The F*cking Black Sheep: Invaders From Mars (1986)

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!



Not sure about you, but I’m damn sick of seeing so many hall of fame horror legends pass away before their time. After their prime, to be sure, but still, perishing while in your 70s is too damn soon. Yesterday marked the 2-year anniversary of Wes Craven’s passing at 76, we’ve made it 6 weeks since George A. Romero’s at 77 years of age, and now, Tobe Hooper has prematurely left this Earth for hopefully greener pastures at 74. We’re running out of original horror voices that helped shape the genre and push toward mainstream popularity. And I’m f*cking sick of it.

Tobe Hooper is an especially interesting case. While no one can dispute the handful of bona fide horror classics he’s helmed over the years – THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, EATEN ALIVE, SALEM’S LOT, THE FUNHOUSE and POLTERGEIST chief among them – his career hit a bit of a tumultuous trail once the 90s hit. Not only did the output wane, so did the quality of feature films, which often resulted in Hooper taking TV gigs on a number of genre-tinged series throughout the decade (his Tales from the Crypt episode in 1991 is pretty decent mind you).

All this as a roundabout way of saying look again! Real shit, there were a couple of mid-80s films Hooper made that never received the full-throated fanfare of the aforementioned Big 5. Nope, not Billy Idol’s Dancing With Myself video (though that shit is heat!) We detailed THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 earlier this month, and now, through the lens of a F*cking Black Sheep appeal, we intend to do similar for Hooper’s 1986 sci-fi remake of INVADERS FROM MARS. No clemency call here friends, despite it critical and commercial failure at the time, this flick is truly better than you remember it!

It starts with the story, co-written by the equally late great Dan O’Bannon (ALIEN, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD). Remade from the 1953 sci-fi B-movie of the same name, the intention was clear. Hooper meant to simultaneously pay homage to, and push the envelope of, a 50s monster-movie tableau, with every creative decision informed by that one key directive. Therefore, the setup is simple. After a young boy named David (Hunter Carson) watches a spacecraft land on the hill behind his house, he immediately senses something amiss with every human being in his life. His parents George (Timothy Bottoms) and Ellen (Laraine Newman) seem eerily off, so too does his teacher Ms. McKeltch (Louise Fletcher). When he finds the latter nastily ingesting a large dissection frog, he knows something is wrong for sure. He makes a run for it, only to link up with concerning Nurse Linda Magnussen (Karen Black, who I was surprised to learn was the real life mother of Hunter Carson) who acts as David’s de facto mother the rest of the way through.

David follows Ms. McKeltch to the underground Martian lair, where disgustingly deformed alien drones appear (designed and created by the equally late great Stan Winston). Two beasties in particular are featured prominently, both with the slavering maw of Audrey 2 in LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. Even more f*cked up is the Martian leader – a foully repugnant blob that reminds me of Krang from the NINJA TURTLES – who shows up and begins to bark orders. To what end? Well, if the 50s version was an allegory of mindless conformity and the subsumption of the human body, this one is all about consumption of the human body. On a massive scale! When the military is brought in to combat the situation, we not only get to see James Karen's badass onscreen (Frank from RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD), we get a bellicose blitzkrieg of third-reel action where Martian, monsters, military-men and marauding mayhem all mix together!

One of the things that works so well in INVADERS FROM MARS is the lack of exposition. In classic 50s B-movie fashion, a simple line of dialogue can explain away the entirety of the plot. My classic example of this is TREMORS (also a 50s style retread), where very little is given before all the key principals simply accept their fate and begin fighting the monsters, no questions asked. INVADERS circumnavigates the action-sapping explanations and gets right to the point almost immediately. I love that about it.

It’s also a movie that gets better as it goes along, grows scarier as it progresses. A lot of this has to do with framing the story through the paranoid perspective of the little boy David, exploiting the childlike sensibilities he brings to the audience as the key conduit. Moreover, the performance of Hunter Carson (Hunter from PARIS, TEXAS, a devastatingly beautiful movie) is really impressive. It would be for anybody, much less a 10 year old. We not only believe him, we care for him, which gives the horrific elements the dramatic weight it needs to make an emotional impact. The showdone he has alone with the aliens is a truly harrowing sequence – oddly violent, bizarrely humorous – and ranks among some of Hooper's finest moments of suspense.

But really, where INVADERS is most criminally overlooked is in its ferociously frenzied finale. WTF?! The final 20 minutes of the film or so, set inside that stark subterranean Martian lair, is flat out insane. The otherworldly gore infused with the neon-lighting (FUNHOUSE anyone) and barrage of militaristic gunfire synthesizes a whole new visual array altogether. The stint where Ms. McKeltch is suddenly gulped up, masticated to pieces and swallowed down is a certified standout here, and probably ranks among Hooper’s Top 10 all time kills. So too stands out the scene where Karen Black is about to be inoculated by a large phallic needle. Jeez! The FX work here is surely above par, made even more admirable when considering Stan Winston was working on this film at the same time he was working on ALIENS. One’s become an undisputed classic, the other’s been unfairly forgotten.

Tobe Hooper will always be one of my favorite horror filmmakers. When he’s as his best, there’s none finer. And while INVADERS FROM MARS isn’t even among Hooper five best films, it deserves a better rep than it’s gotten over the past 30 years. At the time, critics hated it, audiences rejected it ($4 million domestic gross made up for only a third of its budget), and only recently has the film enjoyed a modicum of cult-popularity. I say keep promulgating that sentiment further so that, perhaps in another 30 years, INVADERS FROM MARS is no longer seen as a F*cking Black Sheep!



Source: AITH

About the Author

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Jake Dee is one of JoBlo’s most valued script writers, having written extensive, deep dives as a writer on WTF Happened to this Movie and it’s spin-off, WTF Really Happened to This Movie.