pinhead shows up for like a second in the beginning and then he doesn’t show up again for like another hour! Almost all of the movie centers around Frank, this guy who’s been resurrected in this shitty room in an ugly house. Before he was a dripping heap of exposed organs, Frank was a shitty guy who comes upon the mysterious puzzle box that summons Pinhead and his group of interdimensional sex tourists. The puzzle box is like a sci-fi handkerchief code — when you solve it (sidenote: it seems surprisingly easy to solve) it signals Pinhead et al and lets them know you are DTF. Pinhead and his crew are fully into rough sex nerd stuff that’s too rough for anyone on earth and Frank manages to escape but when he returns to our dimension in his brother’s ugly house he’s a disgusting glob of organs that gets stronger when it eats blood. Frank eventually gets himself to a point where he can talk and touch again, and he manipulates his former lover (his brother’s wife!) into luring men over to this ugly room and killing them with a hammer so he can eat their blood and rebuild his body and eventually go on the run to hide from Pinhead, who presumably wants to scold him and monologue about how pain is pleasure and pleasure is pain and how monogamy is a social construct before fucking him with a hook or something. I was actually pretty impressed by how self-contained and disgusting this movie was, sort of like an episode of The Twilight Zone if The Twilight Zone were really sleazy. I don’t know if I liked it but I have found myself becoming obsessed with it, just reading the wiki pages and thinking about how all of this sounds awful and stupid and how I have to watch these movies sometime.