Movies Till Dawn: Super ’70s Shock Show Double Feature

12 a.m. – “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” – Science Fiction/Horror

product_images_modal_IOTBSCover72dpi__7B3e438a5b-c6b8-4d59-8306-83fa23e64ec5_7D(1978, Shout Factory) Health Department workers Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams discover – far too late – that the reason for their fellow San Francisco residents’ strange behavior isn’t exorbitant rent, but a horde of intelligent alien spores with designs on replacing humans with physically exact but unemotional clones. Director Philip Kaufman’s creepy remake benefits from a mix of the breathless paranoia of the first film adaptation by Don Siegel in 1956 and some truly icky special effects, shot through with some mordant observations on the self-obsessed self-help culture of the period, as embodied by Leonard Nimoy’s smug pop psychiatrist (when Adams’ boyfriend, Art Hindle, starts acting like an automaton, Nimoy suggests, with a straight face, that it’s probably because he wants out of the relationship). Though nothing in the film generates indelible shivers like the sight of Kevin McCarthy running through traffic, screaming “They’re already here!” after discovering the aliens’ scheme at the end of the Siegel film (which Kaufman has McCarthy reprise in his version), the remake maintains a slow-spreading chill throughout its running time, and features several alarming standout moments, including the discovery of early-stage clones in a bathhouse owned by Jeff Goldblum and Veronica Cartwright, and the final scene, which reveals the fate of the two leads. Shout Factory’s excellent Blu-ray ports over a number of extras from the 2003 and 2010 DVD/Blu-ray editions, including interviews with Kaufman, Sutherland, writer W.D. Richter and cinematographer Michael Chapman and a commentary by Kaufman, and adds a wealth of new material, including interviews with Adams, Hindle and jazz pianist Denny Zeitlin (who composed the score), as well as a second commentary by Steve Haberman (well informed, as usual) and “Time is Just a Place,” a 1955 episode of “Science Fiction Theatre” that also drew on Jack Finney’s “The Body Snatchers” for its story.

2 a.m. – “Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?” – Horror/Thriller

738329202019(1971, Kino Lorber) This moderately macabre take on Hansel and Gretel reunited star Shelley Winters with director Curtis Harrington, who teamed that same year for American International Pictures on the gleefully camp-morbid “What’s the Matter with Helen?” Here, as the previous film, Winters is in a fragile mental state due to the death of a child: her wealthy, widowed matron dotes on needy children with an elaborate Christmas party while secretly pining for her dead daughter, whose mummified remains are hidden in her attic. Orphaned siblings Mark Lester (“Oliver!”) and Chloe Franks, miffed at being left out of the holiday celebration, stow away in police inspector Lionel Jeffries’ car when he brings the children to the party; once there, Winters abducts Franks, convinced she is her dead child, spurring Lester – who suffers from his own delusions about monsters – to rescue his sister from what he believes to be a witch. Harrington piles on the Gothic trappings (some effective, some silly), but gets terrific support from his players, which include Ralph Richardson as a faux psychic and Michael Gothard and Judy Cornwell as Winters’ scheming servants. The script, co-written by Robert Blees and Hammer scribe Jimmy Sangster, puts a spin on the traditional horror arrangement by making its monster (Winters’ Aunt Roo) more pitiable than frightening, and its ostensible hero (Lester) as cracked as she is, if not more so. It’s typical of Harrington’s skewed approach to the genre (see “Night Tide,” “Games,” “The Killing Kind”), and remains an offbeat take, even if it doesn’t work for every scene.  Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray includes the original trailer, as well as spots for other obscure AIP titles including “Deranged,” the “Carrie”/”Willard” clone “Jennifer” and “The Crimson Cult” with Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee and Barbara Steele; commentary by historians David Del Valle and Nathaniel Bell round out the disc.

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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