William Cameron Menzies’ Invaders from Mars (1953) has the unusual distinction of being one of the silliest and most threadbare 1950s science fiction movies, while at the same time being one of the best—and it’s quite possibly one of maybe two or three that are actually effectively scary. The film was responsible for thousands—if not millions—of childhood nightmares for just about anyone who saw it at an impressionable age. No, it’s not in the least subtle, but that may be exactly why it is the stuff that childhood nightmares are made of. The concept is simple: Ten-year-old David MacLean (Jimmy Hunt) sees a spaceship land in the sandpit behind his house, but there’s no sign of it and, of course, no one believes him. No one apart from the audience, that is, and if you’re in his age range, you experience his fear and frustration right along with him—especially when people, including his parents, visit the sandpit and come back … changed. Yes, the Martians are cheesy-looking (hell, they’ve got visible zippers on their backs), there’s plenty of stock footage, and some unintentionally hysterical dialogue. But there’s a seriously unsettling undercurrent to it all—not in the least because of director Menzies’ spare, stylized sets.
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