The Thing (1982) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) are re-workings of earlier films: The Thing from Another World (1951), itself adapted from the science fiction novella Who Goes There? (1938); and the 1956 film version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, based on the novel The Body Snatchers (1954).
In both stories seemingly innocent events are harbingers of the horrific. A runaway Alsatian dog in The Thing, taken in, hours later transforms into a shocking mutation. And in Invasion of the Body Snatchers apparently ordinary people are behaving oddly, they don’t seem to be themselves: because they’re alien clones. A plant (whose spores originate from outer space) sucks the life out of those asleep within its proximity, and replicates them from a chrysalis-like pod.
Whether it’s an abandoned dog, which is actually an alien, or a strange plant that produces ‘pod people’; in these paradigm the apparently ordinary is charged with critical importance and only a select few understand this. Meanwhile people around the hero are either oblivious to the threat, or are themselves already aliens.
The alien lifeforms are able to replicate people (although they murder them to achieve this). The ‘re-appropriation’ of living people to make alien clones is a kind of rebirth, or resurrection process: one which we never get to witness from the ‘other’ side. The clones provoke questions of identity, because they soar human but they are alien. At what point does someone cease to be human? In Invasion of the Body Snatchers it appears to change their personality, and one might assume from this their whole inner world, but in The Thing the replication process is so thorough only a blood test can identify an impostor.
In a world where aliens are masquerading as co-workers, it’s difficult to tell the difference between friend and foe. Trust becomes a real issue. Open up to the wrong person and you could literally end up dead. The twist at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is that the audience fears the hero might be discovered at any moment, and in the last scene we wonder if we can trust the woman walking towards him. In the last shot the hero makes the shrill alien screech and points his finger to identify her as human. The person the audience trusts most is already one of them.
The Antarctic research station in The Thing could almost be the catalyst zone that infects causes the breakout contagion in Invasion of the Body Snatchers — except that the Thing is flesh and blood whereas the alien life-form in Invasion of the Body Snatchers seems more plant-like, a distant relative of the Triffids in The Day of the Triffids (1951). Although the stories feature different kinds of monster, the fight against them is vicious — an all-out battle to the death. The monster in The Thing is a capable chameleon, cunning, ruthless — a brilliant adapter in the Darwinian sense. The organism in Invasion of the Body Snatchers is strategic and plays the long game, building up wide support and impressive logistics, it’s ‘pod people’ are able to work together efficiently, and methodically, slowly maintaining a stranglehold over the human race.
The most significant difference between these two stories is the end. The hero wins in The Thing: he achieves a victory for himself, and for mankind (and the watching audience). As a result it feels like a celebration. The hero in Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a victim. This story warns us about fighting a monster that has the strategic sense to build up enough resources to become invincible.
While parallels have been drawn between the original stories and McCarthyism — the paranoid fear of anti-American Communist sympathisers in the US — the remakes delight in physical and psychological horror, of being science fiction film noir. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a science fiction paranoid conspiracy: not a metaphor for Communist sleeper cells so much as mass mind control of the media and the domination of blanket advertising. The central characters are literary types, educated middle class liberals, holding out against the ‘pod people’: mindless slaves to mass-consumerism. While, almost in reverse, the hero in The Thing is an uncomplicated working class Whisky-drinking throwback to the macho stereotype of the American West.
These reworkings of the original stories (classics in themselves) bring a new dimension of psychology, visual flair, and drama that make them worthy additions, as well as intriguing documents of their times.