In this remake of the classic 50s SF tale, a boy tries to stop an invasion of his town by aliens who take over the the minds of his parents, his least-liked schoolteacher and other townspeople.
As a horror and sci-fi nut, I am forever indebted to Detroit TV20’s programming. Starting at 2:00 PM every Saturday afternoon, right after all the morning cartoons were done, was ’Thriller Double Feature.’ These four hour stretches would provide the basis for my horror education as each weekend I was subjected to two recent horror movie releases, edited for television, allowing my five year old self to indulge in programming I wouldn’t otherwise be allowed to see. From ‘Halloween’ to ‘Terror Train’ to ‘Friday The 13th’ to ’A Nightmare on Elm Street’ to ‘Rawhead Rex’ I got to see everything in gory delight. I would watch Freddy invade dreams, Michael stalk Laurie through a hospital, or Jason hack up Cory Feldman’s family over and over again. One movie stood out above all others and brought me true terror as a child - Tobe Hooper’s ‘Invaders From Mars.’
Young aspiring astronaut David Gardner, Hunter Carson, is living an ideal life as a child. His parents are successful, his mother is going to back to school, and his father is actually a scientist at NASA who happens to be working on one of the first Mars probe rocket missions. Everything is going wonderfully, until a UFO lands in David’s backyard! Screaming in terror, David alerts his parents, who very naturally dismiss what the boy saw as lightning and urge the child to go back to bed. Still curious, David’s father George, a very creepy Timothy Bottoms, decides to check things out for himself, heading out in the dead of night to investigate what was beyond the hill in his backyard.
The man that comes back certainly looks and sounds like George, but something isn’t quite right about the man. Willing to shrug it off as a lack of sleep or “Dad just being weird,” David goes about his every day life. Until his mother, Laraine Newman, starts acting strangely herself. All of a sudden David’s entire world has been turned upside down. Soon the only person that appears and acts normal is the School Nurse, Karen Black, who while initially doubtful of the boy’s story is quickly convinced that something more is at play. Together the pair must set out to convince the commanders of the nearby military base that things are going terribly wrong as the invading Martians steadily begin to take over the world.
‘Invaders of Mars’ is not your average sci-fi horror movie. This one in particular has a delightfully creepy sense of humor. At its heart, this is ultimately a kid’s horror movie. If you’re an adult viewing this film for the very first time, it’s probably not going to seem all that scary. Creepy maybe, but not scary. Now if you’re like me and saw this at around 4 or 5 years old, then you were probably freaked out of your mind! This movie was genuinely terrifying for me as a child. I lived in the middle of the woods, had some hills in the backyard, and I could see this easily happening to me at the time.
As an adult, this movie is just great fun. There is so much to love and enjoy about this goofy movie. To be honest, this isn’t a great movie necessarily, but it is entertaining, if for no other reason than for the incredible sense of nostalgia. This is a creature feature delight offering incredible practical effects by John Dykstra and Stan Winston. Then you have the massive sets that were built in the same aircraft hanger where Howard Hughes built the Spruce Goose.
Helping this movie to work well for itself is that it feels like a 1950s throwback the likes of ‘The Thing From Another World,’ ‘Them,’ and as a wonderful ode to the original ‘Invaders From Mars’ itself. Not just a simple remake, this movie works on it’s own and strikes out it’s own course to tell a familiar story. Working well for this film is it’s committed cast. Hunter Carson as our young intrepid hero David does a fine job carrying the movie. As a child actor, he has a face that expresses terror and worry extremely well. Also helping is the presence of his real-life mother Karen Black as the lone individual that believes the boy’s story bringing an established bond of trust between the two. Adding to the terror is the always unnerving Louise Fletcher as David’s frog swallowing teacher. Then you have great turns from the like of James Karen as a Military General and Bud Cort as the peace loving “Aliens are inherently good if we talk to them” scientist, and there’s a fun little cameo from Jimmy Hunt from the original film.
