Sunday, May 15, 2016
Invaders from Mars
Made at the height of all those 1950s sci-fi movies that used aliens as a metaphor for creeping Communism, Invaders from Mars is just as cheesy and dated as any of them, but it does a develop a genuine sense of paranoia and alienation. When it works, it's because it chooses to tell the story from a child's perspective.
The story is easy to sum up. A kid wakes up, looks out the window, and sees a UFO land. He tells his Dad. Dad investigates and comes back taken over by the aliens. Soon, the aliens have taken over Mom, the chief of police, and others as they go about plans to threaten the Earth.
Director William Cameron Menzies uses a number of exaggerated sets and frames David to look very small: long hallways, twisting tunnels, and high ceilings. This gives the movie a distorted texture, that this seemingly normal world of mowed lawns, picket fences, and nuclear families is off kilter and warped. The movie is admirably restrained, waiting until near the end to reveal the aliens themselves.
Invaders from Mars is cheaply put together at times. Most of the footage of the Army mobilizing consists of stock footage, and it goes on for a long time and keeps getting reused, which I suspect is to pad the movie out. The film is less than 80 minutes long, even when they reuse the same shots of aliens running through the tunnel. Plus, it's packed with a lot of hokum that went with the territory of the genre at the time, and the movie spends too much away from David and his predicament in the second half.
Still, at its best, the movie plays on those childhood fears, so maybe the best time to see it is as a little kid when you're not going to care about fake costumes or recycled documentary footage. Tobe Hooper would go on to remake this in 1986 with a lot more money for special effects, but oddly enough, that one turned out to be even campier than this.