Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956-2007) epic 4 film review, and what the films say about society then and now.

Fair warning, there will be spoilers for all 4 films.  I strongly encourage you to watch at least one of these Body Snatcher films first before reading this review; preferably the 1978 version.

What True Horror Is

When people talk about horror, about films that scare them, I think back years ago to a Bravo special where they listed the top 100 scariest movie moments of all time (pretty sure AMC did something similar at some point).  But the list can also be equated to the top 100 most terrifying films of all time.  Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was listed among them, because of the boat trip where they saw disturbing imagery.  Up in the top three was The Exorcist, and Alien.  After those two came and went in 2nd and 3rd place, I was left wondering, “Well what the hell could first place be?”  It ended up being the film Jaws.  And thinking more about it a few hours after that was listed, I realized they had a point.  Jaws was a film that not only terrified some people when they washed it, but it made people terrified to go swimming in the ocean.  You know, because once that film came out, people figured it was 50/50 odds of getting ripped apart by a great white shark, even if those odds don’t match the actual statistics.  But in any case, job well done.  The film played on a fear that many already had to some extent, amplified it, and made many film-goers more paranoid about the potential real-life situation that could happen.

There’s a reason why films like Jaws, The Exorcist, Alien, Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Blair Witch Project, among others, are classics that withstand the test of time in-spite of anything that does come off as dated (the shark in Jaws, the cliches and stereotypes some of these films started, etc).  And there’s a reason why others are quickly forgotten.  If there’s anything I despise about most horror films, especially those of today, it’s the overuse of the JUMP-scare.  And you always use caps when spelling out the JUMP in JUMP-scare because it’s almost always punctuated by a loud music cue.  Or if music is unavailable, throw a fucking cat into the scene, because people are scared of cats.  But no matter what, always make sure there’s a hot chick in the film.  Whether she’s the last survivor or one of the victims during the first 3/4ths of the runtime, all that matters is that she’s in it so this shit can be sold to the horny male teenagers and lesbians who want to bang her; but they can’t bang her, so they just fantasize about her while banging their real girlfriends.  The main movie I think of when it comes to relying on nothing but JUMP-scares to get people to watch it is The Unborn from 2009.  “What’s that movie?” you may ask.  To which I reply, “Exactly.”

That’s not to say JUMP-scares can’t be utilized effectively, as each of the above films have at least one moment that executes the technique.  But the classics tend not to lean so heavily on that crutch.  Because JUMP-scares are a quick-fix.  No real lasting impact, as their intention and execution is a dime-a-dozen among horror films ever since the 80s (the 70s had it, but to a lesser extent).  Just something to make people content until they have the urge to go out and see the next piece of shit horror film out there that also relies heavily on the use of jump-scares, to the point where they break that crutch with their fat lazy bloated weight.

fat-guy-epic-swing-fail

The point is, JUMP-scares are not scary.  They are not horror.  They are not terrifying.  They are startling.  Know what else is startling?  Someone who walks up behind you without you being aware, and then says something calmly; something like, “Hey, you planning on doing the dishes?”  There’s nothing terrifying about that unless you’re scared shitless of being near some family member or significant other.  On that note, if one were to establish that the family member was deeply disturbed, and you had a very good reason to keep away from him/her, that you don’t know for sure what would happen should they get close to you, then you have something going for horror.  The creeping dread.  The mounting tension.  The dwindling candlelight of hope.

Alfred Hitchcock stated it best when talking about a hypothetical scene in a film.  If people were having a conversation at a dinner table, but then an explosion happened that killed a good number of them, then you would be startled, but the tension eases off quickly after that.  But if you take the same sequence and show the bomb hidden beneath the table at the very beginning, counting down, and then focus on everyone talking at the dinner table, then you have mounting tension.  As you get to know the people through dialogue, you may begin to relate to some, sympathize with others, and hope they somehow get away from there before the bomb goes off.

Because this is a fundamental element to what makes all, I repeat, all horror films work.  Tension.  The same thing that makes thrillers work is also what is needed to make horror films work.  Tension.  But tension alone isn’t enough, because the whole point of tension is the buildup of dread, the buildup of worry.  Dreading what?  Worrying about what?  If it’s buildup to an inconsequential JUMP-scare like most of those found in the film The Unborn, then it’s not exactly that great of a jump scare to say the least.  Even in Alien the jump-scares meant something.  Like, “Oh crap, the Alien is behind him!  He’s going to die!”  Or, “Oh shit!  It’s on the escape pod!  How will she survive now?”  You know as opposed to some scare that’s a fake-out scare, or a repetitious scare like the last half-dozen that came before it which doesn’t evolve the character or the plot in any way.

In most cases, the fear comes from worrying about what will happen to someone.  Otherwise the only thing you’re likely scared of is dying from a heart attack (which is one way to face your fear).  Or because the film contains something that represents what you yourself fear.  So if a film contains well-written and relatable characters dealing with something that is related to something you fear happening, then you may have just come across your own personal favorite horror film.  Since it’s usually difficult to make something that relatable to such a large number of potential customers, especially in this day and age when just about everything has been done in the past, the best course of action to take (one would think) would be keeping things simple.

If you can remember other characters in a film just as well as you can remember the monster/person who killed most of them, then you know you’re doing something right.  For example, people remember Laurie Strode about as well as they remember Michael Myers.

By simple, I mean, “Fear of the unknown,” style.  Not revealing very much about the antagonist, the creature, the thing, it, etc (oh God, not the etcetera!).  For example, with John Carpenter’s The Thing, we never really know the true identity of the creature, or how many forms it can take, how many planets it has wiped out.  With Ridley Scott’s Alien, we have vague knowledge of the Alien’s origin; that it may have been an experiment, a species created by the Disc Jockey, or perhaps something the Disc Jockey was transporting elsewhere before something went wrong.  Either way, it’s implied its a monster that is capable of killing other alien species with technology far more advanced than humans, thus begging the question, “If they died, then what chance do we have to survive?”  Plus the implied devious/sexual nature of the creature, which can be unsettling.

https://i1.wp.com/cdn.bgr.com/2017/04/giger.jpg

Nowadays most film-makers have the desire to explain away as much as possible, because they can’t have the audience pondering and thinking up their own conclusions; no, that would encourage creative thinking.  And unfortunately, Ridley Scott isn’t immune to this, with all the harm he has caused to the Alien franchise with Prometheus and Alien: Covenant.  Fear of the unknown is an outdated concept in Hollywood now, as well as a concept they seem to shun for some reason.  Maybe they’re terrified of critical thinking audiences.

“Hey, now you pay attention to somethin’ here. These kids ain’t the same anymore, and you know what’s behind it all? Rock ‘n’ roll. That music is turnin’ the kids into a bunch of sex hungry, beer drinkin’, road racin’ werewolves.”

There is another element of fear that has not lost its touch ever since the concept first made its way to the screen in 1956.  Fear of each other.  Paranoia.  Just how well do you know those around you?  Just how well connected are you with your neighbors and the community you live in?  Would you be able to tell the difference if something had changed?  Would you be able to do so before it was too late?  Sometimes it’s something as innocent as new hip trends that the new generation wants to get into (one decade it’s Dungeons & Dragons, the next it’s uncensored perverted Japanese videogames).  Other times it’s something more sinister.

