There goes my “summertime fun” review streak. I was listening to the Who Goes There?! Podcast yesterday, and Jorge mentioned that he had a childhood memory of some alien movie where a kid used the aliens’ gun against them and that it had run on pennies. Immediately, I knew the film and texted him the answer.
Invaders From Mars (1986) was one of those films that appeared on Saturday afternoon television quite a bit. Surprisingly, it was stuck in my memory banks as a B-movie at best. Little did I know that it was directed by Tobe Hooper (who was two movies removed from Poltergeist). It had a $12 million budget, and big expectations to it as well. It flopped (only earning $4.5 million in the box office). I loved it, and it scared the shit out of me as a child. On my re-watch this morning, I can see both aspects. It’s a clear rip off of Invasion of the Body Snatchers for the first half. The aliens (that once terrified) don’t hold up and come off as silly now. However, it still holds that adventurous feeling for me that I remember it having as a child.
David (Hunter Carson) is a happy 10 year living in a small town. After witnessing a spaceship land behind the hill at his house, he runs terrified to his parents’ (Timothy Bottoms and Laraine Newman) bedroom. They assure him it was just a dream, but in the morning, dad is acting very strange. He’s very stoic, he’s missing a slipper, and he adds tic tacs to his coffee and chugs it. He also has a strange scar on the back of his neck. When mom leaves for school, he insists on taking David behind the hill. Luckily, the bus arrives and David leaves for school.
As the day goes on, he realizes that his teacher Mrs. McKeltch (Louis Fletcher) is also off (as he catches her eating a frog!!!). He later follows her into the ship. The only adult that will listen to his crazy rants is school nurse Karen Black. She also notices McKeltch’s behavior and goes with David behind the hill the investigate. They see two men abducted and now she’s on board too.
Invaders From Mars was a remake of a 1953 sci fi film that was critically acclaimed. It had big shoes to fill, and to many critics, it came off bland. It’s very interesting to see some of the same criticisms that are tossed at reboots today being tossed at this film 30 years ago. It’s strange to think that somewhere in this world, some kid will hold A Nightmare on Elm Street in a nostalgic memory or say it was one of the first films to turn him onto horror. That’s how I look at this film at least. With a Body Snatchers feel for most of it that grows old quickly, it has to rely on puppetry and action for the second half. I don’t remember the first half so much, but damnit…I remember that second half vividly.
Today, the first half holds up much better than the second half. The opening scene (where David and dad are watching a meteor shower together) is sweet, and reminiscent of Poltergeist. The family seems to truly like one another. But as the aliens take over, David becomes increasingly alone in this world. There are big sweeping shots that make David look small in this world, and they mirror the emotions the boy must be feeling. The action half seems pushed because they somehow get the military involved. It works for the action, but it feels forced initially. Once the military is involved, it does become more believable.
The creatures are what really got me. I remembered them as giant hulking beasts, but now they look like Audrey 2 from Little Shop of Horrors. There’s a brain alien (that I now realize) was the inspiration of Krang in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There’s lots of swirly lights, and we have some pretty big stages built. Other than that, special effects are kind of blah for a picture with this budget.
But it’s the adventure in Invaders from Mars that really holds my attention. It’s what I remember. It’s what I still enjoy. It’s just fun to watch, and that aspect still shows up for me. Yes. I can critically look at a film and enjoy it. It’s not the strongest of its category, but it’s still a fun, fun film to watch.