The film opens with what looks like ephemeral intestines floating through the void of space looking to spread their mischief on the innocent population of some unsuspecting planet. Luckily they come to Earth where no one is innocent; they end up in San Francisco, California, where people are less innocent still. When the intergalactic spooge settles upon the town of San Francisco it forms nasty little buds with awful red flowers on them….
Scientist Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams) looks at a group of children picking flowers, a creepy Catholic priest (Robert Duvall) swings on the swing set with the little boys – which is perfectly innocent, I assure you – she picks one for herself and goes home to her loutish husband Geoffrey (Art Hindle) who ignores her. Meanwhile, on the other side of town, health inspector Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) is shutting down a local eatery because he’s a jerk, they break his car window to get even; so, throughout the rest of the movie, he’s seeing a broken world, man. The next morning, Geoffrey is acting strange, like cleaning up and taking out the garbage. Elizabeth knows something is horribly wrong. He’s sneaking around and going to mysterious meetings and not telling her she’s wrong every five minutes, so she gets concerned and heads over to Matthew’s pad. She then gets weird and follows her husband around all day finding that he’s meeting with strange men and exchanging things, which, in San Francisco, isn’t unusual…
Naturally Matthew convinces her to seek out some pop psychology courtesy of Dr. David Kibner (Leonard Nimoy) who tells her that there’s a condition going around and all she needs is a good night sleep[/pod]. On their way to the party they encounter a crazed man (Kevin McCarthy) who warns them that they’re next before he gets run over by a car. Does this scene make this film a sequel or is it just meant to be an in-joke? Either way, it’s always nice to see Kevin McCarthy, so who cares? At the party was Jack Bellicec (Jeff Goldblum), an annoying poet – although that’s somewhat redundant – who goes back to his wife Nancy (Veronica Cartwright) at the bath house they run. Jack goes off to sulk in the steam room while his wife closes up, but in addition to dirty towels and other messes there’s a corpse on one of the massage tables. Well, it’s not a corpse so much as a half-formed vegetable man – again, not unusual thing for San Francisco, though fruit men are more common – which causes Nancy to freak out and call Matthew. Upon seeing the wicker man lying there on the table, he deduces that Elizabeth must be in danger too. He rushes off and heroically breaks into the house and saves her from becoming plant food. The Bellicecs call Dr. Kibner to get his opinion of the body in the bath house, but it vanishes; no doubt into one of the myriad garbage trucks that prowl the city, seeking victims. The police are called and there’s no evidence, but Dr. Kibner smooths things over and tries to rationalize everything.
Now the film goes into super-paranoia mode as various government people turn out to be uncooperative and suggest that Matthew stay as quiet as possible about his suspicions. People who had previously complained about their wives and husbands being different people are walking around like the world is a wonderful and good place; little did they know the Reagan years were coming soon. The two couples hide out and try to deal with the situation, but by this time the pods have taken over the authorities and much of the population. It soon becomes time to flee as a horde of pod people chase the remaining humans. Jack runs off to ‘get help’ which means he’s using himself as bait to lure the pods away from his wife and friends. Nancy gets separated from the other two, but they have the bright idea to take a taxi (Don Siegel) to the airport, but he’s yet another pod person. They’re everywhere and they even have a newsletter. They escape the search pod-ty – I apologize for that one – and this fate to tempt fate elsewhere by going to their workplace. There they are easily trapped like common eels until they brutally escape and meet up with Nancy who tells them to behave like they’re British if they want to escape the pods. Unfortunately, Elizabeth freaks out when she sees a dog with a human face – in the 70s that was considered a normal sight – who has his own banjo theme. They flee to the pod greenhouses where Elizabeth immediately breaks her ankle which means that Matthew has to leave her for just a moment so that she can turn into a pod person who is superior to her in every way as she doesn’t whine but is naked. After he destroys their grow room, he flees and the movie ends with him howling at Nancy who is still human.
The basic story here was just as good as it was in the original and explained more of the pod life-cycle than the original did. However, it was inconsistent with the pods’ connection to their victim / host, sometimes it was there, sometimes not. The special effects are pretty good and the acting is very very good. The transplantation of the story from the small town to the urban environment means that the pods actually have it easier, since people only know a small number of other people it would be a lot easier for an alien force to take over a large segment of the population before anyone really noticed. However, the film is very slow in places – it is more than 30 minutes longer than the previous version – has intrusive music and is often shot in darkness. While the original did have a few scenes in darkness, they were done in semi-lit ‘Hollywood darkness’ of blue light rather than the natural darkness that Kaufman uses. The appearance of Kevin McCarthy in the streets makes this play as part sequel and part remake as we see what happens when the contagion spreads beyond a small community. There are a number of people who seem confused by the ending. Some like to look at it as Matthew surrendering to the pods and becoming one without becoming one, but that makes no sense as he’d have to sleep sometime and he made that unearthly scream. Others, more sensible people like me, prefer to look at it in a more straightforward fashion, that he got absorbed and is now a part of the pod garden, but then why did he seem out of step? Sloppiness meant to leave an ambiguous ending? Whatever, it’s a good film that’s a bit too slow, a bit too dark, and more than a bid burdened by a melodramatic score.