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Saturday Nightmares: Invaders From Mars (1986)



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Saturday Nightmares: Invaders From Mars (1986)Tobe Hooper’s Invaders from Mars is one of those films that must’ve traumatized a good percentage of the kids who watched it upon release. Even before it hit video, I remember kids a few classes ahead of me talking about how scary it was. Catching it a year later on VHS, I recall sharing that sentiment.

The movie might’ve faded from memory over the years, but certain scenes remained in my head: The crazed look in Louise Fletcher’s eyes as frog legs dangle from her mouth, Timothy Bottoms’ creepy about-face to sinister father, and the Martian leader’s almost gleeful torment of child hero Hunter Carson at the climax. I had a feeling Invaders from Mars might not hold up to the memory of my seven-year-old self, but this damn DVD has been in my collection for years, and part of my reason for resurrecting Saturday Nightmares was to finally get around to these languishing titles.

It begins well enough: a father and son (Bottoms and Carson) looking up at the stars excitedly in a rather cute and sweet bonding moment. It’s the kind of Norman Rockwellian scene that Hooper might’ve gleaned from his earlier collaboration with Steven Spielberg. This innocuous bit of stargazing catches the earliest glimpses of an alien invasion, setting the movie into motion. Before we’ve got time to get comfortable, Bottoms falls under alien control and immediately tries indoctrinating the rest of the family. It’s a terrifying concept for a child: witnessing every institution of safety and protection (parents, police, and teachers) become something insidious.

Invaders from Mars begins to go off the rails as act two gets under way, resorting to a series of chase scenes involving disgruntled teacher Louise Fletcher’s pursuit of our ten-year-old protagonist. From serving up a school bus of Carson’s classmates for Martian processing to chasing him down the street screaming ”I’ll get you for this!”, there’s enough subversion to authority to create a fairly compelling experience for kids. For all you parents out there hoping to ease your children into the genre, Invaders from Mars is packed with enough surface scares that kids will probably really enjoy watching a young hero outwit and defeat an alien invasion.

Saturday Nightmares: Invaders From Mars (1986)

For the rest of us, though, it’s really a question of whether or not childhood nostalgia is enough to salvage it. And it certainly gets worse as it goes along. By the time James Karen is introduced as a no-nonsense general who takes it upon himself to defeat the alien army, almost all of the tension has evaporated from the story. The Martian invaders are fun and the practical effects that bring them to life are certainly enjoyable, but they’re not exactly menacing monsters. And once the boy gets the full might of the military on his side, there’s no longer any reason to fear for him. The climax finds him running alongside an entire platoon of soldiers, blasting any Martians they come across.

This was a notoriously troubled production for Tobe Hooper. The middle film in his “Cannon Trilogy” (bookended by Lifeforce and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2), Invaders from Mars saw its budget slashed in the wake of Lifeforce’s financial failure. Producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus reportedly micromanaged Hooper every step of the way, perhaps explaining why this one never manages to find the right tone. It attempts to capture the spirit of its predecessor (and follows the narrative closely) while delivering a modern-day Hollywood spectacle. Instead it gets lost somewhere in the middle, failing to deliver on either front.

The performances are pretty dismal, too. Hunter Carson (Karen Black’s son) never convinces us that he’s really scared, looking more like a kid on a playground than a young boy fighting for the survival of his town. The usually reliable Karen Black turns in one of her worst performances here, punctuating most of her dialogue with a thud. And what a criminal waste of James Karen! This guy single-handedly kept Return of the Living Dead Part II afloat, lest anyone doubt his talents. But here he seems as bored with the material as we are. Only Louise Fletcher looks to be having any fun. As silly as her role grows to be, the movie suffers a fatal blow once she’s removed from it.

Saturday Nightmares: Invaders From Mars (1986)

Technically speaking, it’s a great-looking slice of mid-80s genre filmmaking. Production design is truly impressive (the subterranean alien lair is a real stunner), Stan Winston’s aforementioned creature FX are a delight, and all of the action is captured through the impressive lens of the always-reliable Daniel Pearl (some of the disorienting cinematography helps implant the film’s ‘twist’ ending early on). Christopher Young’s score is effective when it’s not shamelessly ripping off Jerry Goldsmith’s First Blood work (reportedly, Invaders was temped to Goldsmith and the producers wanted Young to mimic it).

If nostalgia isn’t enough to salvage the experience of Invaders from Mars, it does produce fond memories for the era in which it was produced. One of the most endearing aspects of 80s horror is how often a child took center stage as the hero: Critters, The Gate, Monster Squad, Lady in White and even Halloween 5 (to name a few) offered pint-sized protagonists, peppering even the most mean-spirited movie with a degree of innocence/sweetness. It’s a trend that seemed to die out of American horror throughout the early 90s and now seems relegated almost exclusively to the domain of the animated film (as Monster House and ParaNorman might suggest).

In the span of his six-decade career, Invaders from Mars falls squarely in the middle of Tobe Hooper’s canon. Far from his best, it’s not nearly as bad as the majority of his output that followed. It’s a feeble attempt at updating a sci-fi classic for a then-fresh audience. Proof that history often can repeat itself, this sucker is every bit as forgettable as many of our modern day rehashes: Slickly done but hollow and trite. Unless, of course, you’ve got fond memories of Louise Fletcher and those frog legs. Then it’s just another movie that probably should stay in your memory banks. It’s hardly worth rediscovery now.

