Thursday, October 6, 2016

#DoubleFeature - Invaders from Mars (1953)/Invaders from Mars (1986)

Here's a blast from the past - which has of course been remade at one point, like any good idea.

Invaders from Mars might very well be the original very first alien invasion film, the precursor to a genre that invaded movie theaters all the way through the Cold War era. Which is normal, granted the genre is one big metaphor to the fear of communism substituting the "reds" with aliens.

While the 1897 novel The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells can be traced as the origin of the genre, Invaders from Mars was rushed into production to become a feature film before George Pal's 1953 War of the Worlds film. But aside from the whole alien invasion element, those two films have very little in common. War of the Worlds is more of a traditional scifi story about alien attackers while Invaders from Mars is a proper story about alien invaders coming to Earth and slowly taking over humans one by one, like the aforementioned red scare.

Invaders from Mars proved a cult hit and inspired generations of fiction.

In fact it's the movie that would inspire Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers in 1956!

This early 1950s science-fiction/horror film spawned an entire genre, people usually tend to namedrop Body Snatchers as the grandfather of the genre while forgetting Invaders from MArs...

And in the mid-1980s while a lot of classics from the 1950s were being remade for a new more brutal splatter generation with more or less success (see the previously-reviewed The Blob for example) Invaders from Mars was remade for modern audiences! With a really great genre film director attached to it, no less!

Movie: Invaders from Mars (1953)
Directed by William Cameron Menzies
Release date April 1953
Genre Science-fiction/Horror/Alien invasion film
Country USA

There's no place on Earth to hide!!

Invaders from Mars is the original alien invasion film! A cult classic memorable little 1950s alien film that left a huge mark on the genre and inspired countless copies!

The original film was directed by film producer and art director William Cameron Menzies who mostly worked on silent films prior to this one. The film was made for National Pictures Corp., and ultimately distributed by then-Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.

When it's all said and done, specially from today's point of view, the story is pretty basic and straightforward. Also the end of the film has a pretty huge twist I dislike, followed by another questionable twist!

But since it sort of was the first film to do so, I can close my eyes on these points (which I can't exactly say for the remake below...).

The story of the film itself was written by Richard Blake, actually inspired by a dream of the wife of fellow writer John Tucker Battle!

It all takes place during a pretty wild night... In the home of this quirky family fascinated by space. The young David witnesses a flying saucer landing on the very creepy hill nearby. His father goes checking out, but they dismiss it as just David having nightmares because of constant talks about space... and he weirdly disappears up there!

They call the cops... who also disappear up there. After that the dad and the police all come back with some weird new attitude...

The next morning the usually pretty warm dad is acting cold and distant towards his family.

Slowly the whole town starts acting strange around David. His mom follows the dad towards that hill.. and comes back changed the same way. Then the next door neighbor girl. David tries to warn the police but they're also quickly turned over...

This astronomer assistant overhears David and she's finally trusts David's tale. Together they're able to convince the military.

The end of the film sees them enter the spaceship hidden near David's home and come face to face with actual martians! They've been putting mind-control devices inside people's head. They face the supreme leader of the martians! At the end the army blows everything up while the ship starts ascending into the skies...


Was it all just a bad dream? Or some deadly premonition!?

All I can say is.. this is a very unique and imaginative science-fiction film!

This was the very first alien invasion-type film. In fact it showcased the very first aliens and their spaceships in color in a motion picture!

The film has a pretty decent cast of popular faces at the time, starring Jimmy Hunt in our lead role as David who's acting fluctuate between decent and.. average, but also Helena Carter, Arthur Franz, Morris Ankrum, Leif Erickson and Hillary Brooke to name a few.

While the entire film was made on a pretty modest budget, they were able to craft a really decent picture. There's some great matte painting including the really surreal and creepy hill. They used crafty tricks, recycled tools and even balloons for the tunnels and the interior of the spaceship. It all contributes making the lines between fiction and reality pretty blurry, giving the whole film an eerie dream-like quality. Nothing seems quite real.. nor fake.

Released at the beginning of the 1950s, the film also draws a lot of parallels to the Red-scare of the 1950s. Specially the way anyone in any family might have been replaced by sleeper agents for the "invaders"...

It's still a pretty powerful if a bit slow at the start.

Fun fact, the UK release of the film added a new ending because of issues with the British film distributor. They filmed a whole new segment and reedited the ending into a more typical conclusion for the film, even though you can clearly tell the new footage (the child actor was now looking slightly older and taller, with a different hair style, he even wore a different vest for some reason!).

Finally the film features a really unique score by Raoul Kraushaar, who played the science-fiction angle and added a great weird dream-like tone to the whole film! Creepy stuff!

Overall: Invaders from Mars is a definitive classic!

