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Invaders from Mars (1986)

September 22nd, 2010 by unkle lancifer · 12 Comments

I think I was the exact wrong age to appreciate INVADERS FROM MARS when it crashed into theaters. I was too old to take it seriously and too young to take it humorously. Now that I’m in my introspective, open-minded post-prime you’d think I ‘d be able to rediscover it as a diamond in the rough but nah, same as ever, my patented me-likey meter still reads “not so much.” Yep, I’m saying my TOBE HOOPER love train jumps a smidge off the track with INVADERS FROM MARS but that’s O.K. What’s a romance without a splash of apathy?

On paper we’re made for each other, INVADERS, based on the 1953 classic of the same title, is basically a kid’s eye view of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (the original INVADERS actually predates SNATCHERS.) The material can’t help but capture a specific and crucial time in any adolescent’s life when they begin questioning the motives of their parents and start forming their own perceptions of the world. If you can find a decent copy of it (good luck with that) the original is a trippy mind-bending maze of forced perspectives that functions like a pint-sized, paranoid WIZARD OF OZ. There may be some movies that shouldn’t be remade but this isn’t one of them. Every generation deserves their very own INVADERS FROM MARS.

HOOPER gets some important things right in his re-do. He’s able to modernize the tale without completely evaporating the previous take’s naiveté and who knows better how to collide the everyday with the bizarre? We’re invited into a picturesque home with a cartoon picket fence and doesn’t that hilly pathway in the backyard look like it leads directly to Munchkin land? It’s a hokey patchwork paradise but no worries, we’re dealing with a remake of a fifties film so the cardboard ideal makes sense. Some of the visuals really do chime and reverberate. I love how HOOPER transforms a simple window in a child’s bedroom into a portal into another world, that’s some good stuff. So where does the crystal ball get dropped?

What I like about the HOOPER is his looseness but yep, that’s his downfall too. The second half of INVADERS is as slack as a wet noodle. Plus, I can’t believe I’m saying this about the guy who directed THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, but I think he can be too lenient with his performers. Was he afraid to ask for a second take from this bunch?

TIMOTHY BOTTOMS and LOUISE FLETCHER get it right the first time but some of the other apparently on the D.L. thespians here need discipline! I appreciate that HUNTER CARSON is not your typical precocious Hollywood imp but sometimes he sounds like he’s reading the back of a cereal box. Furthermore, like any self-respecting horror fan I’ve saved room for KAREN BLACK in my last will and testament but in my opinion she is miscast here. She’s too transtasticly fierce to pull off a fumbling schoolmarm/nurse. Is it too late for her and LARAINE NEWMAN who plays the kid’s mom to switch roles?

What’s that you say Aunt John? It IS too late for that? 24 years too late in fact? Fine, it was just a suggestion. A suggestion that made absolute sense considering BLACK is CARSON’s real life mommy and that she can play creepy better than nearly anyone but hey, who listens to me? What do I know?

All right, enough with the negative. I didn’t start writing because I needed to find a new way to bitch (…or did I?) INVADERS FROM MARS is fun. Not terribly fun but fun enough. My eyes glaze over a bit when the military gets involved but that’s not exclusive to this movie. I only enjoy the military in movies when they are fighting giant ants. I think this movie is worthwhile just for LOUISE FLETCHER really. She doesn’t need to steal scenes, people just hand them over to her and then thank her for the privilege of being robbed.

I’m thinking there’s plenty out there who get warm fuzzy nostalgia vapors over INVADERS and I don’t begrudge them that in the slightest. Its got its fair share of fumbled opportunities and foul balls but it’s a kid’s movie that’s willing to get dark and twisted and that is always welcome here. I might suggest watching RETURN TO OZ instead but I used to make my Han Solo and Princess Leia action figures get married (with Chewie as the best man) so you might want to ask somebody cooler than me.

Wait, wait, in the words of CURT COBAIN, I have a new complaint. Nice job on the Martian monsters recently departed and forever will be missed STAN WINSTON, but it’s painfully obvious that you made exactly and only two (not counting the leader-brain). They keep dying and reappearing but you only ever see two at a time! You and TOBE couldn’t get together and figure out something with split screens or blue screens or miniatures or something? How about a mirror? A simple mirror would have worked. Two does not seem like very many monster costumes to me. I think there were at least three Sleestak suits in LAND OF THE LOST. I guess that’s probably the least of INVADERS problems but I’m just saying…

You know what? The sand whirlpool thing works better in the original and that’s not really acceptable either…

So, INVADERS FROM MARS is not my favorite HOOPER movie by a long shot but it’ll do in a pinch. Like a pop-tent without a pole I suppose you can squirm in there to get out of the rain if you have to, but a little more ingenuity and whip cracking would have made a universe of difference. It’s starts well and I admire its intentions, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I went from happy to nappy before the end and I mean the FINAL end because there are like, three endings. Yes, this movie has more endings than it does monster costumes and that’s never a good idea. Still, LOUISE FLETCHER, she undeniably owns.

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Tags: Repeat Offenders · Tykes in Trouble




12 responses so far ↓

  • 1 ChrisNo Gravatar // Sep 23, 2010 at 9:36 am

    “1, 2, 3, 4, 5!”