 

On March 21, 1947, President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) issued Executive Order 9835, also known as the Loyalty Order, which mandated that all federal employees be analyzed to determine whether they were sufficiently loyal to the government. Truman’s loyalty program was a startling development for a country that prized the concepts of personal liberty and freedom of political organization. Yet it was only one of many questionable activities that occurred during the period of anticommunist hysteria known as the Red Scare.

https://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/red-scare

 

 

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Rated: 3 / 5

“There’s no emotion. None. Just the pretense of it. The words, gesture, the tone of voice; everything else is the same, but not the feeling!”

The first film, like many films from the 50s, and 60s, and 70s, and 80s, played on the fear of Communism spreading into the United States.  The Red Scare.  Of course Hollywood wasn’t going to pass on the chance to have someone else to target, along with the Nazis which plagued many Hollywood films as the main villains (hell, I’d say they never went away; I dare you to come up with 1 year where there wasn’t some Hollywood film that had some Nazi villain, released during the 50s to the present).  Communists, socialists, those who threaten our capitalist republic government and lifestyle!

“Comrades, if you look closely, you can see the letters ‘SS’ written on this pods.”

The takeover is done rather well in this film.  It’s a subtle thing at first.  Some people act differently.  They have the details and features that humans should have, but they started out without character, without features; implying that they are featureless, characterless beings which disguise themselves to contain more.  They’re no longer human (because communists/socialists < human).  They are aliens, planning to take over.  And they are starting with this small town, and will work their way outward from there.  Like the domino theory.

However, this film doesn’t settle for something so simplistic.  There’s more to it than just capitalizing on the Red Scare.  There’s also a focus on psychiatry, which the main protagonist specializes in, and how those seeking psychiatric help can lose themselves.

“From my practice I’ve seen how people have allowed their humanity to drain away, only it happened slowly instead of all at once. They didn’t seem to mind.”
“But just some people Miles.”
“All of us. A little bit, we harden our hearts, grow callous. Only when we have to fight to stay human do we realize how precious it is to us.”

The Body Snatchers aren’t just a metaphor for communism and socialism.  It’s also a metaphor for those who have lost their sense of humanity.  How easy it is to do so.  Psychiatrists working with people, trying to help them to get back on their feet and learn how to deal with their emotions responsibly.  However, many would rather learn to deal with their emotions by trying not to have any at all.  Booze-drinking, pill-swallowing, the latter of which is something a psychiatrist recommend.  Despite their intentions, they too share a responsibility for others losing their humanity.  Too difficult to go on, so they give up rather than keep on fighting.  Better to take the easy way out and not care at all.  Life would be simpler that way.

“So that’s how it began. Out of the sky”
“Your new bodies are growing in there. They’re taking you over, cell for cell, atom for atom. There’s no pain. Suddenly while you’re asleep they’ll absorb your minds, your memories. Then you’re reborn into an untroubled world.”
“Where everyone’s the same.”
“Exactly.”
“What a world.”

[…]

“I love Becky. Tomorrow, will I feel the same?”
“There’s no need for love.”
“No emotion. Then you have no feelings. Only the instinct to survive. You can’t love or be loved, am I right!?”
“You say it as if it were terrible. Believe me, it isn’t. You’ve been in love before; it didn’t last. It never does. Love. Desire. Ambition. Faith. Without them, life’s so simple, believe me.”
“I don’t want any part of it.”
“You’re forgetting something Miles.”
“What?”
“You have no choice.”

So the film opts to tackle a threat that is external just as much as it is internal.  Why try love when it risks you becoming broken-hearted (or when it results in your significant other divorcing you and taking half your shit)?  Why have desire when you can’t have what you want?  Why have ambition when it ultimately leads you nowhere?  Why have faith when it lets you down numerous times?

“I didn’t know the real meaning of fear until I kissed Becky.”  Seriously, that’s a line in this movie.  Isn’t this great?

Such themes touched upon, but the film doesn’t go far enough with them in my opinion.  And to be honest, I never expected it to go far enough, considering the time period it was made it.  Thankfully, the other films that followed would dive more heavily into such themes, but it can be argued that a couple of the later adaptations dive too heavily into such themes.

Other than taking issue with the method on how the film tackles these, uh, issues, there is one moment in the film that I can’t make much sense of.  The film established that the pods eject lifeforms which take on the form and shape of an individual, and the lifeform replaces the individual.  They leave it completely vague as to what happens to the previous body (something the 70s and 90s version doesn’t shy away from), but one would have to assume the other body is disposed of somehow so that the replica can take its place.  Otherwise what would be the point of creating a replica?  So I’m wondering what exactly happened to Becky’s body during those brief couple minutes that Miles left her alone in the cave for.  Was some pod hidden there that managed to break out, take form, replace Becky, put on her clothes, and then lie there waiting for Miles when he got back?  That’s a lot to take in, especially given the time limit to achieve such a convenient feat.  It’s executed better in the 70s remake.

Oh, and one last thing.  Of course, the film was remade numerous times due to the popularity of not just the first film, but also of the 1978 film that followed.  However, I’m thinking there’s another reason they wanted to remake this, given this dialogue by the psychiatrist protagonist to this little boy named Jimmy:

“All right Jimmy. Open your mouth. Shut your eyes. In the words of the poet, ‘I’ll give you something to make you wise.'”

Hollywood pedophilia alert!  I guess pills can also be a metaphor for something devious.

“Hey, get back here so I can stick it in your mouth!”

 

 

Under pressure from the negative publicity aimed at their studios, movie executives created blacklists that barred suspected radicals from employment; similar lists were also established in other industries.

https://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/red-scare

 

 

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Rated 4.5 / 5

What can I say?  I like both posters.

So let me get this out of the way.  This is my favorite horror film of all time.  When I first saw this film, it terrified me to the core.  I mean, the moment when the loved one crumbles away; plus the final moment of the film.  Kinda scarred me as a kid (so did the 90s one for that matter, but I’ll get to that later).  Watching it again, it still holds up very well.  Because this is THE film that absolutely nails the element of growing tension and growing sense of isolation.  It truly knows hot to make the audience as paranoid as the main characters.  And on that note, Kevin McCarthy, the main protagonist from the last film, manages to show up in a great (albeit depressing) cameo in this film.  He spent 30 years trying to warn us…

But anyway, like the last film, this movie still builds on the paranoia of the second Red Scare, which never fully went away, given the Cold War that was still ongoing.  But in all fairness, the Red Scare died down a bit since the 50s film.  In any case, communism and socialism were still big red targets.  And like the last film, it doesn’t just focus on how one should be wary of the subtle rise of such a society, with people continually losing their humanity, giving up the fight, and just serving the hive mind.  Psychiatry still plays a significant role, though that’s not the role of our lead protagonists; that role goes to Leonard Nemoy.  It’s only logical.

“Or the one.”  Yeah, it seems fitting that they would put him in this film not just because of that line from Wrath of Khan, but also because of the bagpipe version of Amazing Grace done in both films.  Granted, Wrath of Khan wouldn’t be made until a few years after this film’s release, but still…

Rather, the protagonists we get from Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams are Department of Health inspector and botanist respectively.  Also reflective of the sign of the times, given that the 70s had a Green Peace wave of its own kind.  Which makes the invasion of the pods all the more ironic, as they are portrayed to be plant-like, but are parasites.  Like mistletoe.

“I think it’s a grex.”
“A what?”
“G-R-E-X. That’s when two different species cross-pollinate and produce a third completely unique one. And listen to this. Epilobic. From the Greek epi: upon. And lobus: a pod. Many of the species are dangerous weeds and should be avoided”
“Dangerous?”
“In the garden. See? Look how quickly it roots. Their characteristic rapid and widespread growth pattern was even absorbed in many of the large, war-torn cities of Europe. Indeed, some of these plants may thrive on devastated ground.”

