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10 Facts About Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

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People have been arguing about Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ message for 60 years now. Some believe it’s a coded warning about the spread of communism. Others—like novelist Jack Finney (upon whose story the movie is based)—see it as a thoroughly non-political thriller. Regardless, fans of all stripes agree that Invasion of the Body Snatchers is an enduring horror classic. Released on this day in 1956, it still sends shivers up the spine.

1. IT’S BASED ON A MAGAZINE SERIAL.

In November and December of 1954, Collier’s magazine ran a three-part series that would come to be called “the year’s most original story of suspense.” Written by Jack Finney, The Body Snatchers wowed producer Walter Wanger, who began negotiating the story’s movie rights before he’d even read part two.

2. IT WAS SHOT IN JUST 23 DAYS.

With a modest $380,000 budget (roughly $3.3 million in today’s dollars), Invasion of the Body Snatchers started filming in Sierra Madre, California on March 23, 1955. If you’re a horror buff, the little city may look a bit familiar, since segments of Halloween (1978) and The Fog (1980) were shot there as well.

3. DIRECTOR DON SIEGEL PRANKED HIS LEAD ACTRESS WITH ONE OF THE FAKE PODS.

The film’s heroine, Becky Driscoll, was played by Dana Wynter. Rumor has it that Siegel once broke into Wynter’s home and hid a human-sized pod prop under her bed, though the actress remembered the incident differently. “He left it on my doorstep,” Wynter recalled in a 2001 interview. “Don Siegel was courting this girl [who lived next door], and he would pass my cottage all the time. And one night, he just left it on the doorstep ... I nearly broke my neck, because when you open your front door to go to your car, you don’t expect to find something large on your doorstep.”

4. THE LEADING MAN SUGGESTED A TITLE CHANGE.

In the film, alien pods replace slumbering people with emotionless duplicates. Hence, when Kevin McCarthy landed the lead role of Dr. Miles Bennell (who discovers what’s really going on), he suggested that Invasion of the Body Snatchers should be renamed Sleep No More.

You might be wondering why the final title differs from the one that Finney’s original series went by. In 1884, Robert Louis Stevenson had written a short story called The Body Snatcher, which was turned into an RKO film in 1945. To avoid confusion with that earlier movie, Siegel’s flick was rebranded Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

5. ORIGINALLY, THE MOVIE WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A LOT FUNNIER.

“I felt that pods growing into a likeness of a person would strike the characters as preposterous,” Siegel recalled. “I wanted to play it that way, with the characters not taking the threat seriously.” Hoping to offset the scares, he filmed a number of comedic scenes, which were later cut out by Allied Artists, the film’s distributor. “In their hallowed words, ‘horror films are horror films and there’s no room for humor,’” Siegel explained. “I translated [this] to mean that in their pod brains there was no room for humor.”

6. FULL-BODY MOLDS OF THE LEAD ACTORS WERE BUILT.

In the creepiest scene in the movie, the four main characters discover half-formed clones of themselves emerging from a quartet of pods. To create these facsimiles, McCarthy, Wynter, King Donovan (“Jack Belicec”), and Carolyn Jones (“Teddy Belicec”) were laid down on slanted boards, where the crew coated them, from head to toe, in plaster of Paris. Subsequently, these molds were filled with foam rubber. During the lengthy process, Wynter was subjected to yet another practical joke—this time, courtesy of the mold-builders. “I was in this thing while it hardened,” she said. “I was breathing through straws … and the rest of me was encased, it was like a sarcophagus. The guys who were making it tapped on the back of the thing and said ‘Dana, listen, we won’t be long, we’re just going out for lunch!’”

7. THE FILMMAKERS FEARED THAT KEVIN MCCARTHY MIGHT NOT SURVIVE THE ENDING.

The film’s action required leading man Kevin McCarthy to run for days on end. In numerous scenes, his character sprints for dear life over every possible terrain. “I got Charlie horses,” admitted McCarthy. Just before the film draws to a close, Dr. Bennell runs through traffic in a panicked frenzy, screaming “They’re here already! You’re next! You’re next!” Since the exhausted actor hadn’t been sleeping well, Siegel told his stunt drivers to remain extra alert in case McCarthy tripped without warning. “I was terrified that his timing would be off and he might fall down under the wheel of the cars and trucks,” Siegel admitted.

