Saturday, November 12, 2011

Ten Statements About....INVADERS FROM MARS (1986)

"He is not a madball...he is my BOYFRIEND!"
"They're huge, ugly, giant, slimy Mr. Potato Heads!"

1) The biggest flaw in this film--a flaw that threatens to topple it whole into true suckitude--is the performance of lead Hunter Carson. The kid has his face screwed up perpetually as if he's trying to recover from being hit by a 2x4, and his line reading are overdone. However...

2) the reason this flaw doesn't kill this film is that Carson not only has a good rapport with his real life mother Karen Black, who plays his estwhile ally school nurse Linda, but his onscreen mother and father, Timothy Bottoms and Larraine Newman. Even with Carson's lackluster performance, the three of them feel like an actual family, which makes the changes in the parents so creepy in spite of the subtlety.

3) In fact, Timothy Bottoms' George Gardner gives, hands down, the film's best performance. The changes he affects between Normal George and Possessed George are amazingly subtle, yet recognizable. I could certainly believe that the adults would not notice that George is different.

Maybe the little guy was dropped on his head as
a kid...yeah, that's it...
4) Boy, does Louise Fletcher dig into his scenery dinner with both hands as Mrs. Mckeltch, who becomes the human 'face' of the aliens. Granted, since an argument can be made that her conversion happens before we first meet her, we never get a sense of her 'before' self, but her vigorous performance makes for some fun--and since this film is not about scares per se, but fun, it's exactly what the film needs.

5) And that's the big surprise--that Tobe Hooper never loses sight of the fact that the original was a science fiction film for kids. Thus, there is more action than violence, and the scare scenes are more gross than horrifying, like when Carson catches Fletcher downing a live frog.

6) I really dig the alien designs by Sam Winston, these strange madball like monstrosities that are mostly teeth with long arms and stubby legs. Plus it's obvious a lot of thought went into the design of the ship around them, with its emphasis on round objects--even their guns are orbs that hang onto the side of their heads. It's distinct...and yet, it's also comes off as if a child's drawing came to life.

7) It's weird seeing Karen Black in this film. She's at the end of her 'sex symbol' days, but is still physical enough to carry on all the running around and screaming she's asked to assay...but even now, it's hard for me to see her then without also seeing the human grotesque she has become.

"I'm in the alien scalping business...and business is picking up."
8) Is James Karen not one of the most under-appreciated character actors of this era? We see him once again assaying a character different from the ones he's more noted for--and like those other roles, he infuses his idealized General Climet Wilson with a life all its own, making him come off as a soldier's soldier, a grown up boy scout.

9) I like the fact that just as that first act comes off as a typical young boy's nightmare, that third act comes off as a typical young boy's action dream. The soldiers all defer to him, everyone is all about protecting him first and foremost, and it's David who provides the essential information that allows everyone to escape. And because this whole climax is tailored to David's interests and desires it doesn't make the 'it was all a dream' twist come off as a cheat, but as a logical conclusion after what we've seen.

10) If I was Tobe Hooper, I would have ended this film a tiny bit earlier, with David looking on horrified as Strange Lights Play On His Face. Sure, the real last shot, with him giving us that same horrified look as he opens his parent's door, is kinda ambiguous, but the shot of the ship landing sort of blunts what could have been a chilling moment.

Overall...forgotten because of the one-two punch of it being a Tobe Hooper film with no blood and a Cannon Film (man, was it weird seeing that old 'unfolding hexagon' logo at the start of the pic), this is a shockingly affectionate little paen to kid's science fiction that has equally shocking excellent moments. I've always assumed that Hooper was one of those directors who had only one good film in him who had the misfortune of doing that one good film right out the box...but this shows what he could have done if he wasn't pushed back into the horror box time and again.

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