Now that dialogue description of the pod plant, that bares resemblance to the rise of Nazi Germany.  A country devastated by war, still suffering economically.  Fertile ground for the rise of socialism and fascism; for the rise of Hitler.  So yes, that theme is still in these films.  But they go a little further when it comes to talking about the plants.

“Nancy, shut the music off.”
“It’s for the plants, Stan.”
“Screw the plants. I hate the music.”
“It’s wonderful for my plants. They just love it. Plants have feelings, you know, just like people. It’s fascinating. This type of music stimulates the growth of the plants.”

That dialogue exchange takes place at this bathhouse.  Well, more of a mud-bathhouse, which I guess is metaphorical for us being like plant seeds in the soil.  In the bathhouse, some cheery music is being played for the plants.  Contrast this to when Amazing Grace is being played near the end at the shipping docks for the pods.  Music for the plants, signifying a funeral for mankind.

By then end of the film, Sutherland’s character can be seen walking towards some capitol-like building, in a grey lifeless environment, passing by trees with no leaves on them, no life.

The film’s arcs stand out in a significant way.  First is the invasion, where we see the town operating as normal before people start getting replaced by pods.  We see the takeover happen from the beginning, as opposed to the first and third film where we pretty much enter into the story while it’s going on.  We see the relationships people have with one another, and how it’s not all peaches and roses.  Then the 2nd act, people are changing.  The protagonists begin to feel isolated from the community.  Then the 3rd act, the protagonists are right in the middle of an alien society, trying to run, trying to survive.  It’s this third act where we are dropped into a George Orwell 1984 situation.  Trying to live in a society where any hint of emotion is a death sentence; how trying to remain strong in such an environment is impossible, as you will eventually wear down.  Then the last act, where the takeover is pretty much complete, and we see how lifeless this new life is.

“You’ll be born again into an untroubles world; free of anxiety, fear, hate.”

[…]

“Your minds and memories will be totally absorbed. Everything remains intact.”

[…]

“I hate you.”
“We don’t hate you. There’s no need for hate, now, or love.”

[…]

“Don’t be trapped by old concepts.”

[…]

“We came here from a dying world. We drift through the universe from planet to planet; pushed on by the solar winds. We adapt, and we survive. The function of life is survival.”

Because as parasitic beings, the pods aren’t capable of sustaining themselves.  They thrive only where there is life.  During the last few minutes of the film, Sutherland, now a pod person, wanders around aimlessly in the city.  Sure there are others around, and he does the same stuff he did prior to being a pod person (sitting around at work; cutting out pieces of newspaper).  But he has no emotion with his actions.  He has no purpose.  There’s no feeling to anything he’s doing.  Incapable of being bored, incapable of being happy, incapable of being sad, incapable of any emotion.  There’s nothing to motivate him, or any of the other pod people for that matter, other than replacing all humans with pods.  And when there’s no humans left?  Then eventually the world dies like the last one they were on, and they eventually move on to the next one.

Unbeknownst to many, that garbage truck is filled with what remains from humans after they’ve been absorbed by the pods.

Just as they look like people but aren’t, they also looked like plants but aren’t.  It would be dangerous to treat them as something they’re not.  And this comes back to the threat of socialism.  The society can thrive for a while, but is destined to die off if it doesn’t change/evolve.  Because having emotions, ambitions, love, hate, sadness, happiness, something to drive an individual is what can allow one to sustain themselves, and others.

Which brings me to the other aspect of the film.  Like the first film, it’s not just about the threat of communism/socialism.  There’s also a psychiatrist element to it, among other 70s culture aspects that differ from that of the 50s.  In the 50s, marriage was considered sacred, and husband and wife were never to divorce under any circumstance.  With the free-flying 70s, they began to change their opinion on marriage, that it shouldn’t be considered so sacred.  Divorce rates rose.  Relationships suffered (more or less).  Many sought aid from psychiatrists, put their complete faith in them, hoping that they would fix things for them.

“People are stepping in and out of relationships too fast because they don’t want the responsibility. That’s why marriages are going to hell. The whole family unit is shot to hell.”
“David, you’re not listening to what she’s saying.”
[David turns towards Matthew] “Matthew, please stay out of this.”  [He turns back to Elizabeth] “You see? That’s the point. I’m listening to you, but he doesn’t think I am. Why? Because he doesn’t expect me to bother enough or to care.”
[…]
“How did you feel about what you just saw? You were probably shocked. You wanted to shut your feelings off, withdraw, maybe make believe that it wasn’t happening because then you don’t have to deal with it.”
“I wanna deal with that poor woman in the bookstore.”
“Why? … Do you identify with her?”
“Yes.”

There’s also the idea of failing relationships in this film.  It’s evident early on even before Elizabeth’s husband is turned into a pod person, how he cares more about the sports on tv than being intimate with her.  When he does become a pod person, what little intimate feelings he still had for her disappeared, and he becomes more closed off from her than ever.  One could say their relationship was going down that direction in the first place, but the pod invasion accelerated the process.  Thus a callback to that line of dialogue from the first film, “From my practice I’ve seen how people have allowed their humanity to drain away, only it happened slowly instead of all at once.

So what’s most important is our relationship with one another.  The closer we are to someone, the more we know about each other, the more emotionally connected we are, the more quickly we can identify when something is wrong.  And possibly take precautions to overcome the trouble before it rises too high.  Because many were so closed off from one another, because so many relied on psychiatry rather than on themselves, it made it easier to be conquered by the invaders.  Because say what you will about the hive-mind, their interconnections can be a strength too, a strength that can overwhelm us in spite of our own strengths, and in spite of their own weaknesses.

 

With the dawning of the new anticommunist crusade in the late 1940s, Hoover’s agency compiled extensive files on suspected subversives through the use of wiretaps, surveillance and the infiltration of leftist groups.

The information obtained by the FBI proved essential in high-profile legal cases, including the 1949 conviction of 12 prominent leaders of the American Communist Party on charges that they had advocated the overthrow of the government. Moreover, Hoover’s agents helped build the case against Julius Rosenberg (1918-53) and his wife, Ethel Rosenberg (1915-53), who were convicted of espionage in 1951 and executed two years later.

https://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/red-scare

 

Body Snatchers (1993)

Rated: 3 / 5

“Where you going to go? Where you going to run? Where you going to hide? Nowhere. ‘Cause there’s no one, like you, left.”

This film is a little rough.  It’s not as good as the first one, let alone being a far cry from the 1978 version.  But it does bring enough interesting moments to the table to still make it a worthwhile watch.

Anyway, this film is more blunt than the previous two on where its metaphor priorities are.  With the Cold War over and the bashing of the commies being so 80’s at that point, what is the threat of a pod invasion supposed to represent at this point?  What should the socialistic hive-mind represent now?  The military, obviously.  No longer is the threat foreign (metaphorically speaking), it is domestic.  No longer is it the Ruskies, it’s the American troops.  To be fair though, there are some decent opportunities to be had with this direction.  Soldiers all have to dress the same, act the way their superiors demand, and don’t ask questions when taking orders.  Conform.

