Invaders from Mars

Movie Information

The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen Invaders from Mars Thursday, April 14, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.
Genre: Sci-Fi Fantasy
Director: William Cameron Menzies
Starring: Helena Carter, Arthur Franz, Jimmy Hunt, Leif Erickson, Hillary Brooke
Rated: NR

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.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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11 thoughts on “Invaders from Mars

  1. Ken Hanke

    You’re not entirely wrong. The method for drawing all the knowledge out of the Mom in Mars Needs Moms is very obviously copped from this.

  2. Dionysis

    I agree with your review, and feel this original version is head-and-shoulders above the 1986 remake. For me, the tongue-in-cheek approach of the remake, along with the irritating kid, really detracted from the film. Cheesy special effects notwithstanding, the original is the superior film.

  3. Ken Hanke

    I don’t think anyone would argue for the supremacy of Tobe Hooper’s remake, but I don’t think it’s a bad movie — and it was obviously made by someone who dearly loved the original. Plus, any movie that shows Louise Fletcher being eaten by a giant frog can’t be all bad.

  4. Dionysis

    “…any movie that shows Louise Fletcher being eaten by a giant frog can’t be all bad.”

    Okay, I’ll go along with that. It WAS one of the highlights of the movie.

  5. Steph

    I remember this movie when I was younger and the pictured head with tentacles freaked the **** out of me.

  6. Ken Hanke

    Try growing up in Florida and seeing all these people being sucked down into the sand! It made me hesitant to walk through an orange grove for ages.

  7. DrSerizawa

    I think I was about 11 when it came on TV. It really didn’t scare me and the zippers in the suits just made me laugh. If I’d only been 8 or 9 though…..

    It’s one of those movies that I appreciate more now. Yeah it’s stupid but it was a child’s real nightmare. And it’s still smarter than 90% of the Scifi released in the last couple of decades.

    Still, it has no chance of unseating the best SciFi movie of the 50s… The Thing. Now, THAT movie can still creep me out if I watch it alone at night.

  8. Ken Hanke

    Still, it has no chance of unseating the best SciFi movie of the 50s… The Thing. Now, THAT movie can still creep me out if I watch it alone at night.

    That seems slightly uneven playing ground, though, since The Thing is in A territory and Invaders has the look of something that was lucky to get made at all. The Thing benefits from having an impressive monster, too — almost to the point that it’s more a “monster movie” than anything else. Here the “monsters” are really human beings (albeit under alien control). I’m alway surprised that I’ve never seen anyone draw a parallel between the little girl in Invaders and Rhoda in The Bad Seed (1956).

  9. Ken Hanke

    I do not believe anyone was traumatized at last night’s showing. Pity really.

  10. Stephladder...

    … IMHO it’s one of the very best ’50s sci-fis… and scared the nights out of me! The ‘dream like’ sets made it even worse/better (note the chief of police’s office… nothing on the walls!). There are only two other flics of the times that I liked almost as much and own on DVD: I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE and FORBIDDEN PLANET. (ooooh, OK… THE BLOB and THE THING, too.)
    …btw, Louise Fletcher ATE a bullfrog then was ‘eaten’ by one of those things ;-)

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