Screen Reviews
Invaders From Mars

Invaders From Mars

directed by William Cameron Menzies

starring Helena Carter, Arthur Franz, and Morris Ankrum

Ignite Films

I find it best to watch all the special features before the main feature on these midcentury film re-issues. While they don’t exactly spill the plot beans, the special features often point up both the subtlety and the intonation that are often overlooked in re-issued older camp cinema. The various cultural trends, emerging technology, and how any film connects to the rest of the era’s entertainment options all make the movie itself much more entertaining to today’s all-digital, all-action tropes. Example: Invaders From Mars was the first film to use the two-color process, which gives the film a rather creepy look that defines its mood. True, that’s not an earth-shattering revelation, but it does explain the creepy look.

Invaders from Mars, Ignite Films
Invaders from Mars, Ignite Films

Invaders from Mars is an early (if not the first) version of the alien abduction trope that dominated the post-war American psyche. It features a young, clean-cut pre-adolescent who discovers an alien landing, and of course no one believes him until the horrors begin. Those horrors are clear and well known: the fear of a communist ruler conquering the West and imposing God knows what horrors — socialized medicine, health insurance, and they just MIGHT make you stop smoking! This fear mongering made for profitable, if not classic entertainment.

How well does this film stand up? I’ve seen better, I’ve seen worse. Just for comparison, it gets s 6.2 on one popular movie rating site, placing it squarely in the middle of the pack. The acting is fine if not brilliant and the “moral” heavy handed. While the set is low budget, there are very clever uses of camera angles and distorted, slightly surreal sets.

Toby Hooper already remade Invaders from Mars in 1986, and it did well enough. I enjoyed this original restoration and its odd color rendering, and it moves along quickly. You see the scenes from the child’s POV, and the adults are portrayed as reasonably intelligent and willing to listen to the child’s story. Visually, the stylized look never becomes cartoonish, and the background shows a strong theatrical feel that gives a few nods to Hitchcock and the early German surrealists.

I would recommend this for the vintage sci-fi fan. It is strong enough that the MST3K guys never made fun of it.

Ignite Films


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