While there is a psychiatrist in this film, played by Forrest Whitaker, keeping with the tradition of the previous entries, he takes more of a backseat here, only showing up in two scenes (from what I recall).  The emphasis is put more on the Environmental Protection Agency (the next step from Department of Health role of Donald Sutherland’s character from the last film), a role taken by the dad of the family unit who moves into this military complex temporarily (basically a small town near/within a military base).  He has been ordered to the military base to check on the water in the river, to see if there’s any sort of strange pollution going on. Well, that is where the pods are found (unlike the last film, we know they came from space, but aren’t shown the actual space travel).  So I guess there’s a connection here between the military, pollution, and an overall threat to every American.  Well the Green Peace movement is still ongoing from the 70s it seems, but you would think we would’ve learned that plants suck at this point.

But he’s not the main protagonist; that would be his daughter.  And here comes that secondary theme these films tend to have.  This family unit, composed of the EPA dad, the 17 year old (almost 18 and legal) daughter, the elementary son, and the wife.  They’re not the most well-kept family, at least as far as the daughter is concerned.  She can’t wait to be free of them and do her own thing, especially when her dad is restrictive of her at times.  She wants to be free and independent, and get a boyfriend, and get laid.  Well, she gets 1 out of 3 in this film, and makes out with the military boyfriend she just met, so I guess that makes it 1.5 out of 3.

The father and daughter don’t listen to the son when he talks about strange things going on at the base.  And the dad doesn’t take his daughter’s concerns seriously.  Some failure to communicate, once again providing some compare and contrast between the humans and the aliens.  But there’s also this decent scene at a school where all the children do finger-painting, and the paintings all look exactly the same, save for the painting done by the new kid.  Of course, this was done to show how far gone the town is and the methods used to determine who needed a good podding.  But this also acts as a metaphor for brainwashing the youth in school; to make them all think alike; to make them ready for the hive-mind, to be conformed.

To further the film’s credit, it also has what I consider to be the best “alien reveal speech” out of all the films.  You know, that speech where they state they come from another world, that they wish to remake this one so that there’s no emotions, no conflict.  And it’s delivered by Full Metal Jacket sergeant himself, R. Lee Ermy.  But he’s not delivering it in the over-the-top, “Do what I say or I’ll get the Looney Tunes to rape your mother!” type of dialogue that we’re all familiar with (or we should be; if you’re not, go watch Full Metal Jacket right now!).  Rather, he delivers the dialogue in a calm and soft-spoken manner, which ends up being more unsettling.

“Look what your fear has done to you. Can’t you see? When all things are conformed, there will be no more disputes, no conflicts, no problems any longer.”
[…]
“There are hundreds, even thousands of us here. We have traveled light-years throughout the universe, always surviving, always growing stronger, because we’ve learned it’s the race that’s important, not the individual.”

“The individual is always important.”

It’s also a bit interesting to see that it’s a white guy delivering this line to a black guy, about the race being more important than the individual.  Granted, he’s speaking more in terms of human/alien race rather than race of color, but that’s all the more reason to make me think it was intentional.  How one of the disputes and conflicts caused by humanity has to do with racial disputes.  One would think this subject is given more attention at the start of the film when the daughter becomes ambushed (sort of) by a black soldier in the bathroom, who doesn’t have any ill-intention towards her, but is terrified of others who are after him.  But this could very well play on the assumption that white people tend to distrust black people more, and how blacks fear white because blacks are the minority.  The film isn’t blunt on this subject in any way, shape, or form, even to the point where I could be reading too much into it and the casting just ended up accidentally allowing for such a message to make its way into the film.  I’m going to go on the assumption that this theme is intentional, especially when considering that the only scenes where black and white people seem to be getting on just fine is when they are all pod people, completely conformed.  If this theme was intentional, I’ll applaud the film for doing it so subtly and naturally.

This film also marks another element that may have been hinted at in the previous film, but goes full-on here.  How alluring and borderline seductive the pod people can be when it comes to convincing others to join them.  This isn’t really done by having the pod people seduce the humans per-se; rather in the subtle nods, and in the unique camera style the director employs.  How the pod wife is giving her husband a back message to relax him before making him the next victim.  The way Ermy delivers his speech to Whitaker.  How the slightly underage girl presents herself to the soldier boyfriend when in pod form (a bit of a callback to that one scene in the 70s film).

Plus, the pod people aren’t shown once to be using any weaponry in this film, as opposed to the humans who use weaponry any chance they get to defend themselves, or commit suicide.  Come to think of it, the pod people didn’t use any weapons in the previous films either.  This offers contrast to the way they conquer vs. the way humans conquer.  The pod people prefer being subtle, conquering the world as calmly and non-violently as possible.  While the humans, we like to take a more blunt approach towards defending ourselves and taking over other countries.  One is violent, one is more peaceful.  Both don’t give a damn about what the individual wants that they are annihilating.  But the film pulls back a bit on showing the downsides to the pod people winning.  Yes, it does admit the individual is lost to the hive-mind; and it does show the horrific way humans become assimilated; but it’s less blunt than the previous films when it comes to stating the downsides of the benefits of having no more conflict or emotion.  This is a trend that will carry on, more heavily, into the 2007 film.  But at least this film tries to even-handedly show the faults in both the humans and the pods.

The main issues I had with this film is that the acting was spotty in some places.  The scope of the film felt too drawn back compared to the others, even for a film that is meant to convey a sense of isolationism.  The ending could potentially be open to interpretation, about who the real monsters are or something like that; but I took it to mean that all the stuff that happened on the military base was also happening in other parts of the United States, or even the world, and so the protagonists were screwed.  Who knows for sure?  The finale felt too rushed no matter how you look at it.

 

As the Red Scare intensified, its political climate turned increasingly conservative. Elected officials from both major parties sought to portray themselves as staunch anticommunists, and few people dared to criticize the questionable tactics used to persecute suspected radicals. Membership in leftist groups dropped as it became clear that such associations could lead to serious consequences, and dissenting voices from the left side of the political spectrum fell silent on a range of important issues. In judicial affairs, for example, support for free speech and other civil liberties eroded significantly. This trend was symbolized by the 1951 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Dennis v. United States, which said that the free-speech rights of accused Communists could be restricted because their actions presented a clear and present danger to the government.

https://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/red-scare

 

The Invasion (2007)

Rated: 2.5 / 5

I expected to hate this film more than I did.  Make no mistake, this isn’t a solid film.  In fact, watching it made me hold greater appreciation for the 1993 version.  That being said, there are signs that this film actually had some decent potential.  That also being said, a 2.5 is the rating I would give this on a good day, so my rating will likely be lowered if I were to rewatch this again.  Because if you thought the 1993 Body Snatchers film was too blunt with its messaging about the military and conformity, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Hey, look, shitty CG effects shown at the start of the film so that the film can be even less subtle about an invasion happening.  Someone get a box of tissues and wipe all that digital snot off his face.

So the first film had things focused on occupants of a small town.  The 70s film upgraded the scale to a major city.  The 90s film pulled back a bit and kept it focused on a small town, inside a military complex.  Well the 2007 film opted to make it 70s in scope again.  But what would the focus be on now?  The Cold War is over, and the franchise already dealt with the military.  So what else could be used as a metaphor for the dangers of hive-mind conformity and socialism?  Apparently, rich corporate assholes was the next prime candidate, because nothing says conformity and socialism like rich corporate capitalist men in Wall Street suits.  Then again, I believe the point the film is trying to make it how much better the world would be if the rich corporate and political assholes were more like socialist assholes.  Throw in some nods about toxic drinking water (something hinted at in the 90s film; the 70s had some indication that there’s something special about the water, but more in an ironic way with how plants and humans use it), messages about how efficiently countries like Japan and and Europe can deal with virus outbreaks due to their protocols which are superior to that of the U.S., and a solid dose of the international scene regarding the war on terror, and war in general.  So in other words, it takes shots at the George W. Bush administration, which was a popular target at that time period, and continued to be until around 2013.  Then you can see where this film’s priorities lie.  It’s going to be more critical of the U.S. than the 90s film was, and…

…you know what, fuck it.  Just thinking thinking about this, I’ve decided to lower the rating to 2 / 5.

