When I first watched Invaders from Mars, I was expecting (based on title alone) the kind of black & white 50s sci-fi cheapie you’d typically find playing on late night television. It turns out that the DVD copy I had purchased on a whim was actually a remake of such a movie. The original Invaders from Mars film was a rushed 1953 production meant to beat War of the Worlds to the punch of showing extraterrestrial invaders on screen in color for the first time ever. What I had in my hands had even stranger origins, however. Not only was the 1986 Invaders from Mars produced by Golan-Globus, one of the era’s finest peddlers of over-the-top schlock (with titles like Invasion USA & Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo lurking in their extensive catalog), but it was also directed by Tom Hooper, who is most widely known for bringing the world The Texas Chainsaw Massacre & Poltergeist. The result of that powerful genre movie combo & the production’s 50s schlock origins is a fun little cartoon of a sci-fi horror teeming with wholesome camp & decidedly unwholesome practical effects.
Invaders from Mars comes from a nice little sweet spot in 80s cinema where movies ostensibly aimed at little kids were more than eager to scare its pintsized audience shitless. Although the film boasts the general vibe of a Goosebumps paperback about parents & teachers turned into aliens, it’s also crawling with hideous, handmade creature effects worthy of any adult’s sweatiest nightmare. Released just a year after Joe Dante’s wonderful film Explorers, Invaders mimics that film’s child-meets-alien dynamic, but adds a much more twisted, grotesque layer to the exercise. It’s not only smart enough to acknowledge its roots in 50s schlock, but also to update that aesthetic to a more modern, more terrifying approach to children’s horror media that unfortunately has faded out of fashion in the decades since.
When I was a kid my favorite films used to scare the crap out of me (Monster Squad, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, etc) and I have no doubt that if I had seen the 1980s Invaders from Mars at the time it’d have been among my most cherished VHS selections. As is, I appreciate it a great deal for its combination of childlike wonder & hideous alien beasts. This isn’t an Invasion of the Body Snatchers kind of film that’s going to earn any accolades as the heights of the alien invasion genre, but it is a surprisingly fun & wickedly dark little love letter to camp cinema from a crew of 70s & 80s weirdos who themselves know a thing or two about memorable camp cinema.