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  INVADERS FROM MARS

A Tobe Hooper film from the mid eighties, when he was (as he still is) trying to mount a worthy successor to THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. This film, needless to say, wasn’t it, but is still one of Hooper’s more entertaining efforts.

The Package
     It’s actually quite surprising that INVADERS FROM MARS, scripted by Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby, is as much fun as it is, since it was financed and distributed by the notorious Cannon Group. Tobe Hooper previously directed the ridiculous LIFEFORCE (also penned by O’Bannon and Jakoby) for Cannon a year earlier, and in both cases was afforded a far more generous budget than Cannon’s honchos Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus normally doled out. Both films flopped badly due to Cannon’s typically inept distribution (as did THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2, Hooper’s other 1986 Cannon project), and had a deleterious effect on Hooper’s career (his next feature was 1990 the straight-to-video bummer SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION).
     INVADERS FROM MARS was a remake of the 1953 William Cameron Menzies film of the same name, a quintessentially old school account of alien invasion. This new version was very much an homage as well as a remake, and also contains nods to the original WAR OF THE WORLDS and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. Note the presence of the Marines who show up in the second half to make everything right; this was a staple of fifties-era sci fi as well as Cannon’s own Chuck Norris flag wavers (INVADERS FROM MARS’ end credits even contain a thank you to the Marines and their “defense of American ideals for 210 years”).

The Story
     Young David Gardner witnesses a spaceship land near his house one night. His dad heads out to investigate and returns “weirded out.” David’s mom makes her way out to the same area and also comes back acting different. So too David’s science teacher--whose standard demeanor makes it difficult to tell whether she’s been possessed or not--who he catches eating a live frog the following day.
     David joins up with the sympathetic Linda, his school nurse, to expose this silent invasion. They head to a nearby military base for help and so get the Marines involved. From there David and Linda head to the area where the spaceship crashed together with a heavily armed mini-army.
     The Marines waste no time infiltrating the Martian stronghold, housed in a series of underground tunnels. There they meet a bunch of squat Mr. Potato Head look-alikes, which the servicemen helpfully machine gun to death.

The Direction
     With a film like this it helps not to take the proceedings too seriously. In direct contrast to the grimy realism of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, Tobe Hooper camps it up here. The opening scenes, with their heavily stylized visuals and garish artificial sets, give fair warning that reality-based this film is not, and the campy aesthetic extends to the elaborate alien creatures designed by the great Stan Winston.
     Hooper’s camerawork is frequently show-offy and distracting, but for the most part he does a good job with the film. The acting on the other hand isn’t always all it could be. In the lead role Hunter Carson (coming off Wim Wenders’ PARIS TEXAS) gives an on-off performance: he has a relaxed and natural screen presence but is less than convincing interacting with aliens. Karen Black, Hunter’s real-life mother, was cast against type as the sympathetic nurse who befriends David. Black is better known for playing quirky roles and would seem better suited for the part of the evil science teacher, because she just isn’t very good in the role she has.
     Then there’s the issue of the ending--or rather endings. This film concludes with an it-was-all-a-dream/no-wait-maybe-not finale. Perhaps Hooper and his screenwriters sensed (correctly) that the final human-alien confrontation wasn’t dramatic enough, and so decided to tack on an extra coda. It’s just too bad they couldn’t have come up with a better one.
 

Vital Statistics

INVADERS FROM MARS
The Cannon Group Inc.

Director: Tobe Hooper
Producers: Menahem Golan, Yoram Globus
Screenplay: Dan O’Bannon, Don Jakoby
(Based on a Screenplay by Richard Blake)
Cinematography: Daniel Pearl
Editing: Alain Jakubowicz
Cast: Karen Black, Hunter Carson, Timothy Bottoms, Laraine Newman, James Karen, Bud Cort, Louise Fletcher, Jimmy Hunt

     

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