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Senior Shackster
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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Although I'm a film buff which is very aware of a movie's technical
specs, in rare cases a picture that's low budget and cheesy
can have a unique effectiveness because of it's crudeness.
Movies like "Night of the Living Dead" and "Carnival of Souls"
are examples. If either was slicker they wouldn't have been
as scary.

Which brings us to the cult B movie from 1953, "Invaders from
Mars". The movie is told through the perspective of a 10 year
old boy who's obsessed with science fiction and comic books and
that's when I first saw it on TV so I have fond memories of it.
I was very much like the kid in this movie and even grew up
in the same suburban setting. Seeing it again at age 51 made
it's flaws more apparent but I still found it creepy and disturbing.

The plot is cliched. It's the style it was shot in and the 'Twilight
Zone' ending that got under my skin along with the music.

The early scenes set up a typical American family. The dad
encourages the boy's hobbies including the telescope aimed
at the sky. The mother is a nurturing woman who runs the
household. Then that night the boy gets up from his bed
when he hears and seew a flying saucer land in the sand
pit behind his backyard. The audio contains what sounds
a bit like angel voices on the track but sinister ones.
He tells his parents who were asleep but they think he
was dreaming or imagining it because he read too many
comic books. Never the less, his dad goes to check it
out and gets sucked into the sand pit which was a strange
image. When he returns he has a complete personality
change. He's ice cold, stern and even slugs the kid knocking
him down to the floor when he asks too many questions.
Later his mom goes to investigate and also gets sucked into
the sand pit containing the alien craft. She also becomes a
tyrant. On the back of their heads the boy sees a tiny
surgical mark.

Now this is the stuff that nightmares are made out of and it's
a variation of the later "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"
where a person goes through a major personality change because
of Alien infiltration. Imagine if your mom and dad suddenly
started smacking you around for no reason and treated you
like dirt. The idea of family members turning on you is the
major plot thread that creates the disturbing atmosphere.
The later "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" had a similar
scene when Kevin McCarthy kisses his girlfriend and she
feels...nothing. And "Night of the Living Dead" when the
daughter eats her father and brother eats his sister.

The kid later notices one of his neighbors, a little girl, who
also gets sucked into the sand pit and has the surgical
implant change her to the point where she burns down her own
house. After the aliens are through with you the implant
gives the victim a cerebral hemmorage and they die.
Again, eeire concepts.

Unfortunately, the rest of the movie loses much of it's
atmosphere as the military gets involved, blows a hole
in the sand and attacks the underground space craft.
The aliens themselves look rediculous. Guys in bug
eyed costumes where the zipper is noticeable on the back.
The lead alien is a head with talons which was a bit
weird looking though. It would've much more effective
if you never actually saw the aliens.

Fortunately the film redeems itself at the end with a
bizarre montage superimposed over the boy's face
as scenes from the film appear on it and he seems to
run in place. Then the boy wakes up and it was all
a dream. He goes to his parent's bedroom where
they appear as his regular folks and all is okay except...
when the kid returns to his room he sees the space craft
land again. Was he awake or still dreaming he was awake?
Is it a never ending cycle? Really creeped me out then
and now. Guess what? This film influenced me to the point
where there is a double nightmare scene in my upcoming
"What Really Frightens You".

Another attribute that I enjoyed probably won't mean
much to the younger forum members. The entire cast
is populated by other TV regulars. Hillary Brooke (Abbott
and Costello show) plays the mother. Barbara Billingsley
(Leave it to Beaver) is a secretary. Others include
Milburn Stone, Richard Deacon, Leif Erickson and
Burt Freed. Since these character actors tended to
pop up in other sitcoms or dramas seeing them in this
nightmare context added to the uneasiness of what
appeared to be normal but was off kilter. Exactly like
a nightmare and I have had dreams where I think I'm
awake but am still experienced REM. (I have a number
of re-occurring nightmares which help me write my
screenplays since I work them in...my latest picture
being a good example).

The final attribute was the set design by director
William Cameron Menzies which is understandable
since he performed the same function on "Gone with
the Wind". All of the sets in this film are in forced
perspective making it appear as if it's in 3-D. Another
part of the dream-like imagery.

Now for the negative aspects of the film. It was photographed
in 35mm Eastmancolor but printed in the Super Cinecolor Process.
What that meant was that rather than making positive prints
directly from the color negative, they made black and white
separations of each color and derived the release copies from
that (a generation away and thus grainier) which was a variation
of Technicolor's dye transfer process. The release copies were
double emulsion. The were colors contained on both sides of the
film making it difficult to focus and giving the overall image a
softer look. At least Super Cinecolor prints didn't fade, the same
as Technicolor prints.

I'm not sure what they have on this movie in terms of materials.
The Cinecolor company went bust circa 1955 and anyone who
didn't remove their materials had them disgarded. I heard that
Wade Williams does have some kind of negative on this film.
If so, it wasn't used for this Image Entertainment release.
It appears to have been mastered from an original 35mm Super
Cinecolor release print. The color is okay although contrasty
and lacks detail. It's a bit grainy. There are some lines,
scratches, dust and reel change marks on it. It's far from mint
and has not been digitally cleaned up to remove these defects.
No worse than what I saw on TV many decades ago but certainly
a long way from what we all expect now in this format. However,
it is watchable.

There is also an alternate version on this disc labeled as the "British"
release. What is the difference? There is a longer extended sequence
of the boy visiting an Observation labortory where the scientist gives
a long lecture on space that is not in the US version. The major change
is the ending. The film just ends with the aliens blowing up and the
double nightmare climax is missing which ruins the film. So don't screen
this version other than watching the extended sequence as a curiosity.

In 1986 the film was remade but it was a very bad campy rehash and
not worth screening.

For Twilight Zone buffs, I recommend this movie providing you don't
expect too much in the presentation.

In summary: Picture quality C, sound B, cinematography B +, special effects C, performances B, story and screenplay B +.
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