New rating: 2 / 5

Technology to monitor cells like this in real-time.

Look, I don’t have much of a problem with films that are critical of the United States, because one is usually critical of the place they live so that it can be made to be a better place.  Like how one can be critical of the rich fucks who fund the political fucks you don’t agree with.  But the way this film goes about doing it, at the expense of how the first few films went about it… I had a feeling it was going to be bad once that dinner scene happened with the Russian ambassador (don’t worry, this isn’t returning to the Red Scare stuff; actually, maybe you should worry).  It became pretty obvious at that point where the film was heading.  About how humans suck and are doomed to wipe themselves out, while ignoring the alternative aspect regarding the existence of humans who manage to resolve issues/conflicts peacefully.  Very pretentious.

So the film does a bit of a return to form by making the main protagonist a psychiatrist again, only this time played by Nicole Kidman.  And the film does something I had hoped it would do.  It brings sharper focus on what it is many psychiatrists do.  How they usually prescribe pills to people to keep them emotionally stable and functional.  And implying that this has downsides, something hinted at in the 50s and 70s version.

“You give people pills to make their lives better. How’s that different from what we’re doing?”

Unfortunately, the film really dumbs this aspect down with dialogue like that, how they ask the question of how taking pills is any different from what the pod people are doing.  I can think of several differences, such as how people can make themselves stop taking pills, how pill-swallowers can still be independent and emotional, that being a pod person has worse side-effects than the pills you were taking, among other things.  In fact, the film dumbs down things a lot when it comes to portraying the downsides of the hive-mind.  In that it tries to avoid mentioning it altogether.  The only time it really gets into the downsides of being a pod person (except there aren’t any fucking pods in this fucking movie, it’s all done by CG cell effects now) is by throwing in another bullshit situation.

I take one look at that face, and then I think…

“My baby boy is immune to the pod disease!  All you pod people can suck it!”

That’s more or less what’s revealed.  The film does what none of the others did, create a deus-ex-machina to save the day by having some people immune so that a cure can be made which will reverse the process.  It’s at this point I’m starting to think this movie is full of shit in its depiction of pod people.  These aren’t fucking pod people!  These can hardly even be called body snatchers (which is probably why they removed those two words from the fucking title).  They aren’t taking bodies and replacing them with their own, they’re altering cell structures somehow (try saying “Cell Snatchers” 5 times fast), which somehow allows them to have minds of their own and… it just seems stupid to me.  They can say what they want about how scientifically plausible this is; but all I see is just one more example of lazy writing to come up with a plot contrivance for some bullshit oh-so-convenient ending; because they don’t have the balls to make the film dark and serious.  That, and it’s also a way of saying, “Well that kid from the first film got podded, the kid on the swings from the 2nd film likely got molested by Catholic Priest Robert Duvall, and the kid from the 3rd film got the shit killed out of him; let’s have the kid survive this time and take a significant role.”

… and then I think I want to be in the pod-dad’s position of beating that little fucker to death with that metal pipe!

By the end of the film, in-spite of the pukers (they don’t deserve the name “pod people;” and since one of the ways they transmit this disease is by puking slime on others, or in their drinks, I’m just going to refer to them as pukers from here on) stating that they will kill anyone immune to their 28 Days Later disease, the film tries to make them sympathetic by the end.  Through the first half of the film, there are newspaper headlines and news programs discussing the war and casualties happening throughout the world.  During the latter half, these headlines are replaced with stories of conflicts ending and peace being made, indicating that the pod people are putting a stop to all this violence.  But once a cure is found and all pod people revert back to being normal, the wars start up again.  So the film ends on a note of, “Did she do the right thing?  Would it have been better if the pod people took over?”  There’s some problems with this message, outside of it being politically blunt as fuck.

“Look at yourself. Is this who you are? Is this who you want to be? You were wrong to fight them.”

“You wondered what it would be like if people could live more like those trees. Completely connected with each other, in harmony.”

“Have you seen the television? Have you read the newspapers? Have you seen what’s happening here, what we’re offering? A world without war, without poverty, without murder, without rape; a world without suffering. Because in our world, no one can hurt each other or exploit each other or try to destroy each other, because in our world there is no other. You know what it’s like Carol. Deep down inside, you know that fighting us is fighting for all the wrong things. Carol, you know it’s true. Our world is a better world.”

So outside of having the pukers wanting to kill a kid immune to their virus, the film implies that they’re not so bad.  There isn’t any focus on the consequences to be had for losing your individuality, your emotions, your independence.  It could’ve worked if there was more emphasis as to how valuable family/personal relationships are, but this film isn’t made/written well enough to take advantage of that.  The only real thing we get is, “Momma loves her son,” and that’s it.  You can say what you want about what her relationship with Daniel Craig, before he became a British secret agent not named Christopher Steele, entails.  You can say what you want about the relationship with the dad who divorced her and what that entails.  But the fact of the matter is that these aspects come off as cold and emotionless before any of them had to deal with the pod people.  The only one that doesn’t come off as cold is the mother-son relationship, but even then it’s played by-the-numbers.  So the film sucks when it comes to showcasing the advantages and disadvantages of personal relationships (unlike any of the predecessors).

“What we believe is that the way the entity plugged itself into our brain was so different from how we’re actually wired, that the mind interpreted the alien experience as a form of unconsciousness. Which explains why those who have been cured have no recollection of recent events. They experienced everything as if they were asleep.”

[…]

“Pick up the newspaper. For better or worse, we’re human again.”

Not being so bad for ending wars.  Well that only works if they rule everything everywhere.  And assuming they do manage that, then what?  What happens after they take over?  What will life be like then?  If the film is going to go in a direction like this, it would be nice to have some list of pros and cons.  But it shies away when depicting the cons of being a pod person.  Why?  I mean, most of the people who do wind up as pod people are usually businessmen, rich men, Wall Street dudes, anyone who is of the upper-class.  There’s even a feminism message in this film with regards to a few lines of dialogue given by Nicole Kidman’s character, and further indications the film wants to go along with said feminism message by having her get in a scuffle with her ex-husband (while he’s a pod person), and by having most of the pod people be white rich guys.

“All I am saying is that civilization crumbles whenever we need it most. In the right situation, we are all capable of the most terrible crimes. To imagine a world where this was not so, where every crisis did not result in new atrocities, where every newspaper is not full of war and violence. Well, this is to imagine a world where human beings cease to be human.”

While I’ll give you that we still retain some basic animal instincts, you have to admit we’re not the same animal we were a few thousand years ago.”

True.”

“Read Piaget, Kohlberg or Maslow, Graves, Wilber, and you’ll see that we’re still evolving. Our consciousness is changing. Five hundred years ago, postmodern feminists didn’t exist yet one sits right beside you today. And while that fact may not undo all of the terrible things that have been done in this world, at least it gives me reason to believe that one day, things may be different.”