    I remember seeing this as a child, and thinking it was pretty good. Then, seeing it again earlier this year when my dad picked up the DVD for me, it wasn’t as good. Pretty poor, actually. And most of that has to do with what you mentioned, Unk… missed opportunities. The kid was bloody awful, and in order to go along with this, you have to believe in him. I didn’t. Same with Black. She was too wishy washy in the role (maybe I keep remembering her other characters?).
    I will give the film this though, it had a nice look to it. And anything with James Karen is aces in my book. Plus, Louise Fletcher will never stop giving me the creeps.
    “Poor little guy!” :D

  • 2 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Sep 23, 2010 at 10:41 am

    Chris

    Yep, it’s a movie you really want to like but it just doesn’t solidify. It does work a bit better when you are young so I don’t want to completely dismiss it. 
    I think the nurse Linda character should be somebody the kid can have an innocent crush on and getting his mom to play the part was just a bad idea all around. There are scenes where Black is needed to appear to be intimidated by the parents and the teacher and I just don’t buy it at all. I keep expecting her to turn into the terminator and shoot lasers out of her eyes.
    What was Annie Potts doing in 86? She could have saved the movie. 
    Timothy Bottoms does a great job as the father but they gave him zero to do. In the original movie the father as an alien becomes violent and even smacks the kid so you have this whole other layer where the alien inside him is more of an analogy for child abuse or the unstable personality of an alcoholic.  
    I said the movie was “dark” but it really should have gone darker still with the parents.

  • 3 craigNo Gravatar // Sep 23, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    I don’t need any further proof that Karen Black and Tobe Hooper are worthy of any kind of praise thrown their way, but I’m afraid you’ll have to call in some serious back-up to get me over the the Louise Fletcher camp. Maybe an enitre write-up on the woman to help me see something that seems to remain in my blind-spot? Ever since FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC, I can’t get aboard this Fletcher train that seems to be going full steam on Kindertrauma. She was so wrong for that movie and it’s ruined her entire body of work for me. I guess it was my first encounter with book-versus-movie disappointment as a child, because she was the last person I would have cast for that film when, in 1987, there were some really great old Hollywood legend hags still ticking and looking for work. Alongside lining up my Star Wars figures for mock weddings as well, the other portion of my childhood was spent making sure that  all my V.C. Andrews books were lined on my bookshelf in the proper  orderof each series installment. And Ms. Fletcher just never brought it to life, or the life I had wanted for it. Am I alone on this?

  • 4 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Sep 23, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Craig, 

    I have to say that I did like Fletcher in Flowers in the attic! I probably didn’t have as much of an investment in the book though being a “My Sweet Audrina” fan myself.  
    Anyway, I totally understand what it’s like to have an actor or actress on your permanent shit list. I have come to the conclusion that Jenna Elfman is evil incarnate.
    I think it’s because I saw her on a talk show right after 9/11 and she was complaining about not being able to shop.
    Also, me and AJ were talking the other night and realized that both of our mothers have a seething never ending hatred of Florence Henderson because she kept her figure after having kids.
    Did storm troopers ever sabotage your action figure’s weddings? If I remember correctly the priest (c-3po) would be like “If there is anybody who is opposed to this wedding please speak now.”
    And then there would be lasers blasts flying everywhere and storm troopers and Bobba Fett beating the crap out of the wedding guests. 

  • 5 FijiMermaidNo Gravatar // Sep 23, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Great post! I haven’t seen this flick in 20 yrs or so. I have to bet I’d agree with you on this flick if I saw it today. I may never watch it again just to hold onto the feeling that it was a “good” flick in my memories.

  • 6 TaylorNo Gravatar // Sep 23, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    YOU MISSED THE FIELD TRIP, DAVID GARDNER.

  • 7 craigNo Gravatar // Sep 23, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    Ok, that wins it, hands down, for your Louise Fletcher argument; complaining about not being able to shop after 911 is so flowers-in-the-attic grandmotherly I can now look at her in a whole new, awful-good light. And my Star Wars weddings never had a guest list (I either didn’t think of it, or just naturally assumed no one else residing in my Darth Vader keep-case would care to attend).

  • 8 magiredNo Gravatar // Sep 23, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    One of my major kindertraumas growing up was the frog eating scene from Invaders…..shudders

  • 9 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Sep 23, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    Craig,

    Oh no… I think I was unclear! Jenna Elfman who I hate was the talk show guest!
    I really like Fletcher cuz she was Nurse Ratchet in “Cuckoo’s Nest” and because she died in “Brainstorm”
    Maybe Elfman should have played the “Flowers in the Attic” grammy!

  • 10 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Sep 23, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    Magired,

    DING DING! Yes, that is THE BEST scene in the movie for sure!

  • 11 micksterNo Gravatar // Sep 23, 2010 at 6:57 pm

    My mom was traumatized by the original from the 50s. She mentioned it just recently. She said after seeing the movie she had nightmares for weeks.

  • 12 jeffreygmmNo Gravatar // Sep 24, 2010 at 12:48 am

    thank you unc! this is the first horror movie that i became inordinately obsessed with. i still check the back of strangers necks. flowers in the attic is not her fault, late career Fletcher is the shit. do i even need to mention Exorcist 2?!   when i first moved to LA, I was at a party with karen black and she took me outside to show me how she could bark like a dog.  dreams come true.

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