Hot off the successes of Poltergeist and Lifeforce, Tobe Hooper looks like he’s having fun with this one recruiting many friends and associates to work on the project including screenwriter Dan O’Bannon who instills his own wry sense of humor into the work. It isn’t Hooper's most terrifying film by any stretch, even if it felt like it was when I was a kid. Peppered throughout the film are nice subtle references to other classic genre sci-fi films including a prop cameo by the original Supreme Being as well as a few pods from ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ among several other subtle genre references. ‘Invaders From Mars,’ is a great little piece of 80s camp. It has a great mix of frights, big-budget spectacle, and a deliciously dark humor and is worth the watch if you’ve never seen it or if you want to dip a toe back into 80s nostalgia.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
‘Invaders From Mars’ makes it’s grand arrival on Blu-ray courtesy of Scream Factory on a region A locked BD50 disc. Housed in a standard Blu-ray case, the reversible artwork replicates the cover art from the original VHS and Laserdisc releases. The disc opens to the similarly formatted Scream Factory main menus with music from the main film and clips in the background playing throughout.
‘Invaders From Mars’ arrives on Blu-ray in fairly decent form. To be upfront, this is not a fresh restoration, the print looks to have a bit of damage to it in the form of nicks, dirt, and flecks. The most telling instance is towards the three quarter mark of the film where a noticeable vertical scratch runs through the movie for several seconds and softens the picture quality - it makes me wonder if this isn’t an assembly from duplicate elements?
With that out of the way, I can easily focus on the positives of this transfer. Film grain is alive and well, while never being too intrusive leading to outstanding detail levels. For a creature feature, all you have to do is look at the monster work by Stan Winston to see that this movie probably has never looked better. Colors are rich and wonderful here. Primary colors - blues, reds, and yellows have great pop to them while maintaining strong and natural flesh tones throughout. Black levels, in particular during the climatic incursion in the martian spacecraft, look fantastic leading to a great sense of depth. If it wasn’t for the noticeable print damage, this would have been a near perfect transfer. As it is, ‘Invaders from Mars’ eclipses it’s previous DVD and LaserDisc releases.
Sporting a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track and a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, ‘Invaders From Mars’ gets a truly pleasing auditory debut. If you want to remain authentic to the original experience, I’d suggest the 2.0 track over 5.1, but both tracks work wonderfully well. Imaging on both tracks is deliciously creepy in places as voices, the subtle sound effects, and the wonderful score from Christopher Young have plenty of room to breathe. This is a movie with a lot of running and fast traveling moments so sound effects move about the channels in a natural way. The 5.1 track offers some nice surround elements, but the majority of the sound sticks to the stereo channels. Levels are balanced and the tracks are free from any hiss, pops, or breaks.
Audio Commentary With Director Tobe Hooper: Hosted by DVD producer Michael Felsher, this commentary track is lively and fun as he and Tobe have a nice banter between them. Things can be a bit unfocused at times, not entirely scene specific, but still interesting.
The Martians Are Coming!: (HD 36:33) This is a nicely sprawling special feature that including interviews with Tobe Hooper, Hunter arson, Alec Gillis, Gino Crognale, and Christopher Young. Lots of info to be taken in and enjoyed here and worth the watch.
Original Trailer: (SD 1:28) A fun piece of marketing that shows off how much better this film looks now on Blu-ray.
TV Spot: (SD :32) Short and sweet, clearly run from a dated VHS tape but still sells the movie nicely.
Original Storyboards: Certainly an interesting feature, it would have been great to see this in a “compare and contrast” from the drawings to the actual final shots, static pen and ink drawings are only just so interesting.
Production Stills Gallery: you can see and appreciate the amount of intricate work that went into building these massive sets and creature creation.
Original Production Illustration Gallery: (HD 14:03) This running gallery is pretty fascinating to see the evolution of the monster and creature design work with artist William Stout talking about his process and influences.
As a grown man who steadfastly refuses to grow up, I love revisiting and rediscovering the movies that creeped me out as a small kid on Saturday afternoons. I spent numerous hours of my life huddling under blankets and watching my parent’s small 13 inch TV screen in their bedroom as I willingly subjected myself to the terrors on screen. Every year it feels like I come across another piece of 80s sci-fi and horror and I get to bask in the great delight I once felt all over again. Tobe Hooper’s ‘Invaders From Mars’ admittedly is a mixed bag. Its one part Sci-fi, one part Horror, and about a dozen parts dark comedy. Knowing that it was intended for kids, it feels like a kids movie - but that doesn’t mean adults shouldn’t enjoy it! With a strong HD presentation, two strong audio tracks, and a slew of extra features makes ‘Invaders From Mars’ a fun flick to recommend.