In 1956 Don Siegel’s science fiction masterpiece Invasion of the Body Snatchers was released to much acclaim. Turning the vague yet omnipresent paranoia of the Cold War into terror from another planet, Don Siegel’s film tells the story of a small town doctor who slowly realizes his town is being taken over by intergalactic doppelgangers. After “space seeds” land in a farmer’s field just outside town giant pods begin to grow. Then from the pods replicas of the closet sleeping human are reproduced. What happens to the original human body? What do the aliens intend to do after they have the planet? No one is quite sure. What we can be sure of is although the replica looks, smells, speaks, and acts like us they are definitely not us. They are not human.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers is primarily concerned with humanity, what defines our humanity, and how it slips away. The invaders switch places with the humans while they sleep making their biggest threat our own passivity. The main symptom of the switch is that you fall into a hive mind presence losing your autonomy. So in Invasion being independent and aggressive are the only way to maintain one’s humanity. The final shot of the film is a close up of a sweaty and exhausted Dr. Hill finally having convinced the police of the oncoming swarm after barely escaping the madness himself. On his face we see the terror he lived through but have the feeling help is finally on the way; however, Hajime Sato saw something completely different. Hajime Sato saw total bunk.
In 1968 Hajime Sato released Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell and it is everything that Don Siegel’s film isn’t. Goke is loud, garish, and violent as all Hell. In Sato’s film the alien invaders don’t blend too well into society because they’re busy sucking the blood out of everyone’s neck. What’s more, is that most of the violent imagery in Goke is made to mirror the iconic images of violence that came out of the Vietnam War and WWII. Ironically enough, of the two films, I’d say that Goke has a more optimistic view of humanity that Invasion.
Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell tells the story of a group of plane crash survivors who slowly turn on one another as they try to protect themselves from a vampiric alien. The survivors are made up of a terrorist, a psychologist, an assassin, a space biologist, an arms dealer, a politician, a war widow, and the plane crew. The assembly is basically made up of people who’ve been affected by or profited from war and Sato uses the plane wreck as a place for them to sort out their differences. Soon enough though it is made clear that the best way to survive the alien threat is to band together.
But why is the alien even there? The psychologist clears this up in a line of dialogue “Ever since the A-Bomb was dropped in Hiroshima flying saucer sightings have increased dramatically. Our senseless ware have given extra terrestrials an irresistible opportunity to invade our planet.”. In Sato’s universe war, or even personal bickering, is what brings forth destruction and loss, not passivity. And it is only when someone strikes out from the plane alone that they fall victim to the beast lurking outside. How Siegel plays with the effervescent paranoia of the Cold War Sato brings front and center the real and concrete horrors of the Vietnam War. Even though the scariest part of any film is usually the tension before the violence Sato’s campy gore-fest reminds us that the real terror takes place in reality, not on the screen.
Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell ends with the alien defeated and our heroes walking into town to find nothing but corpses, remnants of a similar invasion. They realize that they’re the final humans left and terror seizes them as we zoom out and see the entire world as it is slowly surrounded by spacecrafts. Goke is a great work of humanist cinema because it knows that humanity is not defined by wars won but by the compassion we show others as we endure.
So what do you think? Have you seen either of these great films? Are there any other similarities or differences you can think of? Please leave a comment below so that we can continue our conversation on humanity, space pods, and intergalactic vampires.
-Jet Fuel Blogger, Lucas Sifuentes