Not exactly making a good case for humanity there, considering that postmodern feminists suck.  But that’s another thing about this film.  I’ve stated in previous blog entries that I believe 2006 was the year things began to go downhill in the entertainment industry.  Not quickly, but slowly and subtly, via subliminal messaging (not as subliminal as in They Live, but with the way dialogue is spoken, with the way various groups/sexes/races/countries are portrayed in the media, etc).  This film is one of those during the early days the trend became noticeable to me that contains many of the aspects most SJWs/NPCs (whatever you want to call these thin-skinned pussies).  A couple lines about feminism encouraging the makings of the ideal strong independent woman that came more into fruition when films like Atomic Blonde, the new Star Wars trilogy, Wonder Woman, etc, came about in more recent years (as of this writing).  The downplaying of how bad socialism/communism actually is.  Growing ever more-critical of the United States.  Hell, even a vague notion on how bad guns are makes it into this movie.  Whenever she has a gun, she tosses it away soon after using it, ashamed that she decided to.  “Guns are bad, but I needed to protect myself and my son, but they’re still bad.”  This film contains most of the preachy traits I despise that at least half the films released nowadays in theaters contains.

So at this point I find this 2007 adaptation to be more of an interesting case study than anything else when it comes to the history of film.  The cultural/political messages contained within it, and how the same messages grew and spread from there to other films as the years went on.  And how one-sided they make the issues they tackle out to be.  How ironic.  When you think about it, it’s a perfect analogy for this whole Invasion of the Body Snatchers scenario.  It starts out as a small seed.  Not so dangerous, doesn’t seem like a reasonable threat, so let it grow, let it spread, let it multiply, like weeds in a garden, while they sing propaganda on how the weeds have just as much of a right to live as the fruits and vegetables they suffocate.  Let the teachers in schools teach about how to take the cultural/political lessons found in film; teach students how to interpret such message.  Let the media do the same.  Let the schools, media, films/shows program them all like the NPCs they are.

“The veneer of civility hides our true self-interests.”

The film did show signs of potential.  There were indications that it could’ve been better than what we got.  The impact on a relationship when a divorce happens; how terrible the world seems; one losing their humanity when they become a cutthroat businessman.  And how it could all make one seriously consider ending it all because they can’t take it anymore, and the pod invasion being a metaphor for how willing people would be willing to give up their rights, their independence, their emotions, for the sake of blindly following a cause that could lead to a better world, while being oblivious to the downsides within that other world.  But the film wants to keep the existence of those downsides hidden about as well as a politician tries to hide their lies.  Which I treat as an insult to my intelligence.  But hey, at least it had a scene where she knocks out a kid.  And there’s one bitchin’ car chase sequence.  Other than that, this isn’t a film I can recommend.

 

Americans also felt the effects of the Red Scare on a personal level, and thousands of alleged communist sympathizers saw their lives disrupted. They were hounded by law enforcement, alienated from friends and family and fired from their jobs. While a small number of the accused may have been aspiring revolutionaries, most others were the victims of false allegations or had done nothing more than exercise their democratic right to join a political party. Though the climate of fear and repression began to ease in the late 1950s, the Red Scare has continued to influence political debate in the decades since and is often cited as an example of how unfounded fears can compromise civil liberties.

https://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/red-scare

 

The Snatchers (?)

Well, you know Hollywood is eventually going to remake this again, like how they continually try to remake history.  Seems like any film that had some amount of popularity is due for a remake every 10-20 years.  Considering it’s been over 10 since the last one, and considering they’ve used up the title “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” twice, and used “Body Snatchers,” and used “The Invasion,” I figure it’s only natural they use the only other noun left.  Funny enough, a videogame has already taken the title, and it’s about a detective in the cyberpunk future tracking down and killing robots who have taken over human identities.  Yeah, that sounds like the direction they would take the plot nowadays.

Personally, I think there’s a better way to deal with a remake to make it relevant in today’s age.  But no robots; fuck that.  If they want a movie about robots replacing people, it better not be called Body Snatchers.  What they should do is have pods invade again, and they fall into Hollywood.  Where the ground is very fertile because of how well society was doing (like a reverse-socialism disease; whereas socialism tends to take root in poor places, SJWism takes root in rich places).  From there it spreads to Los Angeles and San Fransisco (where the 70s version took place), and have them make movies and ads promoting these new plant pods that everyone should have for a very reasonable price (like that movie The Stuff).  And since the film is titled “The Snatchers,” naturally, the pods should take people over by being shoved up people’s snatches.  And since we’re in a day and age where the new fad is encouraging people to be anything but straight, and convincing men to transition into women, it becomes easier to find snatches to invade (men have been convinced to have their dick and balls chopped off and replaced with a cunt, which they can then act like).  It becomes easier to win because those trends cut down the amount of reproduction humans are capable of, while increasing the rate of reproduction the pods are capable of.  And anyone who becomes a pod person is interconnected with all other pod people about as well as they’re connected on FaceBook and Twitter (but not Gab, because those Silicon fuckers decided that’s too big of a threatening competitor to tolerate), so they’re able to stay up-to-date in the hive-mind regarding what they should be doing.  And anytime they see anyone who isn’t one of them, anytime they see an independent, or a conservative, or God forbid an intelligent well-mannered straight white masculine male who is attractive as fuck and has a six-pack and loads of testosterone and a giant bulging cock which has banged hundreds of chicks who can’t get enough of him, the NPCs point and go REEEEEEEE!!!!!  RREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!  The sound that attracts all other NPC SJW cunt-pods who want to cut off his dick so that he will no longer be capable of shoving it up their REEEEEEEEE!  The podway, or the highway.  “If I don’t get dicks, no one gets dicks!”

 

So yeah, the potential is all there.  This Body Snatcher concept is arguably more relevant today than it was during the 70s if used in the right way.  But if Hollywood remade it now, I guarantee you it would portray the SJWs as the good guys and all Trump-supporters as the pod people, somehow, even if they have to write them out-of-character to do it.

Which brings me back to why I find the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers to be the most terrifying horror film of all time (just a personal opinion; what people are scared of is entirely subjective).  Many say they are afraid of the unknown.  I say everyone else is afraid of all people they don’t know.  They don’t know what everyone around them will do.  They don’t know if they’re going to be the next suicide bomber, mass shooter, rapist, Hollywood turncoat, conservative speaker, spy, gold-digger, or just a plane annoying asshole.  And that terrifies people.  They are more willing to be pessimistic and terrified of all the bad others can cause rather than be willing to consider the good people can do.  Someone could be the next loving companion, the next friend, the next drinking buddy, the next person actually capable of giving a good lay, the next person who enjoys the things you enjoy, the next person who shares some of your views, the next person you may have plenty in common with.  But we’re encouraged to be divided by things that are both subtle and blunt.  Fake news media, liberal teachers, online bloggers.  On that last note, how would you know you could trust me?  The same way you could figure out if you can trust the other asshats you listen to and trust more easily than me.  Be an independent, don’t be a blind sheep, do some fucking research (the good kind; get information from those who have different perspectives, and don’t just rely on Google search engines to do it; never rely on just a small number of sources, let alone just 1).

The fear goes both ways.  Good people are scared that they will let their guard down for bad people, yet they have to let their guard down for someone else lest they become too lonely and isolated.  Bad people are scared that there will be enough good intelligent people out their to ruin their plan, and must wipe them out as subtly as possible at first so as not to be discovered, then as quickly as possible when they inevitably are discovered, at which time they may have enough numbers to accomplish their task.

