Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Invaders from Mars (1986)
A remake of the 1953 version, Invaders from Mars (written by Dan O'Dannon and Don Jakoby) is broader, campier, and busier. A lot of money went into making these nasty Martians and their weird technology, and they're rendered in such an exaggerated, over-the-top, bug-eyed manner, the movie is practically a live-action cartoon. It's probably not scary if you're over the age of 12 and maybe it's too weird and lightweight if you're an adult, but in its own way, it's kind of endearing.
The plot's identical, except for a few details. A young boy, David Gardner (Hunter Carson), wakes up one night to see a UFO land in the backyard. Before long, his parents (Timothy Bottoms and Laraine Newman) are taken over by invading Martians, as are the police and his classmates. David recruits school nurse Linda Magnuson (Carson's real-life mother Karen Black) to his cause, and they go to Marine General "Mad Dog" Wilson (James Karen) for help.
The paranoia of the original is present here, but it's played more for laughs. After the parents are taken over, they engage in behavior that's a parody of normal, happy family life. Dad pours a bottle of saccharine tablets in his coffee and drinks the scalding liquid in one gulp while Mom serves bacon burnt to a crisp and eats raw hamburger meat. All the while, they speak in stilted, emotionless diction like "This is my wife. This is my son."
The movie contains cute references to the original. Jimmy Hunt, the little boy in the original, shows up as a police officer who goes over the hill and remarks, "I haven't been up here since I was a kid." The school is named after the original's director William Cameron Menzies, and the original Martian leader prop turns up in the background. The Marines have some funny quips. "Marines have no qualms about killing Martians," General Wilson assures David.
The movie's main failing is David. Jimmy Hunt had a charming, gee-whiz presence that suited the original's time period. Carson, in the movie's vernacular, is too "spaced" (he also has a weird way of running that's just distracting), and he doesn't seem scared enough to give the movie any sense of menace. At least the adult cast around him has fun.