A boy tries to stop a horde of aliens from taking
over his town and brainwashing its inhabitants.
Invaders from Mars (1986)
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Written by Dan O'Bannon and Don Jakoby
Starring Karen Black, Hunter Carson, Timothy Bottoms,
Laraine Newman, James Karen, Bud Cort, Louise Fletcher
Remake of 1953's Invaders from Mars
The 80s were full of movies with ‘kids on bikes’ where the kids were the protagonists fighting monsters (The Monster Squad), the government (E.T.), or a family of mobsters as they search for pirate treasure (The Goonies). In these movies, the adults never believe what the kids tell them until the shit hits the fan and they need the kids to save the day. While they aren’t riding bikes, this is a young hero in Tobe Hooper’s remake of Invaders from Mars.
This was the second of the three films Hooper signed a deal with Menahem Golan and Yorum Globus of Cannon Films, the other two being Lifeforce (1985) and the gloriously bonkers The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (which we had a round table podcast about, check it out!). Golan and Globus were always trying to score a hit but never really hit a winner but what I love about them is that they gave Hooper the freedom to create what he wanted with minimal interference, which was not part of their process as they were notorious for making changes up until the last minute. Of the three flicks Hooper made for Cannon, this one is probably the low point but it is still a good gateway monster movie for kids and certainly one to check out for anyone with a gap in Hooper’s filmography. The story centers around David Gardner (Carson), a kid whose Dad, George (Bottoms), works for NASA and succumbs to a malevolent Martian plot to take over Earth that sees them hijack the parents of Santa Mira and strip Earth of copper. David sees a UFO land in his backyard just behind a hill that leads to a quarry but his parents don’t believe him as they find no evidence but his Dad tells him he will check it out. The next morning Dad is acting really strange, walking around with one loafer, drinking scalding hot coffee with no reaction, and there’s a mysterious mark on the back of his neck. Later, his own Mom (Newman) is taken over and looks David dead in the face as she eats raw hamburger covered with salt! As the mystery unfolds, David is up against his teacher Mrs. McKeltch (Fletcher) who develops a taste for frogs and the rest of the adults in town save for the school nurse, Ms. Magnuson (Black), and even she has a hard time believing David is telling the truth. In the end, David does in fact uncover a plot by the Martians to take over the Earth but he manages to get the help of the Marines to do battle with the Martian menace. There is some awesome creature design (courtesy of Stan Winston and John Dykstra) on display including the Supreme Martian Intelligence (aka Brain Alien that’s pulling the strings) and its butthole-looking escape hatch! I’m not making this up, see for yourself!
All in all, Invaders from Mars is a good time as the way Hooper pulls the strings with the aliens isolating David and the rest of the town to shut them off from the rest of the country is well done and downright creepy when you think about it. There are goofy moments, no doubt, as the script is a little all over the place but you’re watching a movie about Martians looking to smelt all the world’s copper and use it to fuel their weapons and space craft, what more are you asking for? I think Hooper’s knack for taking the absurd and grounding it in reality really helps this otherwise silly concept to keep going. I think this would absolutely play well with Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! as a double feature of Martian mayhem that is sure to keep the popcorn flying and the laughs going.