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Invaders from Mars

Entry updated 24 January 2017. Tagged: Film.

1. Film (1953). National Pictures/Twentieth Century Fox. Directed by William Cameron Menzies. Written by Richard Blake (and John Tucker Battle, uncredited). Cast includes Helena Carter, Leif Erickson, Arthur Franz and Jimmy Hunt. 78 minutes (82 minutes in Europe). Colour.

A small, disturbing, curiously memorable film by the director of Things to Come (1936), made for children but capable of terrifying them. Through a little boy's eyes we see Aliens from a UFO take over the minds of everyone in a town, beginning with the boy's own parents. The army moves in, there is an Underground battle and the aliens are defeated. The boy wakes up and realizes that it was all a dream ... but then he once again sees the UFO land behind his house. (Extra footage was shot for the European print to substitute for the all-a-dream ending, which it was felt would be unpopular; more recent prints have combined both versions.)

Although Invaders from Mars was cheaply made, Menzies produced – through the use of mildly expressionistic sets (reinforcing the dream idea) and a camera placed to give us a child's-eye view – a powerful sf metaphor for the loneliness and alienation of a child whose world seems subtly wrong. The image of human bodies concealing incomprehensible and menacing alien motives was, in its Paranoia, an important one in US sf cinema, especially during the 1950s Communist-spy phobias.

2. Film (1986). Cannon. Producers Menahem Golan, Yoram Globus. Directed by Tobe Hooper. Written by Dan O'Bannon, Don Jakoby, based on original. Cast includes Karen Black, Timothy Bottoms, Hunter Carson and Louise Fletcher. 99 minutes. Colour.

Disappointing (although astonishingly faithful) remake by a director more at home with exploitation horror movies. The more sophisticated special effects (Martians created by Stan Winston) and the updating of the setting serve only to throw the original's flaws into high relief. What carried eerie conviction on the small screen becomes merely silly on the big one, especially as Hooper's direction sinks into near-incoherence in the pacing of the finale. The best bits, unsurprisingly, are straight from the Horror genre: possessed parents chewing horribly burnt bacon, a malicious schoolteacher eating a live frog, etc. [PN/JB]

see also: Invasion; Monster Movies.


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