Sunday, March 14, 2010

Rare Flix: Invaders from Mars (1986)

Today's film is another remake of a 1950s film, but they did not even go for a major one.  On the scale of '50s alien invaders films, Invaders from Mars is always someone's back-up pick and ranked below such films as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Earth vs The Flying Saucers and Plan 9 From Outer Space.  Okay, maybe not that second one, but you get my point.  In 1986, MGM hired Tobe Hooper to do a remake of this movie.  Why Tobe Hooper, you ask?  That's a silly question!  You wouldn't hire the guy who makes films about chainsaw-wielding killers, naked space vampires and evil television sets to do your remake?!?  All kidding aside, this movie got a limited DVD release a while back as part of MGM's Midnite Movies sets...which are now going out-of-print again.  Why are you guys trying to bury such great films as Dr. Phibes Rises Again, Madhouse and Voodoo Island?  Since I happen to live near a closing video store, I got myself a copy and decided to bring to you...
The film- like the original- revolves around a young boy who sees evidence of an alien invasion, but has a hard time convincing adults to believe him. It starts out simple enough with a kid having trouble getting to sleep due to a tumultuous thunderstorm. His mom (SNL's Larraine Newman) and dad (future That's My Bush star Timothy Bottoms) are quirky people who have raised a very inquisitive son. During the storm, he sees an alien ship landing and rushes to warn his parents. When no evidence can be found, they send him to bed and tell him to not think about it. However, the kid can't escape the weirdess around him. At school, his teacher talks about collecting the frogs for dissection and a small incident happens. Basically, the kid is being a kid and someone overreacts. At home, the father comes home late (with a man from the phone company) and begins to act weird. He tries to warn the mom, but she passes it off as stress, etc. The next morning, the mother acts like him and both have cuts on the back of their necks. At school, the teacher does too. Oh and he walks in to find her eating one of the dead frogs. I probably should have mentioned that first, shouldn't I?
That day, the kid runs to the school nurse and shares his story. She doesn't quite believe him, but does see that the teacher is acting a tad quirky. Of course, the lady has a wound on the back of her neck too. Naturally, the kid decides to hide in the back of the crazy teacher's truck and ends up at a sand dune with her. He follows her into a tunnel and discovers some crazy aliens, including some evil-looking muppets and old Krang up there. He is chased around by the aliens, but escapes. More craziness happens, including the teacher trying to abduct the kid in the wake of what he saw, but he narrowly escapes with the nurse. They try to go to the police (one of whom is played by the grown-up kid actor from the original), but that doesn't end well. They actually go to the military, but that's only because the dad works for them. While they talk with the general (who is always scowling or yelling), the parents show up with some other human slaves to cause some chaos. When some of them come in and attack- revealing their neck implants in the process- the brass finally believes their story. However, they still schedule an un-manned rocket launch that night, which ends in the explosion of the object. Guys, you do realize that you're having a shuttle blow up like 6 months after the Challenger disaster (it happened in January and the film was released in June of the same year). Too soon!
Around the fifty minute mark, the movie hits its stride. The soldiers go to the sand pit and try to invade the ship. Oh, the irony! The nurse is captured and set to be mind-controlled, but is saved by the soldiers' intervention. The guy that was in front of her in line- not so much. A big shoot-out ensues and a bunch of aliens get killed. Of course, we get one dumb-ass scientists who tries to make friends with the evil muppets and get disintegrated. That's what you get for scientific curiosity! The kid manages to escape by punching Krang and hitting the teacher with his bag full of pennies! More craziness takes place as roves of the evil muppets show up and get shot for their efforts. A random 'beholder'-like alien shows up too, but quickly passes. I'd say it's a Big-Lipped Alligator Moment, but this whole movie is full of this stuff! The military weapons prove too weak to blast through, so they grab an alien blaster. One problem though: the thing takes copper to work (don't ask). Fortunately, the kid has a Chekov's Gun in the form of a penny given to him by his dad in the first act. They blast their way out and escape, with the still-controlled parents in pursuit. When the ship explodes, their nodes break and...the kid wakes up. Yeah, they pulled that card. Unfortunately, a minute later, lights show up in the sky and the kid runs into his parent's room...too late. The End.
Yeah, this film is a little odd. On one hand, you have a quirky, family film about aliens and a kid. On the other hand, you have scary-looking aliens, soldiers being shot to death and shuttles blowing up. Hmm, maybe you shouldn't hire Tobe Hooper to do your family film after all! One big fault of the movie is a fairly-slow build-up. The end results prove to be worth it (with good effects and action), but the trip is a bit dull. The movie tries to toss in some brief scenes of suspense (the kid being afraid of adults) to carry you over, but there is still a big gap between the initial alien sighting and anything all that exciting. The film was not a major hit, nor was Lifeforce (also co-written by Dan O'Bannon) or Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2- all of his films for Cannon. According to reports, Tobe blames this- at least, in part- on too much cutting by the studio. To be fair, Tobe does say that a lot, so take it for what you will. Either way, Tobe rode out the '80s and '90s until hitting it big again with Taken. This film does deserve more attention than it gets, although that is does is due in larger part to the work of Stan Winston (creature effects) and John Dykstra (digital effects) than that of Tobe.
Up next, we start off Lucio Fulci Week with a film involving zombies. Yeah, I know- that narrows it down a lot. Stay tuned...

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