8. THE PROLOGUE AND EPILOGUE WERE LAST-MINUTE ADDITIONS.

Allied Artists didn’t just cut a few jokes here and there; the studio also insisted on a completely different ending. Originally, the movie was going to close with a shot of Dr. Bennell watching hopelessly as truckloads of pods drive out into the distance. Wanting to end the film on a more hopeful note, Allied Artists came up with a slightly happier conclusion. Over his strong objections, Siegel was told to film a new intro and a new final scene (“I reluctantly consented,” he said.) The revamped opening puts Bennell in a police station, where he tells the story as an extended flashback. After the famous “You’re next!” sequence, his tale ends and, after a while, the authorities begin to believe him.

9. IT COULD’VE BEEN NARRATED BY ORSON WELLES. OR RAY BRADBURY.

Walter Wanger desperately wanted two Orson Welles scenes to bookend the movie. As a prologue, the Citizen Kane director would offer an unsettling soliloquy. Then, at the end of the movie, he’d return with this sobering advice: “In this day and age, anything can happen. And if you’re asleep when it does, you’re next.” Unfortunately, scheduling conflicts kept Welles out of the film. Wanger later toyed with the idea of giving Welles' part to legendary sci-fi author Ray Bradbury, but ultimately opted to cut out the narrator role altogether.

10. MCCARTHY MADE A CAMEO IN THE 1978 REMAKE.

Donald Sutherland assumed leading man duties for Philip Kaufman’s 1978 remake of the film, which was a gorier and gloomier take on the story. At one point, two generations cross when Kevin McCarthy hurls himself at the younger actor’s car and screams “Help! They’re coming! Listen to me!”

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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images
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5 Killer Pieces of Rock History Up for Auction Now (Including Prince’s Guitar)
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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images

If you’ve ever wanted to own a piece of rock history, now is the time. A whole host of cool music memorabilia from the 20th century is going up for sale through Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles as part of its “Icons and Idols” sale. If you’ve got the dough, you can nab everything from leather chairs from Graceland to a shirt worn by Jimi Hendrix to never-before-available prints that Joni Mitchell signed and gave to her friends. Here are five highlights from the auction:

1. ELVIS’S NUNCHUCKS

Elvis’s nunchucks
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Elvis’s karate skills sometimes get a bad rap, but the King earned his first black belt in 1960, and went on to become a seventh-degree black belt before opening his own studio in 1974. You can cherish a piece of his martial arts legacy in the form of his nunchaku. One was broken during his training, but the other is still in ready-to-use shape. (But please don’t use it.) It seems Elvis wasn’t super convinced of his own karate skills, though, because he also supposedly carried a police baton (which you can also buy) for his personal protection.

2. PRINCE’S GUITAR

A blue guitar used by Prince
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Prince’s blue Cloud guitar, estimated to be worth between $60,000 and $80,000, appeared on stage with him in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The custom guitar was made just for Prince by Cloud’s luthier (as in, guitar maker) Andy Beech. The artist first sold it at a 1994 auction to benefit relief efforts for the L.A. area’s devastating Northridge earthquake.

3. KURT COBAIN’S CHEERLEADER OUTFIT

Kurt Cobain wearing a cheerleader outfit in the pages of Rolling Stone
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

The Nirvana frontman wore the bright-yellow cheerleader’s uniform from his alma mater, J.M. Weatherwax High School in Aberdeen, Washington, during a photo shoot for a January 1994 issue of Rolling Stone, released just a few months before his death.

4. MICHAEL JACKSON’S WHITE GLOVE

A white glove covered in rhinestones
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

A young Michael Jackson wore this bejeweled right-hand glove on his 1981 Triumph Tour, one of the first of many single gloves he would don over the course of his career. Unlike later incarnations, this one isn’t a custom-made glove with hand-sewn crystals, but a regular glove topped with a layer of rhinestones cut into the shape of the glove and sewn on top.

