February 28, 1994 12:00 PM

Gabrielle Anwar, Terry Kinney, Meg Tilly Billy Wirth

Even beyond the context of the political paranoia of its 1950s origins, this tale about aliens who take over the bodies of humans remains scarily absorbing and difficult to shrug off.

The original source material, Jack Finney’s 1954 novel Invasion of the Body Snatchers, has now been turned into three strong films: the first—and still the best—in 1956, directed by Don Siegel; the second, in 1978, directed by Philip Kaufman; and now this version, directed by New York cult favorite Abel Ferrara, who enhances the chills and mounting suspense of this film with lots of murky lighting and ominous music.

Anwar, the focus of the film, is convincing as the querulous teen daughter of Environmental Protection Agency investigator Kinney. As her father checks out herbicide spills on an Army base in Alabama, Anwar develops suspicions about the zombielike behavior of the locals and even of her own stepmother, Tilly (whose inexpressive stiffness is useful). Nine-year-old Reilly Murphy is a cute bundle as Kinney and Tilly’s son—and one of the aliens’ toughest adversaries.

The seedpod aliens that metamorphose into their sleeping targets now resemble brussels sprouts on megadoses of minoxidil, and the formerly subtle transformation process has been heavily grossed up. But Ferrara has kept the suspense of the conclusion, when Anwar and her boyfriend, Wirth, fleeing the aliens, have to pretend they’ve been transformed. (This sequence in the 1956 film was the highlight of Kevin McCarthy’s and Dana Wynter’s careers.) See the film, but be prepared: you’ll never be able to doze off near a green vegetable again. (R)

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