At Halloween time we tend to focus on monsters like Frankenstein, Dracula, or the Wolfman – but what about the sort of horrors that come from other planets? After all, aliens can be gross, slimy and downright mean. If only all aliens were just popping over to say “Hi,” like good ole E.T. But no, they’ve got to cause trouble like the creatures at the center of Tobe Hooper’s 1986 remake Invaders from Mars.
David Gardner (Hunter Carson) is a simple mop-topped 80’s kid who loves looking up at the stars with his father (Timothy Bottoms). One night, during a meteor shower, David sees a giant alien spacecraft land behind a hill near his house. That morning, his father is acting very strange and has an unusual scar on the back of his neck. Before long, mom (Laraine Newman) is also acting strange and trying to convince David to come and see what is over the hill.
Things are no better at David’s school. His teacher, Mrs. McKeltch (Louise Fletcher) is usually pretty nasty on a normal day, but when David notices the strange mark on the back of her neck he knows something is up. The fact that he also catches her gulping down a frog is a bit of a giveaway. Only one person will believe David’s stories of alien invaders, school nurse Linda Magnusson (Karen Black). After David finds the location of the Martians’ hidden ship, he and Linda lead NASA and the Marines in an all-out assault on the creatures.
Invaders from Mars is a remake of the 1953 film of the same name. The filmmakers love for the original is on full display here. Jimmy Hunt, the actor who played David in the original, puts in a an appearance, and one of the aliens from the 53 film can be spotted in a pile of junk in the school basement. On a whole, the film does preserve a lot of the feel of a 50’s alien invasion flick, but it also has a very 80’s vibe to it. The whole film actually looks very Spielburg-ian. You know…lots of people carrying around flashlights, zoom-ins to windblown faces staring at something amazing, and enough lens flares to give JJ Abrams a tingle up his thigh. Many shots could’ve been plucked right out of E.T., Close Encounters, or Poltergeist (which Hooper directed with Spielberg producing…or did he?).
Much of the cast plays their roles just a bit over-the-top, or extremely over-the-top in the case of Louise Fletcher. I’ve got to believe that was intentional. It doesn’t quite bring the film to the level of parody, but it makes it clear that Hooper and his crew recognize the sillier side of 50’s alien invasion flicks and are, in fact, celebrating that fact. One of my favorite elements of the cast is Bud Cort in a small role as a hapless NASA scientist who makes the mistake of trying to reason with the creatures.
Speaking of the creatures…they’re so much fun! The leader of the aliens is a weird brain creature of some sort that looks a bit like E.T. if he’d been run over by a school bus. Most of the aliens are huge, awkward, slow-moving things that are essentially giant fang-filled mouths on legs. These things are so clumsy they couldn’t chase down a Galapagos tortoise, but they’re also so wonderfully ridiculous that I just couldn’t get enough of them. Clearly the producers of the film only made two of these bizarre costumes, as they always show up in pairs. Always two there are…never more, never less.
My one real disappointment with the film is that there isn’t a whole lot to how the aliens are taken down. Basically, the marines charge in an blow everybody up. I wanted there to be a bit more creativity to the whole thing. We all know that regular bullets don’t work on big ugly aliens, after all.
Invaders from Mars ends up succeeding on many levels. It is both a loving tribute to the evil alien films of the 50’s, but is also done somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Yet it still manages to provide some excitement and thrill in its own right.