James Karen – November 28, 1923 – October 23, 2018
“People don’t know my name, but they know my face because I’ve done so damn much work.”
Originally the movie recommendation was going to be 1988’s Beetlejuice. But in light of James Karen’s death, I wanted to pay him tribute and decided late last night to scrap Beetlejuice and do another film. We all know James Karen for his roles in 1985’s Return of The Living Dead, 1988’s Return of The Living Dead 2 and Poltergeist. However as great as these movies may be, there is one that I also love; that would be 1986’s Invaders From Mars! So please excuse the jumbled writing, it was a last minute post.
A young boy named David Gardner is witness to a hostile alien invasion and must do all he can to stop it! First he has to make people believe what he’s seen before everyone is brainwashed! But who can he go to when everyone around him is already a brainwashed zombie?
Invaders From Mars is a 1986 science fiction horror film directed by Tobe Hooper and stars Hunter Carson, Karen Black, Timothy Bottoms, Laraine Newman and James Karen as General Climet Wilson. It was actually a remake of the 1953 Invaders From Mars movie and pays tribute by featuring original props from the movie. The creatures and visual effects were designed by the legendary Stan Winston. Despite a much higher budget and great effects, Invaders From Mars received mixed reviews.
One night while watching a meteor shower from his bedroom window, David Gardner witnesses a spaceship land just behind his house. After his parents are abducted and brainwashed by the whatever has landed, David starts seeing other people in his town changing as well. David determines it’s an alien invasion and must find some help. With only the help from his school nurse named Linda, they must find a way to stop this hostile invasion or be taken over like everyone else!
I’ve always loved Invaders From Mars and it makes me a little sad that it never got the respect I believe it deserved. Even far past my childhood days, I love watching this movie and find a certain delight in what it brings. I guess I understand why the movie didn’t do very well. Sci-fi films were on a decline and that’s really something we don’t have to get into. Especially since I’ve discussed this in one of my early posts for the movie Leviathan – you can click here to read that post. With the decline of sci-fi films Invaders From Mars just didn’t catch on. Which is interesting because Tobe Hooper directed another sci-fi film a year prior called Lifeforce, a sci-fi horror film about vampires from outer space. Just like Invaders From Mars, Lifeforce performed equally as poorly in theaters. I would assume Hooper was feeling pretty good after recently directing the huge 1982 Poltergeist movie. Lifeforce and Invaders From Mars were both his attempt to branch out in the sci-fi realm but obviously didn’t catch any ground. The same year Hooper seemed to return to his routes by directing Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Another film I love!
Regardless of past criticisms, I believe the Invaders From Mars remake is great. It’s a valuable entry-level horror flick that is good for both kids and adults. Kids like David and relate to his plight in being the only one that see’s whats going on. It’s a typical “boy who cried wolf” kind of scenario. His entire situation is that from a mind of a small child writing a short story for his fifth grade writing class. We have this kid who sees an invasion of aliens. His parents go crazy, along with the cops and his teacher. He makes bold decisions and really takes charge. But things go on massive heroic overdrive as David teams up with Linda the school nurse. After making Linda a believer they both go to the Marines for help and the Marines believe them! As if the Marines are just accepting sit downs with the local school nurse and some psychotic kid that believes everyone is being brainwashed! But I completely love that. It’s like The Monster Squad where during the montage scene, the character Eugene mails a letter to the United States Military! But then in the end the military does show up! It may be ridiculous but it’s fun.
Eventually David meets James Karens character General Climet Wilson, a United States Marine commander. They end up teaming with him to get rid of these Martian invaders. He’s not shooting guns or riding some tanks but it’s a situation only a creative little kid could come up with. I find that to be endearing and a fuel for my nostalgic side. It plays to the wild thinking of a child yet adults can get behind some of the casual gore and strangeness of the brainwashed parents. The scene where David sneaks up behind his brainwashed teacher Mrs. McKeltch is so awesome. He sneaks behind her in her small office space and as he gets closer, she turns her head and she’s eating a dead frog! So David books it and from there she’s determined to get David and pursues him at all cost.
The aliens do look kind of ridiculous in this film. But like I said, as if it was from the mind of a child. I love how they’re these walking giant brains with teeth. They don’t move very well and the one leader is a giant brain that moves on this elongated stem like chord! It’s completely awesome and stupid. But it does make sense. If the aliens aren’t as mobile then they would have to come up with a plan to control humans. So brainwashing them and using their bodies does make sense. I swear Hooper just sat down some eight year old kid and was like “Ok Sam, tell me a good alien story. Don’t worry about the aliens, just tell me what pops into your head and we’ll go with it!”
Invaders From Mars plays on the childhood fear of “the world around me is scary and hiding secrets.” Even those that love us like our parents and teachers are a part of some conspiracy. I once imagined my mom and dad weren’t my real parents and were hiding me from my real parents… who happened to be psychotic monsters hellbent on getting me back and forcing me to churn ice cream in their basement! I knew it wasn’t true but I thought how awesome it would be for my mom to ninja kick some lady who was trying to abduct me! I was a moronic kid that came up with moronic situations. Which is why I love Invaders From Mars. There’s a certain tone to this movie that creates a sense of eeriness and mystery. I love how we are shown that David’s parents are brainwashed. They’re these mindless, emotionless beings and it’s all presented with this odd music that certainly sets up the feel of the film. James Karen is my favorite character in the entire movie. He’s your cliche B-rated military figure that smokes a cigar and delivers one liners like none other. Who couldn’t love “Don’t worry, Son! We Marines have no qualms about killing Martians!” It’s just so much fun and I hope everyone can find the movie as delightful as I have. It brings me back to those childhood moments when I would draw aliens and monsters during class. I’d have a folder full of stories just like Invaders From Mars. That’s probably why the movie means so much to me and that is why it is selected for day twenty five of Horror Movie Marathon 2018!