The auction house is also selling a pair of jeans the star wore to his 2003 birthday party, as well as other clothes he wore for music videos and performances.

5. WOOD FROM ABBEY ROAD STUDIOS

A piece of wood in a frame under a picture of The Beatles
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

You can’t walk the halls of Abbey Road Studios, but you can pretend. First sold in 1986, the piece of wood in this frame reportedly came from Studio Two, a recording space that hosted not only The Beatles (pictured), but Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, and others.

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5 Dubious Historical Antidotes for Poison (and What Actually Works)
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An artificial bezoar stone from Goa, India
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

When it comes to their health, humans will believe just about anything. In this extract from the new book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything, authors Lydia Kang, MD, and Nate Pedersen discuss some of the more questionable ways people once tried to protect themselves from poison—whether or not the methods actually worked.

Poison is everywhere. Naturally or unnaturally, it can be in the soil (arsenic), in the air (carbon monoxide), in your drinks (lead), and in your food (cyanide). With so much danger around, it’s no wonder humans have obsessed over finding a universal antidote—the one thing that could save us from all toxins. Imagine you’re a medieval prince about to inherit the throne. Chances are, there are a lot of power-hungry wannabes waiting in the wings. A little arsenic or hemlock might be your best friend or your worst nightmare. Just in case, best have an antidote on standby.

For millennia, a certain amount of magical thinking was employed when arming oneself against poison because science was inconveniently slow to catch up. So grab your handy unicorn horn and a bezoar, and let’s take a look.

1. BEZOARS

Bezoars have been used for centuries as antidotes to poisons. A bezoar is solid mass of undigested food, plant fibers, or hair found in the digestive tracts of animals, including deer, porcupines, fish, and, yes, humans. Anyone with a cat is familiar with the less-cool feline version: hairballs.

Bezoars and other stone-like items created by animals often had a good story behind them. Legends told of deer that would eat poisonous snakes and become immune or cry tears that solidified into poison-curing stones. First-century Arabic author al-Birumi claimed bezoars could protect against one poison called “the snot of Satan,” which we hope never ever to encounter. By the 12th century, when Europe became plagued with, uh, plagues, the bezoar crept into pharmacopeias as panaceas and alexipharmics (poison antidotes).

Bezoars were a seductive notion for the rich and royal, who were at risk of assassination. The stones were often enclosed in bejeweled gold for display or worn as amulets. Indian bezoars, in particular, were sought for life-threatening fevers, poisonous bites, bleeding, jaundice, and melancholy. Consumers were also known to scrape off a bit of bezoar and add it to their drinks for heart health and kidney stones. These tonics were sometimes adulterated with toxic mercury or antimony, which caused vomiting and diarrhea, making buyers think they were effective.

But were they? One team of researchers soaked bezoars in an arsenic-laced solution and found that the stones absorbed the arsenic or that the poison was neutralized. Hard to say if it worked well enough to cure a fatal dose. Ambroise Paré, one of the preeminent French physicians of the 16th century, was also a doubter. The king’s cook, who’d been stealing silver, was given the choice between hanging or being Paré’s lab rat. He chose the latter. After the cook consumed poison, Paré looked on as a bezoar was stuffed down his throat. Six hours later, he died wracked with pain. Perhaps he chose ... poorly?

2. MITHRIDATES

This antidote was named after Mithridates VI, the king of Pontus and Armenia Minor. Born in 134 BCE, he pretty much invented the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” by consuming poisons daily to prevent his own assassination. His royal home was stocked with stingray spines, toxic mushrooms, scorpions, mineral poisons, and a poisonous plant–filled garden. He was so unpoisonable that after his son took over his kingdom and he faced execution, he couldn’t even commit suicide by poison! He begged a guard to stab him to death. (It worked.)