There’s also the fear that someone you know and love changes for some reason, and the thing that changes affects your love for them.  They don’t act the way they used to, they don’t believe what they used to believe, they stand for something you never imagined and never hoped they would stand for, etc.

The fear that people will destroy something you value, something that may or may not be tangible.  The fear that the only way you may be able to go on is to become just like them.

 

 

PS: On the note of the Red Scare and communist influence in Hollywood during the McCarthy era, I strongly recommend checking out the video below.  You’d be surprised how much rewritten history you’ve been subjected too.

Alien Isolation Review


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Survival horror is a game genre that has been popularized by games of the past such as Clock Tower, Alone in the Dark, Silent Hill, and Resident Evil. In fact, before such videogames were created, it was a genre defined by film. Films such as Night of the Living Dead, and Alien. It is a genre that draws attention from film-goers and video gamers alike to this day. The science of it involves chemicals in the brain that respond to “potentially” dangerous situations that can result in a small high and an adrenaline rush providing an extra amount of energy and alertness (Cooper-White, 2014). For some, this results in fun, hence the popularity of the above mentioned classics. Which brings me to the game that will be the subject of the study of survival horror, Alien: Isolation.


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So what is it that makes the survival horror genre work? What is it about it that makes it entertaining enough to make gamers want to play and experience such games? The game must be broken down into categories to focus on what makes it work. The first is on the number of bugs the game has, how often glitches arise, and how badly they hinder the experience. The second is on what makes it work as a game. By that I mean how interactive the game is, how well it makes the gamer feel like they are within the world of the game. If a game fails to draw the player into its world, then the player won’t feel any sense of danger or fear that the game may provoke. Third, and last, is how the gameplay causes that fear within players, and why they would keep coming back for more.

Just about every major and minor game release is bound to have bugs in it, and Alien: Isolation is no exception (Reisinger, 2011; Gilbert, 2014; Hernandez, 2014). However, the number of glitches I have found on each of my playthroughs have been minimal. About 2 glitches per play of the entire main game. Even Patricia states, “I haven’t found any bugs like this in my game—I don’t think they’re that common,” (Hernandez, 2014). Because the game manages to keep the number of bugs minimal, they are not a significant factor when it comes to breaking the player immersion. Because the immersion is broken rarely if ever due to a glitch on the average playthrough, the suspense level can be maintained based upon the pacing, atmosphere, and overall design of the game.


Which brings me to the game’s interactivity. For the first hour or so within the game, the player doesn’t have much to do except walk from point A to point B to listen to dialogue conversations, or just to progress to the next point to progress the plot. The player starts on a safe space vessel called Torrens where the in-game character named Amanda Ripley just talks with the other crew members. From a pacing perspective, this allows the player to get comfortable with moving the character around, learn that doors generally open automatically, certain items can be picked up and used for crafting later on, can access computer terminals for more information, learn how save points work, and feel comfortable and safe in the game.

Eventually, the player finds themselves on-board the space station named Sevastopol. There the player options open up some more. Now the player has to learn to crawl through vents, how to open doors that require passwords or hacking tools, how to use flares, flashlights, and other items, that blueprints can be picked up and provide instructions on how to use loot-able materials to craft useful items such as a medkit that can heal the player if damaged, a molotov cocktail to toss at enemies, etc. At the same time, the game is kept in a linear state during the first couple hours. Many paths are blocked but can be opened up later with tools that the player currently does not have, such as an Ion Torch to open up vents and other doorways, which allow access to other passageways and rooms. In other words, the player is shown that as they are now, they are ill-equipped, but can become better-equipped later in the game, which gives them something to look forward to, which is a small incentive to keep playing in addition to how much “fun” they are having.

Regarding “fun,” while no monster has shown up yet in the game during the first couple hours, there is still enough happening for first time players to be on edge. The lighting of the levels is kept minimal to make the player unsure of what else may be in a room with them, if anything. This is in stark contrast to the start of the game where they are kept in a well-lit ship with other friendly crew members. In addition, there are a few small petty jump scares to make the player think for a split second that they are being attacked by something, only to realize a split second later that it was nothing. For example, a burst of steam comes out the side of a wall, or the floor gives out beneath the player to cause them to slide down a level. Eventually the player will come across another threatening crew member, who warns her about other crew members aboard Sevastopol Station who have no problem shooting others on site. In addition to the environmental dangers, now the player knows that other people on the station are a threat and are to be avoided. All of this is made to set the player at unease, to be on edge about the environment, and on edge when near other people, unlike those found at the very beginning of the game. Whether the game is doing its job or not when it comes to putting the player in a state of unrest depends on the players themselves.

When it comes to sustaining that state of unrest, pacing is key. In addition to having potential options open up for the player in terms of gameplay and exploration, something new needs to be thrown in after progressing so far. Eventually, the alien creature does show up, but through use of a cutscene. Once the cutscene ends and the player is back in control of Amanda Ripley, they can hear the alien’s screeching beyond the walls, in the ventilation system above the character. Once the player makes it to a transportation system and hits the call button, they have to wait for at least 30 seconds. During these long 30 seconds, the occasional alien screech is heard, and the music track elevates, giving a rapid pulsing droning sound that replicates a fast heartbeat, emitting the feel that the creature will inevitably show up and devour the player before the transit arrives. But the transit does arrive in time, allowing the player to escape.


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This is intended to scare the player. If it did its job right, which in my case it did, then this would activate the player’s (in real life) fight-or-flight response. Biologically speaking, this is a general term that references the body’s arousal system when it activates and triggers an abundance of neurotransmitters and hormones such as endorphin, dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline, which is meant to cause the individual to react to a threat more quickly (Cooper-White, 2014). But when in a safe environment, which the player hopefully is while playing the game, this can become a positive arousing experience for the player (Cooper-White, 2014). If that is the case, then the player will want to continue to have such an experience again.

Later on in the game after the gameplay opens up more for the player (gaining more blueprints to craft more items, gaining a hacking tool to open more doors on the space station, etc.), the player will encounter the alien again, only this time without cutscenes. The alien creature itself will stalk the player around certain sections of the station, usually staying in the ventilation system, but occasionally come out at random or when the player makes a noise. Noises that would draw it out include running, throwing an item, or shooting a gun such as a revolver. And the player will be powerless against this creature, as it can move faster than the player, and will instantly kill the player character if it sees them and rushes in closely. Plus, the creature can’t be killed by anything. This creates a feeling of helplessness. The only way to deal with the creature is to hide from it. Which brings up one of the core gameplay elements, stealth. In my experience, I was crouching most of the time, using the motion tracker device to keep tabs on the creature’s location (though only useful if the creature is moving). Additionally, I was also discovering and using hiding spaces. There are an abundance of places to hide in each section of the game, from closets to beneath desks, going through ventilation shafts, and so on.


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This gives the player options when going through a level while trying to avoid the creature. Which path to take, which hiding places to stay near if the alien shows up, ventilation shafts to crawl through as shortcuts, etc. However, if the player stalls for too long and continues to go back to the same hiding place over and over again when the alien gets an indication that the player is nearby (i.e. it spots the player, but not long enough to confirm that it was a potential victim), and the alien continues to look for the player in the same general vicinity, it will start to take a closer look at potential hiding places. If a player is hiding under the same desk too often, the alien player may take a close look below the desk, spot the player character, and kill her. When it comes to closets, and the alien decides to take a closer look at those, a small mini-game happens. The player will have a small amount of time to “lean back” and “hold their breath” for a certain amount of time. This causes the player to lose a small amount of health if they time this right. If they time it wrong, the alien will hear them and open the closet door and kill the character. There is plenty of strategy and planning that goes into playing through these sections in addition to the constant threat of being spotted and killed, which should once again bring up the player’s adrenaline levels.


