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The Scream: Adam Nayman on “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”

The Scream: Adam Nayman on "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"

When I was nine or ten years old, I was allowed to rent two movies a week from the public library around the corner from our house; one fateful weekend, I selected Philip Kaufman’s 1978 remake of Don Siegel’s 1956 chiller Invasion of the Body Snatchers, based largely on the cover art, which showed four figures running against an abstract beige backdrop, trailing twisted black shadows. Looked creepy, I thought, and my hopes were stoked even further by the promise, written in bold text on the back of the box, that the film contained “perhaps the scariest last shot of all time!”

I almost didn’t make it to the—as good as advertised—final shot because of something that occurred during the penultimate set piece, when Donald Sutherland’s Matthew Bennell—one of the last San Franciscans unaffected by the titular invasion of extra-terrestrial usurpers—lays waste to a greenhouse stocked with alien seed pods. Perched on an elevated catwalk, Matthew hacks at the wires supporting the building’s track lighting system, sending the bulbs crashing onto the rows of chubby green pods, crushing them beneath their weight and also starting an electrical fire. And then, walking amidst the flames, Matthew’s friend and unrequited love interest, Elizabeth (Brooke Adams)—now inhabited by an alien consciousness, and completely starkers—spots her former friend and, pointing up and in his direction, lets loose with a bloodcurdling scream, a sound effect derived from recordings of pig squeals, courtesy of sound-effects genius Ben Burtt (who was coming off his Oscar-winning work for Star Wars). Read the rest of Adam Nayman’s entry in the Reverse Shot Sounds Off symposium.

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