RiverRun Retro welcomes Veronica Cartwright and ‘Body Snatchers’
The RiverRun International Film Festival’s ongoing “RiverRun Retro” program scares up something special for the new year, with screenings of the award-winning 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers on Friday, Jan. 10 at the Hanesbrands Theatre in Winston-Salem and Saturday, Jan. 11 at RED Cinemas in Greensboro, with star Veronica Cartwright in attendance at both.
The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), based on Jack Finney’s acclaimed novel and directed by Don Siegel, is considered one of the classic science-fiction films, and the later version, in which Cartwright starred with Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, and Leonard Nimoy under the direction of Philip Kaufman, was hailed as one of the best remakes ever. Some even consider it superior to the original, but Cartwright doesn’t necessarily consider it a remake.
“It’s not really a remake, it’s a continuation,” she observed. “We had Don Siegel in the film; we had Kevin McCarthy (the original film’s star) running around saying ‘You’re next!’ like he did at the end of the first film, so it didn’t feel like we were remaking it. I think it works super-well.”
Unlike the first film, which was set in a small California town, the 1978 version is set in the bustling environs of San Francisco, which is suddenly showered with strange spores that grow into pods. Shortly thereafter, people begin acting differently: Icy, cold, emotionless. Something has come to San Francisco, and it threatens humanity’s very existence.
The onscreen chemistry between Cartwright and her co-stars was genuine, she said.
“It was a great experience,” she said. “To work with, Jeff was absolutely hysterical. Before we started, he and I went to an actual mud bath, like the one our characters have in the film, so we’d know what we were talking about. He’d never done it, and I’d never done it, and afterward, he said ‘I’m not sure how hygienic that was’ – and I just went to pieces.”
“Donald was a hoot and a half,” she added with a laugh. “We’d be rehearsing, and he had his hair in pink rollers because he didn’t want to get a perm. Then, about three weeks before we finished, he decided to get a perm, and we said ‘What … now?!’ He’s such a nutcase, a wonderful nutcase, and I loved Brooke, too. I just had a great time.”
And then there’s Nimoy as a trendy psychiatrist, who’s skeptical about the invasion—for reasons of his own.
“Yes, he is great,” she said. “You’re not sure who he is, and then it’s too late.”
A pivotal sequence is when the characters realize what’s really happening, that people are being duplicated, and their hysteria mounts.
“It was a really tough scene, and I thought it would work better if people started jumping in, talking over each other, and God bless Phil, he just said ‘Let’s give it a bash’ – and that’s what you see.”
The British-born Cartwright, older sister of actress Angela Cartwright (Lost in Space), began her career shortly after the family emigrated to the United States. As a child, she appeared in such classics as William Wyler’s The Children’s Hour (1961), opposite Henry Fonda and Maureen O’Hara in Spencer’s Mountain (1962), and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963).
Her television career is no less extensive, appearing as a regular or semi-regular in In Love and War with Robert Wagner, Leave It to Beaver (in which she holds the distinction of giving Beaver his first kiss), Daniel Boone, and the classic Twilight Zone episode “I Sing the Body Electric.” Later she appeared in L.A. Law, Criminal Minds, Grey’s Anatomy, Bosch, and Will & Grace. She earned three Emmy nominations as Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series, once for ER and twice for The X-Files. She received a Saturn Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress in The Witches of Eastwick (1987) and won the award for Alien (1979).
Given her extensive genre credits, Cartwright doesn’t mind the “scream queen” appellation. “I guess I’m a great screamer,” she quipped.
One of the most famous scenes of her career is the last one in Body Snatchers. Sutherland and Kaufman knew what was coming, but she didn’t. “I did not expect that at all,” she said. (And we’ll leave it at that, for those who haven’t seen it.)
The film deftly balances humor with horror. When Cartwright and Goldblum discover a duplicate body in the mud bath, her first reaction is to tell him, “Don’t touch it, you don’t know where it’s been!”
“That was something my mother always used to say to us kids,” Cartwright said, “and it always gets a laugh.”
After each screening, Cartwright will participate in a Q&A session with UNCSA School of Filmmaking faculty member and former dean Dale Pollock and will be presented with a Master of Cinema award from RiverRun following the Hanesbrands Theatre screening.
The 22nd annual RiverRun International Film Festival will take place March 26-April 5.
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. © 2020, Mark Burger.
The RiverRun Retro presentation of Invasion of the Body Snatchers will be screened at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 10, at the Hanesbrands Theatre, 209 N. Spruce St., Winston-Salem, and 5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11 at RED Cinemas, 1305 Battleground Ave., Greensboro. Tickets are $12. For more information or advance tickets, call (336)724-1502 or visit the official RiverRun website: www.riverrunfilm.com/.