People love to complain about remakes. It’s the go-to complaint of the modern horror fan. But even those people, hopefully, would admit that the 1980s was a great time for remakes, particularly remakes of ‘50s films. John Carpenter’s The Thing, David Cronenberg’s The Fly and Chuck Russell’s The Blob are among the best remakes ever made. Each of those movies was a smart, contemporary update of the original that made drastic, but intelligent changes to the story.
And then you have Tobe Hooper’s Invaders from Mars. When compared to the other ‘50s remakes of the 1980s, it sticks out like a sore thumb. Each of the others brings something genius to the table and Invaders from Mars isn’t quite at that level. Hooper was a wildly inconsistent director during that decade. Some of his films were amazing, like Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Some were mediocre, like The Funhouse. But Invaders from Mars is bad. There’s really no other way to say it than that. The acting is all over the place, but mostly subpar even though there are some truly great actors in it.
Honestly, even the badness of Invaders from Mars is endearing, which is why it’s hard to call it an outright failure. Most of the ‘50s B-Movies were bad, with the rare exceptions of pictures like Thing From Another World and The Day the Earth Stood Still. Most of them were schlocky, campy creature features and Invaders from Mars was no different. While the FX have changed drastically, Invaders from Mars is a more faithful remake than the likes of The Thing, The Fly and The Blob. It sticks very close to the initial concept of the source material, which some of those other remakes did not do. They were very intent on doing their own thing.
Invaders from Mars is very much a Tobe Hooper movie, but it honors the original. Even the bad acting honors the original. Unlike some of the other remakes, this feels very much in line with a ’50s creature feature. Which is not to say that John Carpenter’s The Thing doesn’t capture the isolated atmosphere of the original, or that Russell’s The Blob doesn’t honor the quaint, small town feel of its predecessor. But Hooper took a much more direct approach, wanting his version of Invaders from Mars to honor the original feature in both tone and style. In many ways, he actually succeeded in that.
The flaws are obvious, but that was also true the first time around. We just expect it more from a low budget ‘50s movie than an ‘80s film, but this was a Cannon production and they were known for nothing if not making memorable insanity on a very low budget. As much as the effects are the savior here, we don’t see nearly enough of them. We get glimpses and then most of the horror comes in the form of an evil teacher played by Louise Fletcher until our young hero gets the military involved.
The kid is annoying. The teacher is annoying. Even the great Karen Black is occasionally annoying and the movie is way longer than it needed to be, but it’s still fun. Good or not, it’s entertaining and that’s how we should measure success for something like this. It’s goofy, gooey, stupid fun. These are memorable monsters. Maybe I’m still very much a kid at heart, but I still feel like a good monster is something to cherish whenever you find it.
More than anything, Invaders from Mars is an authentic, earnest and maybe even unintentionally faithful throwback. If there’s one truly great thing about it, it’s that you can look at the film and tell what huge fans of the 1950s creature features both Tobe Hooper and Dan O’Bannon were. All of that love comes through intact. They just wanted to make their own take on it and they definitely did.