STARRING: Karen Black, Hunter Carson, Timothy Bottoms, Laraine Newman, James Karen, Bud Cort, Louise Fletcher

1986, 100 Minutes, Directed by: Tobe Hooper

Late one evening a small boy sees a UFO landing in the open field behind his home. He tells his parents who obviously do not believe him. However, the following morning his father is behaving strangely
as if he is possessed by an alien intelligence. (What does his father do that is so weird? He gulps down his morning coffee in one single gulp which perhaps isn’t all that weird . . .)

More strange behaviour: the boy spies his less-than-favourite teacher gulping down a bull frog (now that's weird) and his mother serves up breakfast bacon burnt to a crisp (perhaps not really that weird either) and eats raw hamburger patty meat (not so weird: maybe she is pregnant who knows?).

Anyway, all of the people displaying this weird behaviour have funny wounds at the base of their necks. Soon it is becoming apparent that Earth is being invaded by aliens but who would believe a small boy?

If the story sounds familiar then you have probably seen the original 1953 film (of the same title) of which this is a remake by producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. If you haven’t, but the material still seems familiar, then you have either seen any of the three versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (that’s right: three of them!) or perhaps read Heinlein’s Puppet Masters. (Interestingly enough, the original Invaders from Mars actually predates the original 1956 Black & White Invasion of the Body Snatchers.)

"'Marines have no qualms about killing Martians, son,' is our favourite line of dialogue from the movie . . ."

Now, in the 1980s there was nothing that would strike as much terror into the hearts of film critics as the words “a Golan-Globus production” scrolling across the cinema screen. Kicking off with raunchy teenage Porky's-style comedies these two Israeli producers decided to take on Hollywood when they established their own production company, Cannon. Cannon would spend most of the 1980s bringing out anything from low-rent Chuck Norris action flicks such as the Missing in Action series and Masters of the Universe to the ill-judged Superman IV – Quest for Peace sequel.

Film critics weren’t the only ones who didn’t take to Cannon’s produce though by the time the ‘Nineties rolled around, the company was bankrupt as ordinary audiences stayed away in droves. Can’t say one can really blame them judging from this 1986 movie by director Tobe Hooper (of Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Poltergeist fame!). That is, despite Invaders from Mars being one of Cannon’s better films. The special effects by legendary John Dykstra (Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica) aren’t shoddy at all and the various creatures brought to life by Stan Winston are quite reasonably done too.

The acting is suitably camp (you just gotta love Louise Fletcher Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as everyone’s Most Hated Primary School Teacher from Hell shtick). The dialogue is terrible though. “Marines have no qualms about killing Martians, son,” is my favourite. I’ll bet they don’t . . .

But the movie is just somehow off. The film’s tempo is quick, but that could perhaps be the problem. There is no brooding paranoia and angst like the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers version starring Donald Sutherland managed to pull off so well. Much of the material seems underdeveloped as the story rushes through its paces to a conclusion. Director Hooper also blows it by revealing the aliens too soon: a lingering sense of mystery would have served the movie better.

Also, material that seems fine for the paranoid Cold War-era 1950s seems a bit odd when remade for the mid-1980s despite Reagan-era gung ho-ism. Viewed today one can easily see what John Clute meant when he said that 1950s sci-fi movies were really about anti-intellectualism. In one scene in this movie a NASA scientist tries to communicate with the aliens. Naturally he is blown to smithereens with a death ray . . .

Ultimately Invaders from Mars is the sort of movie that you wouldn’t mind seeing for free late on TV one night, but isn’t worth shelling out any hard-earned bucks for. Not as bad as the dreaded “Golan-Globus” tag would make one believe, but not really all that good either . . .

(Some thoughts: why is the opening title sequence almost exactly the same as those of the Superman movies? By the way, Dan O’Bannon of Alien and Dark Star fame contributed to the screenplay.)


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