In our society, children are pretty powerless. We protect them and we make decisions for them in their best interest to the best of our ability. Children do not have much say in the matter because we reason that they do not have enough experience to know what’s good for them. If we leave them to their own devices they will eat nothing but candy and stay up past their bedtimes. We tend to condescend to children because they cannot possibly be right. We love our children (at least in general) but until they reach a certain age we treat them more like pets than peers. What if all the adults are wrong, though? If the adults are wrong than listening to them would be a big mistake that only the kid might see. The thought of this situation puts a horrible feeling deep in my stomach. This is a feeling that pervades much of this movie.
You may be familiar with the name Tobe Hooper. He’s a deeply respected director and imaginative creator. Tobe Hooper is the man behind The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Salem’s Lot and Poltergeist. He did three movies for a little company I talked about way back in February called Cannon Films. Those three movies were Lifeforce, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and Invaders from Mars. While I think they’re fun movies, they weren’t remembered as fondly as the previous three I mentioned. His creativity and willingness to explore the boundaries of horror caused a falling out with Cannon Films who felt he was not giving them what they wanted. That was their loss in my opinion.
The first Texas Chainsaw Massacre was kind of bland and straight forward but I respect it as a progenitor to a whole new type of horror movie. It is the type of horror movie where you find yourself suddenly breathing normally when the credits roll and you realize you were practically holding your breath the whole way through. For me, Invaders from Mars has that tension all the way through it. There is a desperate hopelessness to it that comes with the science fiction elements. The movie has a lot of heart but I thought was cheesy at first. That is not to say that is not cheesy. It is cheesy in spades but it also is pretty spooky and tense throughout. There is an otherworldly feel to everything and cheap practical effects only reinforce that atmosphere. Low budget can sometimes be a blessing in disguise. By the way, a lot of those cheap effects look good thanks to Stan Winston who was working on Aliens at the same time.
The acting is surprisingly good for this type of movie. By necessity, the bulk of the acting falls on the shoulders of an eleven-year-old boy named Hunter Carson. He pulls off the role really well, showing confusion and growing fear and determination as the film goes on. Unlike other roles like this they do not turn the kid into a superhero who can do no wrong and instead he is often foiled at every turn. His co-star is Karen Black (his real-life mother) who plays the school nurse and the only adult to believe him when things go wrong. It was fun to see the reversal of the brave child and the frightened adult and Ms. Black did a great job. They are supported by great actors like Laraine Newman, Timothy Bottoms and Bud Cort. Many of the other actors have to play two roles and they pull it off with eerie precision.
Overall I really liked this movie but keep in mind that I went in with very low expectations. After hearing about the movie during the Electric Boogaloo documentary I was expecting a good laugh at a bad movie. Keep in mind that I am not giving away the third act because I do not want to spoil it for you. While it is not the greatest movie, it’s way better than you might expect. If you like science fiction horror like Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, Killer Klowns from Outer Space or The Faculty then this movie might just be for you.