Cult Movie Essentials

Cult Movie Essentials: Invaders from Mars (1953)

It was the film that made you want to never go near a sand pit again! This 1953 American science fiction film directed by William Cameron Menzies was developed from a scenario by Richard Blake and based on a story treatment by John Tucker Battle, who was inspired by a dream recounted by his wife. All these ingredients combined to make Invaders from Mars – a film that once seen will live forever in your memory.

With a cast comprising of Jimmy Hunt as David Maclean, Helena Carter as Dr. Pat Blake, MD, Arthur Franz as Dr. Stuart Kelston, Morris Ankrum as Col. Fielding, Leif Erickson as George MacLean and Hillary Brooke as Mary MacLean,  we enter a world of alien invasion and paranoia that begins late one night when young David MacLean (Hunt) is awakened by a loud thunderstorm.

David decides to take a closer look from his bedroom window and witnesses a large flying saucer descend and disappear into the sandpit area behind his home. Jimmy rushes to tell his parents (luckily his Dad is a top Scientist) and his Dad (Erickson) goes to investigate.

When his father returns much later in the morning, David notices an unusual red cut along the hairline on the back of his father’s neck; his father is now behaving in a cold and hostile manner.

David soon begins to realize something is very wrong: one-by-one he notices certain townsfolk are acting in exactly the same way. Through his telescope, David sees child neighbour Kathy Wilson (Janine Perreau) walking in the sandpit, when she suddenly disappears underground. David flees to the police station for help, and he is eventually placed under the protection of health-department physician Dr. Pat Blake (Carter), who slowly begins to believe his crazy story.

 

With the help of local astronomer Dr. Stuart Kelston (Franz) and Dr. Blake, the realisation is made that this flying saucer is the first of a planned an invasion from Mars, which apparently is now in close orbital proximity to Earth making it prime invasion time!

Dr. Kelston contacts the U.S. Army, convincing them to immediately investigate the sandpit. Lots of government and army folk turn up and converge on that sandpit to search it. As the search gets underway Dr. Blake and David are sucked underground and captured by two tall, slit-eyed green humanoids and taken through underground tunnels to the flying saucer.

Whilst this is going on Army troops locate and blow open an entrance to the tunnels, and Colonel Fielding and a small detachment make their way to the saucer entrance. Inside they confront the Martian Mastermind: it has a giant green head with a humanoid face atop a small, green partial torso with several green arm-tentacles, and is encased in a transparent sphere. The Martian Mastermind is served by the tall, green, silent mu-tants who are under their master’s mental commands via implanted mind-control crystals at the base of the skull.

Meanwhile those under control (including David’s parents!) are attempting to sabotage an atomic rocket project being built at a military plant near the town; if they are caught the mind control devices implode, causing a fatal cerebral haemorrhage.

Eventually the soldiers, Colonel Fielding, Dr.Blake and David open fire on the pursuing mutants as their group escapes the saucer. After a short running battle in the tunnels they climb their ladder back to the surface. Orders are given for everyone to quickly leave the sandpit area: Fielding’s troops have planted timed explosive charges aboard the saucer!

In an extended montage, David runs downhill (towards the camera), away from the sandpit. As he does so, flashbacks of the film’s important events are superimposed over a close-up of his face, including several scenes played backwards for surreal effect. These are inter-cut with alternating shots of the army artillery opening fire on the sandpit or close-ups on the ticking timer slowly approaching zero. Over this climactic montage plays the wavering, ethereal choral score that has punctuated prior scenes, now indicating the saucer’s drive is powering up to depart.

Following a large explosion, David is suddenly back in his bed. Thunder and lighting are heard again, as in the beginning of the film. His runs into his parents bedroom confused and frightened; they reassure him he was just having a bad dream, telling him to go back to sleep. Having returned to his bed, more wind and loud thunder is heard. David then climbs out of bed again, goes to his window, and witnesses the very same flying saucer of his dream slowly descending into the sandpit; the screen then holds on young David and dissolves to the film’s “The End” title card. The ethereal music that crept through the film begins once more leaving a big question in our minds:  is David still asleep, trapped in a recurring nightmare, or did he see the future?

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