FILM BOOK OF FEAR: Invaders From Mars (1953)
The 50s will go down in history as the greatest decade of all time for science fiction films. During this 10-year period we were introduced to Godzilla, Rodan, giant insects and arachnids and of course every type of alien being bent on invading Earth imaginable. It truly was a great time to be a fan of not only movies, but of science fiction. Some of these films were great; some not so great. The one thing they all had in common though was great imaginations at a time where Hollywood was chock full of original ideas.
INVADERS FROM MARS really would’ve been just like any other alien invasion film made during this time but the director, William Cameron Menzies, decided to do something different. This film is not only through the eyes of a child, but also through the mind of a child since it is all a dream.
What would you do if everyone you counted on and trusted as a child were no longer who you thought they were? Your parents, once warm and loving, are now cold and mean. People of authority, such as the police and military, also exhibit the same symptoms. Who do you tell? Who do you trust? Will anyone believe you? After all, you’re just a kid!
The story concerns David, played by Jimmy Hunt, a young boy who enjoys science fiction and is an amateur astronomer. He sets his alarm clock to wake up very early to check out what is going on in the heavens with his telescope. After his very supportive father, George, shares in his enthusiasm, he is told he has to go back to bed, to be awakened a short time later to the sound of thunder. When he looks outside his window, he sees an alien space craft landing over the hill of his property. In a panic he runs to get his dad to tell him what he saw. The father, knowing his son is not someone to make up such stories, decides to go look for himself.
When George, played by Leif Erickson returns, he is changed. He is very robotic in his movements, moody and no longer the loving father he once was. David notices this right away and you can really feel for him as he realizes that something is terribly wrong but that there is nothing he can really do about it. Later, George brings his wife Mary, played by Hillary Brooke, to the area where David saw the craft land. She too is then changed. This then happens to the two police officers that come out to investigate the disappearance of George, when he didn’t return right away when he went looking into David’s story. Everything that David knows and loves is now turned upside down.
What’s interesting about this film is how it is presented. Yes, it’s a dream but you don’t realize it until David wakes up at the end. Once you realize this you think back to how dream, or nightmare-like the whole movie is. A child’s greatest fear is losing his or her parents. In this dream the parents are still there but they are somebody else. When David is brought to the police station everything is oversized and intimidating, just like it would be to a child (but not so much so that upon initial viewing you question it).
Most of the sets are also very simple and very dreamlike with soft lines and blurred edges. When David is with the military as they try to decide on how to tackle the alien menace, they are very willing to listen to David and allow him to be a part of their process. Outside of a Gamera movie, would this ever happen in reality? Probably not. Then, during the end, while David is trying to run to safety after escaping the alien tunnels, the run, though only a short distance, seems to last forever as the whole movie then flashes before David’s eyes in forward, reverse and even backwards.
There is also some great imagery in this film that is very difficult to forget. The initial shot of the spacecraft glowing eerily as it comes into view from behind the trees and then landing over the hill looks amazing. The scenes of the ground opening up, to suck victims in to be re-programmed by the aliens is terrifying as you never know where one of these holes will open up. Then there’s the fence. The property line fence that has become iconic for this film, so much so that Tobe Hooper, the director of the 1986 remake, faithfully reproduced this fence image for his film. Then there is the alien leader, a head and torso with tentacled arms inside a glass sphere. Very original and very scary.
This film still holds up great today and stands up to repeated viewings. In fact I would recommend watching it twice. Once you see it and realize it’s a dream, go back and watch it again and you will notice more clues as to whether this is reality or not. This is also a great movie to watch late at night in the dark. This movie definitely needs a blu-ray release in the near future, much like was done for the original INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS in 2012. Hopefully this will become a reality very soon, especially since the DVD’s are out of print and command high prices, even on Amazon. Even so, if you would like to order a copy, please click on the image below.
Don’t forget to check out my entire FILM BOOK OF FEAR series!