Saturday, January 2, 2016
Red Planet Menace
Ever since the first (modern) documented sighting of UFO's in 1947, the public has been fascinated with flying saucers and all things alien (invasions, encounters, abductions etc). The 1950's saw a wave of sci-fi movies that sought to capitalize on this interest and fear. Possibly fueled by Red Scare fears of Russian invasions (and truth be told some of those 50's "alien" movies were just allegories for said Russian fears), the public got more than it might ever have wanted of these aliens from another planet movies. Many were just cheap knockoffs, but a few were destined to make the top 25 of many sci-fi buffs most favorite or memorable movies. A few of my favorites came from the 50's. Forbidden Planet and Gojira (released in America as Godzilla with scenes added featuring Raymond Burr as an America reporter who happens to be visiting Japan at the time, but the original is far superior) top this list, but there are others.
Some of those movies are such memorable ones that, sooner or later, Hollywood just HAD to capitalize on a known quantity by remaking them. These remakes achieved various degrees of success, some due to the star quality in the cast (Tom Cruise in the War of the Worlds remake, or Keanu Reeves in the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still), or the director whose movies had a cult following (John Carpenter remade The Thing, with some pretty gory effects and Tobe Hooper did the same with Invaders from Mars). Invasion of the Body Snatchers, my personal favorite of the 50's "aliens subbing for Russians" movie has been remade numerous times over the years, the best of which came out in 1976, with Donald Sutherland as the star. All of these original versus remake movies will be discussed in later entries to my blog.
The first, however, will be the Invaders from Mars duet.
Invaders from Mars (1953)
Invaders from Mars is one of the most obvious of the attempts to use aliens to represent the Russians. This was 1953, after all, and the Communists had recently invaded South Korea, subjecting the world to the Korean conflict. The film's protagonist is little David MacLean (Jimmy Hunt), a boy who is an amateur scientist and astronomer. As the film opens, David sees a flying saucer land in the sand dunes out behind his house
He tries vainly to get his father to check it out, but is sent back to bed. The father, George (Leif Erickson), decides reluctantly to go check it out. The reason for this, it is explained, he is working for the government on a top-secret project and has been warned to report any unusual activity. When George shows up again he seems changed, rather abrupt and not entirely friendly. David notices a mark on the back of his neck, but George tells him to go away.
The policemen, who were called to find out where George was while he was still missing also began acting peculiarly. David notices others (including his mother (Hillary Brooke) disappearing over the dunes and showing up later acting strange, with the same weird mark on the backs of their necks. David's young neighbor sets fire to her house. At this point, David panics and runs to the police. Only problem is the aliens have captured the chief and turned him into one of their automatons.
Fortunately David is put in a cell, ostensibly to be held for his parents, but a doctor shows up to talk to him. Dr. Blake (Helena Carter) is initially unconvinced by David's story, but eventually agrees to take him to the local astronomy lab. Together with the local astronomer, Dr. Kelston (Arthur Franz), the three come to the conclusion that Martians, worried about the current rocket ship the Americans are working on, have sent an advance team to sabotage the plans.
The Army is called in to the rescue. The Martians have captured and automaton-ized the General, but a Colonel and the majority of the army personnel are still free, and they investigate the area. We finally see the interior of the ship, along with a couple of mutants who work for the Martians (looking more like humans in green pajamas)
The main Martian (in fact the only Martian on board that we see) is a disembodied head, that apparently is able to do all it's communication telepathically. While David runs around trying to get away from the Martian and it's mutants, Dr, Blake is captured and is subjected to the
same operation that turned everyone else into automatons.
The last part of the movie involves an elaborate chase and escape from the saucer after the army has planted explosives. Two endings were made. One shown in the US, and one that is slightly different was shown in the UK. The changes, made at the request of the UK censors, also included a slightly different conversation with the astronomer in the astronomy lab, which included some history of UFO sightings. If you get a DVD with both, there's no harm in watching both versions through entirely, but it is essentially the same movie except for the altered ending.
Invaders from Mars (1986)
The Tobe Hooper remake of the 1953 classic Invaders from Mars, is virtually the same movie, although there are some things that Hooper brought to the game that technology was unable to accomplish in 1953. Primarily, the mutants the Martians employ are much creepier and at times much more funny-looking than the green pajama clad humans of the classic.
In addition, there are more gross-out scenes that would have never made it past the censors (including one where a teacher eats a live frog, whole. You can see Jimmy Hunt, (the little boy from the original) in a cameo role as the chief of police. Also Louise Fletcher, who so famously played Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is here as a monstrous teacher, who becomes an even more monstrous frog-eating automaton.
The story begins in as much the same way the original. Little David Gardner (Hunter Carson) sees an alien spaceship land in his backyard. His parents, George (Timothy Bottoms) and Ellen (Laraine Newman), think he just had a bad dream.
The film proceeds along in the same way as the original except that it introduces a twist, a teacher who has made it her personal project to get the schoolchildren turned into automatons, including David. David is rescued however by the school nurse (played by the boy actor's real mom, Karen Black). This being a Tobe Hooper movie, as I said before, several more graphic scenes abound. The monsters from Mars have to bee seen to be believed, At times they look hilarious and at other times pretty scary.
The 1986 version, while it will never be confused with a quality classic, is still pretty decent. Tobe Hooper, who had already become a cult favorite with the TV movie version of Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist, went on to make many more gross-out flicks over the years, including Lifeforce and another Stephen King adaption, The Mangler.
Until next time, folks, adios from the back seat of the Plymouth Fury.