It left a huge impression on the whole science-fiction genre, defining alien invasion films for years to come. Often imitated (and surpassed by Body Snatchers in my own personal opinion), it was the original that would launch the whole scifi horror genre. Very typical of the Cold War-inspired cinema of the 1950s.

Highly Recommended by yours truly, it actually holds up fairly well.

My only complaint is with the ending of the film, because I despise dream-endings.. even though the invasion starts happening all over again at the end. At least with the tone of the film, it sort of reminded me of classic Twilight Zone episodes...

Of course the film was remake in 1986...

I give it:
2.5 / 3 UFOs!

Movie: Invaders from Mars (1986), also known as Tobe Hooper's Invaders from Mars
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Release date June 1986
Genre Scifi Horror/Alien invasion/B-movie
Country USA

The remake of the classic scifi horror film Invaders from Mars by Cannon Pictures

The film was mostly made because a producer reissued the copyrights of the original to own the rights for that film and be able to redistribute it.

But this was no mere studio-driven cash-grab! A lot of talent was involved in this remake!

This 1986 Invaders from Mars was directed by noneother than horror legend Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Poltergeist, etc.), he was even able to feature a character watching his previous film Lifeforce!

And the original story was adapted in a new screenplay by Alien co-creator Dan O'Bannon and Don Jakoby!

So why does all this feels so little inspired...?

I'm gonna skip on the plot here. Because it's the exact same story as the original film! With some very minor cosmetic changes.

Let's just say a teacher helps the young David this time, not a random astronomer he happens to run into.

It all comes down to the exact same twist at the end of the film, to the very last shot!

The remake stars a pretty great ensemble cast of Karen Black, Hunter Carson, Timothy Bottoms, Laraine Newman, James Karen, Bud Cort and Louise Fletcher. They all play their characters based on the original characters. Everyone takes their role very seriously. The highlight of the cast being the return of the now-older Jimmy Hunt, who played the original David in the 1953 film, as the Police Chief in the 1986 version!

And aside from that... it's a complete rehash of the original!

While I'm using all for staying faithful to the originals, this film barely serves any purpose beyond updating the special effects. I mean, you might as well watch the original instead. The original had a better pacing and atmosphere. This one feels a bit cheesy and goofy at times.

And let me say right away, the best aspect of this entire remake was having special effects provided by Stan Winston and John Dykstra. The updated martian goons lost their weird goofiness for fantastic wild designs. And the shinning new addition is the completely revamped Supreme Intelligence alien leader inside the spacecraft who looks really creepy and absolutely gorgeous!

Aside from that, there's not much to add. Things move way to fast. And the second act suddenly slows down to a crawl as we watch David and his teacher going back and forth before getting the military inside the ship.

And for some reason, the film also contains a lot of references and homages to the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, for some reason!?

Aside from my nitpicks, it's actually a pretty great scifi horror film. It's not as clever, mature or gory as other 80s films of the genre. But it works great.

And just like the original before, it would leave a big impression on the genre. The newly redesigned supreme leader martian would inspire one of the most memorable creatures from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,the Utroms in the comics and later Krang in the cartoon series! I can't believe it took this look to see Krang in a Turtles movie by the way. I even personally suspect the MDK series (particularly Bioware's MDK2) to have heavily drawn from the last act of this film. The spaceship looks so weird, unique and alien..!

The music was made by a trio of very talented composers; Sylvester Levay, Christopher Young and David Storrs. But I think that also contributed to give the film such disjointed tones. At best it can sound really creepy in pure 80s horror fashion. But at worst particularly during the action scenes, it sounds like something out of Rambo for some reason!?!

Overall: The 1986 version of Invaders from Mars is an adequate scifi horror film, but it doesn't offer anything the original didn't before!

And there's so many much better films of the genre from that same era... Check it Out if you're a fan of the genre or the original, otherwise you can skip it...

I loved the new designs for the martians. I really do. But aside from that, it's really the lesser film.

Where the film was a really big let down it's that it simply didn't build as much or good tension and mood. Aside from the great new special effects, it's basically just a shot-for-short remake of the original. Which was pretty weird coming from Tobe Hooper himself, I would honestly have preferred a more personal take on the story. I haven't seen a remake stick this close to the original since those foreign films a few foreign film directors got to remake themselves for American audiences!

I do believe the film could have been a lot better if Tobe Hooper allowed himself to truly adapt the story in his style. Not follow the original as closely, make it bloodier like most 80s horror films, or at the very least take the occasion to completely reimagine that bad dream-ending...

I give it:
2 / 3 UFOs!

And that is it for today's DoubleFeature!

Watching those two films back-to-back will certainly feel pretty repetitive, but it can also highlights how much the genre evolved over the years. From the well-paced tense original to the action-filled special effects-driven "modern" take from the 1980s.

I do find both films pretty enjoyable.

It's always fun to be able to compare such similar films produced so many decades apart.

That's all for this time's DoubleFeature!

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