INVADERS FROM MARS. Paranoid SCIENCE FICTION that will make you afraid to fall asleep

This story starts very innocently.

Jakub Piwoński

25 May 2023

The 1950s were a time of anxiety and paranoia for the world. These moods resulted in a number of science fiction films in which fantastic enemies of humanity coming from distant space were actually supposed to be a reflection of the threat hiding behind the Iron Curtain and the fear of another armed conflict. This was the case with War of the Worlds and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. And that was the case with the somewhat forgotten Invaders from Mars.

This story starts very innocently. There is no wobble characteristic of SF cinema here. The opening minutes of Invaders from Mars praise the Johnsons’ cultural equation. We have a typical American family – father, mother, son – with typical American smiles on their faces. One night, the son sneaks out from under the covers and decides to watch the stars. He notices a mysterious object. He calls his father and asks him to investigate the landing site. He succumbs to his son’s suggestions, but… he comes back completely changed. After him, other people become victims of extraterrestrial power, which causes the boy to lose his grip on reality.

The director of Invaders from Mars is William Cameron Menzies – winner of a special Oscar for his work on Gone with the Wind. It’s thanks to Menzies that the cult romance is bursting with color. Filmed thirteen years later, Invaders from Mars are already in Technicolor in an advanced way. Showing the full palette of colors was important for this film because of the clearly spectacular nature of the film. This may not be a well-played production, because in this respect it is rough-hewn, but it cannot be denied that it is spectacular, especially in the context of the final act taking place on a spaceship. The special effects department had a lot of work, as you can see with the naked eye. He also turned out to be extremely creative – he used condoms to create bubbles on the walls of underground tunnels.

The film was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. And the fact is that the production does not lack drama, reinforced at times with too intrusive pathos. We follow the action from the perspective of a little boy whose childhood is haunted by fear. It’s not worth looking at the sky – the creators seem to follow, implying that it’s better to sleep safely under the covers and not try to understand the complexity and hidden mechanisms of this world. Curiosity, in turn, leads in a simple way to hell, which was prepared for the young hero due to the discovered truth. The question that remains, however, is whether living in ignorance does not only postpone the fact of unpleasant illumination until later, making it even more shocking?

The film was remade in 1986. It was done by Tobe Hooper, the same creator who gave us Poltergeist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The echoes of the Invaders from Mars, however, can be heard most strongly in Invasion of the Body Snatchers filmed a few years later. In his own way, Steven Spielberg also referred to the Invaders with his Close Encounters of the Third Kind, especially considering the context that the responsibility for contact with an extraterrestrial race fell to an innocent child; being a bit of a symbol of the naivety of human beings who do not have the capacity to understand the vastness of the universe.

In terms of the paranoia aspect at the heart of the story, however, the most remembered Invasion, but also The Puppet Master from 1994, would be the films that draw the most from the 1953 film. Space is here a source of power that steals minds and turns people into blind acolytes and at the same time spies operating under the cover of their bodies. This is, of course, a clear metaphor for the fear of hostile indoctrination, which, thanks to the mass media, becomes possible to implement almost imperceptibly. What was once feared has now practically become a reality that needs to be constantly corrected.

The genesis of the film, however, was much more prosaic. The wife of novelist John Tucker Battle, the author of the literary original, woke him up one morning to relate to him a disturbing dream in which Martians had invaded Earth. He made her tell it in detail, then turned it into a plot outline. This was reflected in the climax of the film, in which we learn that the boy really only dreamed about aliens. However, this is only an apparent solace applied by the creators. A dream is a source of innocent, fantastic visions, but it can also be interpreted as a metaphysical message warning us about the face of the world that we cannot see with the naked eye. Still.

Jakub Piwoński

Jakub Piwoński

Cultural expert, passionate about popular culture, in particular films, series, computer games and comics. He likes to fly away to unknown, fantastic regions, thanks to his fascination with science fiction. Professionally, however, he looks back more often, thanks to his work as a museum promotion specialist, investigating the mysteries of the beginnings of cinematography. His favorite film is "The Matrix", because it combines two areas close to his heart - religion and martial arts.

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