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Dustin Putman

Invaders from Mars  (1986)

Reviewed for by Dustin Putman

The Film
2.5 Stars
(Release Date: April 7, 2015) – When "Invaders from Mars" was released in the summer of 1986, critical praise was soft and the box office muted. A remake of the 1953 sci-fi sleeper of the same name, the film likely confused audiences who weren't sure if it was supposed to be for kids, adults, or both. The admittedly fairly hard PG rating and young protagonist suggest director Tobe Hooper was aiming for an all-audiences feel, but the story of aliens landing on Earth and taking over the bodies of a child's family, teachers and friends is more than a little harrowing. I remember renting the film all the time back in the '80s starting when I was only about six years old, but my love for the horror genre had already developed by then and its scariness was part of the appeal. For more impressionable youngsters, however, one can imagine it would give them no less than a full week of restless sleep.

On the night of a meteor shower, little David Gardner (Hunter Carson) is awoken from slumber by the sight of a UFO landing just beyond the hill behind his house. His parents, George (Timothy Bottoms) and Ellen (Laraine Newman), believe he was just having a bad dream, but when they completely change over the next few days into dazed, humorless drones with suspicious marks on the back of their necks, he becomes convinced that space invaders are here to take over the planet. With nowhere else to turn, David and increasingly frightened guidance counselor Linda Magnusson (Karen Black) must find a way to stop this extraterrestrial takeover before it is too late.

Seeing "Invaders from Mars" years later as an adult, the movie is still creepy and charming, exceling in its otherworldly production design of the aliens' underground lair and the inventive practical effects that bring these unusual creatures to life. Hunter Carson (at the time coming off of 1984's "Paris, Texas") and his real-life mom, perennial character actress Karen Black, share an easy, warm chemistry with each other, while Louise Fletcher is unforgettable as stern, frog-gulping science teacher Mrs. McKeltch. "Invaders from Mars" is such an involving paranoid sci-fi/thriller during its first hour that it is disappointing when the last third loses much of its momentum, bogged down by the introduction of military characters whom David and Linda go to for help. The ending, too, feels like a cheat, a more troublesome denouement for my seasoned present-day tastes than the single-digit-aged me who ate it up in the late-'80s. In the decades since it came out, "Invaders from Mars" has earned a cult following, first during its VHS years and later as it came to digital formats. It's an odd hodgepodge, straddling the line between a family movie and a horror tale, but Tobe Hooper mounts it with care and ambition. For fans who, like me, originally came to the film as a child, revisiting it almost thirty years later is quite the nostalgia trip.

Blu-ray Picture/Sound

For the majority of its running time, "Invaders from Mars" impresses with its 1080p transfer. The image positively pops in certain scenes, with healthy colors, ample image depth, and an overall clean, evenly grained presentation. Clarity and detail receive a notable uptick from all previous home-video versions of this title, with the make-up effects particularly shining in all their slimy, textured glory. Just when the picture quality appears to be close to flawless, some niggling print damage and the occasional comparatively drab shot suggest definite room for improvement. Age-related dirt and specs are on hand here and there, but one particular scratch that runs down the frame in a certain shot calls immediate attention to itself, while mosquito noises rears its head in a few daytime scenes. Even if it is imperfect, the picture should satisfy all but the most nitpicky of viewers. Even better is the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, which immerses from frame one with its amazing fidelity and authentic surround activity. The opening credits, with the space-set credits whooshing at the screen to Christopher Young's excellent music score, have never sounded this good. The same could be said for the 90-plus minutes that follow. For a movie made in 1986, this audio track is outstanding. For purists, a 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track is also generously included.

Blu-ray Features
  • Audio Commentary with director Tobe Hooper
  • "The Martians Are Coming!: The Making of Invaders from Mars" Featurette (36:33, HD) - Featuring interviews with director Tobe Hooper, actor Hunter Carson, special effects artists Alec Gillis and Gino Crognale, and composer Christopher Young
  • Theatrical Trailer & TV Spot (2:00, HD)
  • Production Illustration Gallery from artist William Stout (14:03, HD)
  • Storyboards (4:16, HD)
  • Still Gallery (2:12, HD)
Bottom Line
At this point, is it any surprise that the folks at Scream Factory (a genre imprint of Shout! Factory) have led the charge on yet another quality catalogue release? "Invaders from Mars" may not have gotten the attention it deserved when it came to theaters, but this top-flight Blu-ray should satisfy fans and win over a host of new ones. The film has never looked or sounded better, while the bonus content (including a commentary track and an excellent newly produced retrospective documentary) will provide audiences with all the information they could ever want to know about the making and legacy of this underappreciated sci-fi relic of the '80s. Highly recommended.

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© 2015 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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