The last entry of the 80s horror movie week is brought to us by the one and only Tobe Hooper, the director behind such classics as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist. This is his take on the classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers movie but done from the point of view of a kid in the town. I picked this one before I knew that he was involved but it’s always a special treat to be able to watch something from one of the masters of horror.
This movie ends up combining a couple different things. It has the same basic structure as your standard Invasion of the Body Snatchers plot with people acting weird and only one person that knows what’s really going on. It subverts the standard tropes, however, by having the little boy that’s the main character of the film, David, see the spaceship come down and know pretty much right away what is happening and how to spot those that have been body snatched. Instead of a movie dealing with paranoia and not being able to tell friend from foe; Invaders from Mars instead goes for more of a kid adventure type movie in the style of E.T. and The Goonies. It manages to stay relatively fun by lowering the stakes from total replacement of mankind to having the aliens mostly here to steal copper and stop us from coming to Mars.
The escalation of the film also manages to be slightly more bombastic than your standard pod person fair. David first enlists the help of the school nurse but then manages to escalate to having the entire Marine Corp on his side and invading the alien tunnels beneath the town. While most retellings of this type of story end up going for the isolation and paranoia route for the end; David just takes his story to a local general and manages to get full backing to actually do something about the problem. It’s a little weird for modern day storytelling since it ends up making the military the good guys and NASA the bad guys, either because they are the ones getting taken over or because they try to communicate with the aliens just to get blasted. Normally the shoot first, don’t ask questions mentality is fairly looked down on in sci-fi movies.
The effects for this film are all practical and, while definitely ridiculous looking most of the time, have a charm that you wouldn’t find otherwise. The Martians are the giant mouthed, lumpy monsters that shamble along and look sufficiently weird while still being just goofy enough to be enemies that a kid could deal with. Honestly, the only truly weak part of the movie is the ending. Right as the main ship is going to blow up and Earth is probably saved; David wakes up in a cold sweat screaming. It was all a dream! He used to read Word Up magazine. There is nothing more annoying than a cop out ending of “all a dream” and then ends it with him going back to sleep and then the spaceship descends just like in his dream and he runs to his parents room screaming aaaaaand cut. That’s it. Was he prescient? Is this still a dream? Who knows! It’s like Hooper couldn’t decide on how he wanted to end it and just said “fuck it” and did this.
Unsatisfying ending aside, it was still a really well made movie that mashes up conventions to be something unique. I’d give it a 4 out of 5 and say it’s a fun romp of a horror movie.