Horror Film Review: Invaders From Mars (dir by William Cameron Menzies)


The aliens have arrived!  They landed one night in the middle of a thunderstorm and now, they’re hiding underground in a sandpit.  Only David McClean (Jimmy Hunt) was awake to witness their arrival.  He was supposed to be asleep but who could sleep through all that thunder and lightning?  (Not to mention the sound of the flying saucer!)  Unfortunately, no one’s going to believe David because he’s only 12 years old!

That’s the premise at the heart of Invaders from Mars, a nicely surreal science fiction film from 1953.

In order to humor David, a few people do go to the sandpit to look for this supposed UFO.  They include his scientist father (Leif Erickson) and a few local cops.  They all return saying that they found nothing.  They also all return in a really bad mood.  David’s formerly loving and humorous father is suddenly distant and rather grumpy.  And he no longer speaks like himself.  Instead, he is now rigidly formal, like someone still getting used to speaking a new language.  Maybe it has something to do with the strange mark on the back of his neck….

David goes into town and soon discovers that several townspeople are acting just like his father.  It’s almost as if something is controlling them!  Well, what else can David do but go to the local observatory and get the U.S. Army involved!?

Invaders from Mars may be disguised as a children’s film about a flying saucer but it actually deals with some very adult issues.  What do you do when you know that you’re right but no one is willing to listen to you?  Do you stubbornly cling to what you believe or do you just become a mindless and unquestioning zombie like everyone else?  Do you remain independent or do you get the mark on your neck?  Of course, it should also be pointed out that Invaders From Mars was made at a time when people were very much worried that America was being invaded from within by communists and subversives, all of whom would rob Americans of their individual freedoms just as surely as the aliens in David’s town.  Invaders From Mars came out two years before Invasion of the Body Snatchers but they both deal with very similar issues.

What sets Invaders From Mars apart is that it’s told from a child’s point of view.  It plays out like a nightmarish fairy tale.  The film was directed by the famous production designer, William Cameron Menzies and he gives the entire film a nicely surreal look.  The town is just a little bit too perfect while the inside of the spaceship is a maze of corridors, all overseen by a ranting head in a crystal ball.

The film’s ending was probably chilling to audiences in 1953.  For modern audiences, it’s a bit of groan-inducing cliché.  Still, the ending itself makes sense when viewed in the context of the entire film.  (It’s literally the only ending that makes sense.)  Still, ending aside, Invaders From Mars is a classic sci-fi film and one well worth watching this Halloween season.

 

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