Though the king’s actual recipe for the antidote is nowhere to be found, versions began to circulate after his death, and they became synonymous with the king himself. Compounds with lengthy and expensive ingredient lists prevailed, including iris, cardamom, anise, frankincense, myrrh, ginger, and saffron. In the first century, Pliny the Elder snarkily remarked, “The Mithridatic antidote is composed of fifty-four ingredients ... Which of the gods, in the name of Truth, fixed these absurd proportions? ... It is plainly a showy parade of the art, and a colossal boast of science.”

Showy or not, people would take the extensive mix of herbs, pound them together with honey, and eat a nut-sized portion to cure themselves. At least it endowed them with expensive-smelling breath.

3. HORNS

An apothecary shop sign in the shape of a unicorn
An ivory pharmacy sign in the shape of a unicorn's head
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Unicorn horns have been considered a part of antidote legend since the mythical beast galloped into literature around 300 BCE. For centuries afterward, real earthly beasts would sacrifice their lives and their horns to slake our thirst for the miraculous, nonexistent animal, including rhinoceroses, narwhals, and oryx. Even fossilized ammonites were used. It was believed that drinking vessels made of such horns might neutralize poisons, and wounds could be cured by holding them close by. In the 16th century, Mary, Queen of Scots reportedly used a unicorn horn to protect her from poisoning. Too bad it didn’t prevent her beheading.

4. PEARLS

Pearls have long been thought to be powerful antidotes. A beautiful, rare gem created by the homely oyster, a pearl is born out of annoyance (the mollusk secretes iridescent nacre to cover an irritant, like a parasite or grain of sand). Pretty as they are, they’re about as useful as the chalky antacid tablets on your bedside table; both are chiefly made of calcium carbonate. Good for a stomachache after some spicy food, but not exactly miraculous.

Pearl powder has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of diseases, and Ayurvedic physicians used it as an antidote in the Middle Ages. It was also reported to make people immortal. An old Taoist recipe recommended taking a long pearl and soaking it in malt, “serpent’s gall,” honeycomb, and pumice stone. When softened, it would be pulled like taffy and cut into bite-sized pieces to eat, and voilà! You would suddenly no longer need food to stay alive. Cleopatra famously drank down a large and costly pearl dissolved in wine vinegar, though in that case she wasn’t avoiding poison. She didn’t want to lose a bet with Antony—which might have fatally injured her pride.

5. THERIAC

Albarello vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
A vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Theriac was an herbal concoction created in the first century by Emperor Nero’s physician, Andromachus, who was reported to have Mithridates’s secret notes. It was a mashed formula of about 70 ingredients, including cinnamon, opium, rose, iris, lavender, and acacia in a honey base. In the 12th century, theriac made in Venice was branded as particularly special, and Venetian treacle (derived from a Middle English translation of theriac) became a hot commodity. Its public, dramatic production often attracted curious crowds.

By the 18th century, cheaper golden syrup was substituted for honey. As treacle began to lose its luster as a treatment, its definition as an herbal remedy disappeared from common vernacular. But the sweet syrup remained. Which is why when we think of treacle, we think of treacle tarts, not a fancy means of saving ourselves from a deathly poisoning.

BONUS: WHAT ACTUALLY WORKS

Thankfully, science has brought us a wide range of antidotes for many items we shouldn’t be exposed to in dangerous quantities, if at all. N-acetylcysteine, fondly referred to as NAC by doctors, saves us from acetaminophen overdoses. Ethanol can treat antifreeze poisoning. Atropine, ironically one of the main components of plants in the toxic nightshade family (such as mandrake), can treat poisoning from some dangerous fertilizers and chemical nerve agents used as weapons. For years, poisonings were treated with emetics, though it turns out that plain old carbon—in the form of activated charcoal—can adsorb poisons (the poisons stick to the surface of the charcoal) in the digestive system before they’re dissolved and digested by the body.

As long as the natural world and its humans keep making things to kill us off, we’ll keep developing methods to not die untimely deaths.

We’ll just leave the fancy hairballs off the list.

The cover of the book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything
Workman Publishing

Excerpt from Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang, MD and Nate Pedersen/Workman Publishing. Used with permission.

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