Invaders From Mars

Invaders From Mars (1986)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Karen Black, Hunter Carson
Extras: Theatrical Trailer, Featurettes

’Invaders From Mars’ is director Tobe Hooper’s almost shot-for-shot remake of the classic 1953 sci-fi/horror film of the same name. Staying true to the original story, this is one remake that really does justice to its predecessor and fans of thought-provoking, yet cheesy, classic sci-fi are in for a treat.

David Gardner (Hunter Carson) is an average kid who, after star-gazing with his dad, George (Timothy Bottoms), awakes to a strange noise and rushes to his window just in time to see a giant spaceship landing in the sand pit behind his house. Assured by his parents that it was just a bad dream, David goes back to sleep only after his father promises to check out the site in the morning.

The next day, George ambles in for breakfast with a blank look on his face, a disheveled appearance, and a strange wound on the back of his neck. David senses that something is wrong but his mom, Ellen (Laraine Newman), is oblivious. When his dad tries to drag him to the sand pit, David rushes out to catch the school bus.

Before long, David begins to see the odd neck wounds on police officers, his friends, and even his teacher, Mrs. McKeltch (Louise Fletcher). As these pseudo-zombies begin to chase him, David finds sanctuary with the school nurse, Linda Magnusson (Karen Black — Hunter Carson’s real-life mom), and soon the two of them are on their way to the sand pit to uncover the truth for themselves.

What they find is a labyrinth of tunnels populated with Martians bent on world domination. Able to convince the commander of the local military base, General Climet Wilson (James Karen), that something is amiss, it isn’t long before the Marines arrive on the scene for the climactic confrontation between Martian and man.

’Invaders From Mars’ certainly looks and sounds like a cheesy flick with its wild acting, almost comical aliens, and skewed-perspective sets. But the key that holds it all together is the fact that the entire story is told through the eyes of one child. What the viewer is seeing is what David is seeing — or thinks he’s seeing — and no action takes place outside of this singular perspective. Whether the odd happenings are just the result of a child’s overactive imagination remains unclear to the very end but the terrors that unfold are quite clearly those that would be foremost in the mind of a young boy — the loss of his parents and friends, the inability to trust authority figures, and the knowledge that he his all alone in the world. The film works best if viewers can find a bit of their own childhood fears within themselves.

’Invaders From Mars’ is presented in anamorphic widescreen and is framed at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. This is a low-budget film from the mid-80s and, unfortunately, it shows. The image is a tad soft and often quite grainy while the film elements are marred by frequent vertical scratches and other imperfections. Black levels are also quite weak and the loss of detail makes the darker scenes almost indecipherable. On the plus side, colors are fairly accurate and even these myriad imperfections don’t make for a completely unenjoyable viewing experience.

Audio is presented in a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix that is adequate but not all that engaging. There is very little in the way of dynamic range or directionality and the track winds up sounding like a standard mono mix with a few stray atmospheric effects leaking out to the other speakers. But dialogue is always clear and I can’t say that I was really expecting much from this sound mix.

Surprisingly for one of MGM’s budget-line discs, the DVD also offers a few extras. First up is an eight-minute publicity featurette with the usual behind-the-scenes promotional material. Next is what’s billed as a sci-fi promo featurette. This 15-minute program is another behind-the-scenes piece that offers comments from some of the cast and crew as well as a few scenes from the original 1953 movie. The film’s theatrical trailer is also presented.

’Invaders From Mars’ is a fun remake of a real sci-fi classic. While I still prefer the original (sadly, not available on DVD except for an out-of-print, butchered version), Tobe Hooper’s 1986 film is still quite good chiefly because it sticks to what made the original such a treat — a creepy story told from the point of view of a young boy. While the video and audio quality could have been better, they in no way detract from enjoyment of the film and the inclusion of a few bonus features makes it easy to recommend this disc to fans of classic sci-fi/horror. Readily available for about ten bucks, ’Invaders From Mars’ is a real bargain.