Abel Ferrara’s made some good films (Bad Lieutenant, King of New York) and some rubbish – and Bodysnatchers definitely fits into the rubbish category. It’s a straight sci-fi B-movie. You know the story: aliens take over human form by means of recreation via pods, until the whole world is filled with soulless indifferent conformity.
Why did he make it? The money? Had he by this time just become a hack director? – Maybe. – But there’s some elements in it that, like Middelton’s The Changeling (albeit implying a similar sort of affair in the title, but a much different piece), made me wonder about the process of its creation and the latent possibilities in the script which nobody bothered to bring out.
There are two elements of the plot in Bodysnatchers in particular which I found myself thinking about afterwards. One: the film centres on a girl, about fifteen I suppose, whose mother had died and been replaced by a stepmother. Two: the film is set on an army base, where people are trained to conform to a hive mentality. Yet the thing is, not the slightest thing is made of these two things during the course of the film. It plays lip-service to the idea of the girl not getting on with her stepmother, but nothing more than that; and the army mentality is more or less never even mentioned. But the ideas are still there, even if they’re completely unused: someone must have thought of them at some point during the film’s gestation, presumably before the writers were cloned and replaced by Hollywood drones who rewrote the movie as as a typical boy meets girl romance. (Is this actually what the movie is about? It’s a work of almost incomprehensible subtlety?).
There’s a good movie in there, that’s the frustrating thing. Cut out all the preamble; girl turns up at airbase with family (Dad is a scientist, investigating toxic leakage), doesn’t get on with stepmother, who she regards as an evil clone who has taken the place of her own mother; fights with father, who tries to persuade her stepmother is not evil; rebels; meets handsome army boy; tells army boy about stepmother; army boy tells of disillusion with army training methods; how they have turned his best friend into some sort of weird clone; imagine it’s just the made way the world is; and who cares, because they’re in love; adults don’t understand their love, try to keep them apart; paranoid army doctor (Forest Whitaker) starts ranting on about clones and pods; kids put two and two together; steal attack helicopter and, in a fine scene reminiscent of Lyndsay Anderson’s If, blow the entire army base to smithreens.
There, now if any Hollywood studio would like to give me (assumes Dr Evil voice) ONE MILLION DOLLARS, I’ll even write them a script.