Julien Neaves, Sci Fi Head Writer
One of the joys of this site has been discovering and revisiting Sci Fi classics. And when I noted that Earth vs. the Flying Saucers had turned 65 on June 13 it was a natural choice for ye olde retro review. And I also noted that the 1986 remake of 1953’s Invaders From Mars had turned 35 on June 6 so I thought, “Why not review the original and do a double feature review with Earth vs. the Flying Saucers? That sounds a like plan.” And here we are.
Well neither of these films are getting any younger, and so with a mothership-sized SPOILER ALERT let’s get to the reviews.
Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)
I had long heard of this film but I had never seen it. The title sounded like the epitome of 50s B-movie and I will admit I wasn’t all that interested in tracking it down. But after watching I will say that I enjoyed Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. The highlight is easily the jaw-dropping stop-motion effects by special effects legend Ray Harryhausen. There are several scenes featuring the titular flying saucers that are very well done and astounding for a movie made more than six decades ago. The ships have weight and feel tangible. And whether they are zooming past a flirting married couple in their car or laying waste to government buildings with their laser beams the danger and threat is always palpable. I must also praise the stark and intimidating design of the alien suits, the skeletal look of the aliens themselves and the cool warbling alien voices.
The film was also somewhat darker than I expected. These aliens are not playing around and do not hesitate to disintegrate people or suck the knowledge out of their captives’ brains. I was also shocked at a scene where they just dumped two captives out of their ship like yesterday’s trash. And no, there was not a soft mattress waiting on the ground for them. Ouch!
Hugh Marlowe and Joan Taylor play Dr Russell A. Marvin and his wife Carol respectively, and they have a good romantic chemistry and make for likable leads. The plot is pretty straightforward (which I appreciated) and the action sequences are entertaining, both with the saucers and the aliens on the ground. The pacing does drag somewhat in the second act and becomes very exposition heavy, but it is not a deal-breaker.
So if you are fan of classic Sci Fi and haven’t seen Earth vs. the Flying Saucers then I would recommend checking it out if only to marvel at the masterful effects work by Harryhausen. It is really out of this world.
Editor Jules’s Score: 7.5 out of 10
Invaders From Mars (1953)
I remember watching this film as a teenager and liking it, and it still held up on my recent rewatch. The plot is a simple one: a kid sees a spaceship land behind his house and the aliens begin capturing and mind controlling residents of the small town, starting with the boy’s father. The cast here is definitely a highlight. Jimmy Hunt does a great job as young David MacLean and delivers competently on the emotional beats, including concern for his captured parents. Leif Erickson is downright chilling as the alien-controlled George MacLean and the early scenes with David, including one where he slaps the boy down, are disturbing. Helena Carter also puts in good work as physician Dr Patricia Blake. We meet the good doctor at the police station which has the highest doorframes I have ever seen. It looks like 12 feet tall! Did they design it in case of giant aliens? I presume it was a production design choice to help craft an unsettling atmosphere, but it just looks plain odd.
And speaking of atmosphere, the ever-present tone of paranoia is kept up through the first two acts and did remind me of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, though this film predated it by three years. And Invaders From Mars featured mind-controlled people and not human imposters so there is a difference. There is also the alien’s fail-safe of remotely killing their puppets which they do to several of them including a little neighbourhood girl. Though her death is offscreen child murder is still quite heavy, especially for a 50s movie. Also turning up the scare factor is the aliens’ penchant for sucking people down through the sand to tune of the creepiest of soundtracks. And anybody else thought that ill-fated hill looked like people walking through a still-life painting? Just me? That’s okay.
The third act switches gears from alien thriller to army vs the aliens sci fi action thriller which I did find less interesting. I also have mixed feelings about the alien designs themselves as I thought the alien leader (pictured above) looked weirdly cool but his mutants (pronounced mute-tahnts) look like the darker cousins of the Sleestaks from Land of the Lost. In other words, not very intimidating. And I have never been a fan of the “It was all a dream” trope and in Invaders From Mars they both do that and the equally lame “But what if it wasn’t a dream?” trope. But still a good watch and, like Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, I would recommend it.
I however cannot recommend the 1986 remake though, despite it being directed by horror veteran Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Salem’s Lot miniseries, Poltergeist). The child actor who plays David is not believable in the slightest, the plot is dragged down by unnecessary chase scenes, and the main alien looks like Krang from Ninja Turtles while his minions look like mutated Vogons from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The only reason to watch this is if you love cult classic sci fi or if you really want to see Louise Fletcher, who played masterful villains in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, chew up the scenery as mind-controlled teacher Mrs McKeltch. And we do see her eating a frog and then later getting eaten alive by an alien, so I guess that’s something. Miss Fletcher got a Golden Raspberry nod for Worst Supporting Actress and the film also received nod for Worst Visual Effects, despite being the work of future effects icon Stan Winston (Jurassic Park, Terminator franchise, Aliens, Predator, Iron Man).
The remake is a clear case of some talented people doing not-very-great work. So my advice would be to leave these invaders alone and stick with the vastly superior original.
Editor Jules’s Score: 7 out of 10 (1953 version)/4 out of 10 (1986 version)
So are you a fan of these Sci Fi classics? And which do you prefer? You can check out more classic Sci Fi content below:
Watch the Skies! Revisiting Sci Fi Horror ‘The Thing From Another World’ at 70
Revisiting Groundbreaking Sci Fi Thriller ‘Forbidden Planet’ at 65 in 3 Blasts
Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.