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In addition, there are sections where other Sevastopol crew members are around who will shoot the player on site. The player has options when dealing with them as well, such as sneaking past them, or making noise loud enough for the alien to hear, sending the alien down to kill off all the crew members in the vicinity, or killing them herself if she has the ammunition and/or crafted items to do so. There will also be androids called Joes in some level sections where the only options is to sneak past them or kill them. The alien won’t attack Joes, and vice-versa, because the alien only goes after live humans.

So as a game with interactivity, it works because the player will have many paths and options when it comes to getting through sections of the ship to progress to the next objective. The player can craft items that can kill other humans and/or androids, or items that lure the alien to a position to either kill off other humans in the vicinity, or to lure it away from an area the player needs to go through. The threat of failing by being spotted and killed by the humans, androids, or the alien, especially the latter, is what evokes fear from the player. For gamers who respond positively to fear, in that they have fun being scared from a game, this will encourage them to continue to play until the very end.

It should be noted that there are several difficulty settings in the game. During my first playthrough I used Normal difficulty. During my second playthrough on Nightmare difficulty, the most difficult setting in the game, I noticed changes that made the game more difficult. There is no map to use to guide the player through the levels, they will just have to memorize the levels on their own, and rely on the motion tracker to determine the general direction of their next objective in addition to enemy positions. In addition, the motion tracker is less reliable and more glitchy (intentionally by game design), flamethrowers use up fuel faster, the player character takes more damage from attacks, the health bar is not displayed, there are less materials to scavenge for crafting items, less ammunition to find for guns (pistols, shotguns, flamethrower, bolt gun), and the alien is more responsive and intelligent. On this level of difficulty, the alien is more likely to closely inspect hiding places compared to how often it would search for the player in the same room on Normal difficulty.

It was on the more difficult setting that I had to get much more conservative with how I used the items in the game, to the point where fighting was no longer an option. If a player hopes to get through the game on that level of difficulty, just about every fight must be avoided, and crafting should be limited to only a few select item types. This allows for strategy-making more interesting for players. Generally, when a player tries to get through a level using one strategy that doesn’t work, they try to get through it using another strategy. The more difficult the game and therefore the more difficult the levels, the more diverse a player will have to be when it comes to getting through each level. This encourages thinking of methods and tactics that the player hadn’t thought of before. When a player would normally want to shoot at some androids to get past them, but has no ammunition left, they would eventually figure out ways of distracting them, such as throwing flares down one hallway so they can move through another. When a player would normally run to hiding spots, in Nightmare mode they are more willing to try alternatives since the likelihood of the Xenomorph wising up and breaking into the hiding spot is increased, plus the holding breath minigame which does some amount of damage to your health; and there is no observable health bar in Nightmare mode, not to mention less health than normal. Even running out of fuel for the flamethrower isn’t the end for the player when being chased down by the alien, as I learned that just aiming the flamer at the alien makes it flinch and stop chasing me momentarily, because it remembers the other times I burned it. Each time a player tries any of these tactics, there will be a lingering fear on whether or not they will work.

And this is ultimately why this succeeds as a survival horror videogame. It scares players, but at the same time is highly interactive because of the abundance of decision-making it allows them to have. It is also paced well, in that the player gains new items at an acceptable rate to add a little more to the options and gameplay; plus levels where the player is sneaking by the alien, or the crew, or the androids, or all of the above; sections where the player is forced to fight androids; or sections with no combat or stealth at all to give the player a breather. There is a storyline, of course, which is told well enough in my opinion, but that is not where the focus will be for this critique. I will say that the story gave me enough information as to why I needed to get from Point A to Point B, and why it’s beneficial for the character in the long term.

I should clarify as to what makes this game more effective at scaring players than other games. After all, it can’t just be the threat of the player character getting killed, as that happens in just about every action/adventure game as well, from Tomb Raider, to Uncharted, to Metroid Prime, to the Call of Duty franchise, none of which are considered to be terrifying games. I would say the biggest difference between Alien: Isolation and the above mentioned games is the presence of an un-killable enemy whom you can only hide from, along with the use of sound that lets the player know the creature is lurking nearby. Because you want to react to hearing the creature rather than from seeing it, because if it sees you, you will probably get killed. The other main difference is limited resources. The player will only have so much access to items and materials throughout the course of the game that he/she must be careful on how they use them. In the action/adventure games, the player will almost always have enough ammunition to destroy anyone and anything in their path, giving the player a sense of being a one-man army that can handle just about anything thrown at them.


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In other survival horror games, such as the early Resident Evil entries, and the early Silent Hill games, the player has limited resources, making it impossible to kill every enemy they come across. In a game like 5 Nights at Freddy’s, the player can do nothing against the enemies except observe them and try to keep them out of the room they are in, while carefully managing their usage of electricity to observe the enemies and close the doors; in other words, careful and efficient management of limited resources. Lastly, what these popular survival horror games have in common is atmosphere. It is always dark, and the music is always brooding to fit with the paranoia the game projects onto the player. There also tends to be an excellent use of music to destabilize the player. Or even a lack of music to make the sound effects more pronounced, such as the moans of a zombie in the Resident Evil franchise, or the hissing and footsteps of an alien menace, or the beeping of the motion tracker, the movements in the vents, etc.

Good survival horror games will make the player feel helpless at times against the sinister forces that threaten their character(s) in the game. Which is why players usually feel joy and breathe a sigh of relief when they eventually conquer these forces, as if they have conquered their fear. Of course, the game itself is just a fantasy normally experienced within the safe confines of a home, as is any game. Their adrenaline surged at the sense of danger, they ran and fought with their in-game character, and shared in their character’s victories. It’s a different type of adrenaline high achieved from action/adventure games. It’s the reason why games like Silent Hill, Resident Evil, and Amnesia The Dark Descent have gone down as horror game classics, as this game may do as well. Because players will eventually either come back for more, or encourage other friends and family members to experience what they have experienced.


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References

Cooper-White, Macrina. (15 October 2014). This is Why We Love To Scare Ourselves Silly. HuffingtonPost.com. Retrieved 9 May 2015. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/15/science-of-fear-why-we-love-to-scare-ourselves_n_5976266.html

Gilbert, Ben. (24 November 2014). Why are so many video games broken at launch?. engadget.com. Retrieved 9 May 2015. http://www.engadget.com/2014/11/24/broken-video-games/

Hernandez, Patricia. (8 October 2014). Alien: Isolation Isn’t As Scary When The Alien Glitches Out. kotaku.com. Retrieved 9 May 2015. http://kotaku.com/alien-isolation-isnt-as-scary-when-the-alien-glitches-1644006514

Reisinger, Don. (8 February 2011). Treyarch: There are no ‘bug free’ games. CNET.com. Retrieved 9 May 2015. http://www.cnet.com/news/treyarch-there-are-no-bug-free-games/

 

Mod Note
Oh, and one other thing. If you’re playing the game on PC, this mod for the game is worth checking out. It makes the alien’s patrol area more spread out as opposed to staying in your general vicinity. Improves the game in my opinion.


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