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Before We Vanish Review – A Quirky and Original Take on Alien Invasions



Starring Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa

Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

During the J-horror rampage of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (aka Pulse). A dark, depressing, and morose tale of ghosts that use the internet to spread across the world, the film’s almost suffocatingly gloomy atmosphere pervaded across every frame of the film. Because of my love of this film, I was eager to see the director’s upcoming movie Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha (aka Before We Vanish), which follows three aliens who recently arrived on Earth and are preparing to bring about an alien invasion that will wipe humanity from the face of the planet. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be barely a horror title but was instead a quirky and surreal dramedy that tugged at my heartstrings.

Admittedly, I was thrown completely for a loop as the film begins with a scene that feels perfectly at home in a horror film. Akira (Tsunematsu), a teenage girl, goes home and we enter moments later to blood splashed on the walls and floor and bodies strewn about. However, the disturbing visuals are spun around as the young girl walks down a highway, her clothes and face streaked with blood, Yusuke Hayashi’s music taking on a lighthearted, almost jaunty attitude. From there, we learn of the other two aliens (yes, she’s an alien and it’s not a secret or a twist, so no spoilers there): Amano (Takasugi), who is a young man that convinces a sleazy reporter, Sakurai (Hasegawa), of his true form and tasks Sakurai with being his guide, and Shinji (Matsuda), the estranged husband of Narumi (Nagasawa).

What sets these aliens, and their mission, apart from other invasion thrillers is their means of gathering information. They’re not interested in meeting leaders nor do they capture people for nefarious experimentations. Rather, they steal “concepts” from the minds of people, such as “family”, “possession”, or “pest”. Once these concepts are taken, the victim no longer has that value in their mind, freed from its constraints.

While this may seem like a form of brainwashing, Kurosawa instead plays with the idea that maybe knowing too much is what holds us back from true happiness. A man obsessed with staking claim to his family home learns to see the world outside of its walls when “possession” is no longer a part of his life. A touchy boss enters a state of child-like glee after “work” has been taken. That being said, there are other victims who are left as little more than husks.

Overly long at 130 minutes, the film does take its time showing the differences between the aliens and their individual behaviors. Amano and Akira are casually ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to send a beacon to begin the alien invasion, no matter how many must die along the way, while Shinji is the curious and almost open-minded one, whose personal journey finds him at one point asking a priest to envision and describe “love”, a concept that is so individualistic and personal that it can’t be taken, much less fathomed, by this alien being. While many of these scenes are necessary, they could have easily been edited down to shave 10-15 minutes, making the film flow a bit more smoothly.

While the film begins on a dark note, there is a scene in the third act that is so pure and moving that tears immediately filled my eyes and I choked up a little. It’s a moment of both sacrifice and understanding, one that brings a recurring thread in the story full circle.

With every passing minute, Before We Vanish makes it clear that it’s much more horror-adjacent than horror. An alien invasion thriller with ultimate stakes, it will certainly have appeal to genre fans. That being said, those who go in expecting action, violence, and terror will certainly be disappointed. But those whose mind is a bit more open to a wider range of possibilities will find a delightful story that attempts to find out what it means to be human, even if we have to learn the lesson from an alien.

  • Before We Vanish


Before We Vanish is a beautiful, wonderful tale that explores what it means to be human when faced with the threat of extinction.

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Delirium Review – Bros, Cameras And A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On



Starring Mike C. Manning, Griffin Freeman, Ryan Pinkston

Directed by Johnny Martin

When will these testosterone-overloaded frat bros with cameras ever learn that pissing off the evil souls of the departed all in the name of amusement won’t get you anywhere but wrecked? Same goes for filmmakers: when will they learn that found-footage exploits set in a house of pure sadism are something of a wrung-out affectation? Oh well, as long as people keep renting them, they’ll continue to get manufactured…which might or might not be to the benefit of the horror film-watching populous.

Delirium opens with a poor lad, strapped with a GoPro, running for his life through a labyrinth of haunted territory, praying for an escape…and it’s a foregone conclusion as to what happens to this trespassing individual. We then relocate our focus towards a collection of (ahem), “gentlemen” self-titled as The Hell Gang, and their escapades are about as profound as their grasp on the English language and its verbiage. The words “dude”, creepy”, and the term “what the fuck” are thrown about so much in this movie it’ll make your head spin to the point of regurgitation. Anyway, their interest in the home of the Brandt clan is more piqued now than ever, especially considering one of their own has gone missing, and they’ve apparently got the gonads to load up the cameras, and traverse the property after-hours, and against the warnings of the local law-enforcement, who surprisingly are just inadequate enough to ignore a dangerous situation. The cursed family and the residence has quite the illustrious and bleak history, and it’s ripe for these pseudo-snoopers to poke around in.

Usually I’m curb-stomping these first person POV movies until there’s nothing left but a mash of blood, snot and hair left on the cement, but Martin’s direction takes the “footage” a little bit outside of the box, with steadier shots (sometimes) and a bit more focus on the characters as they go about their business. Also, there are a few genuinely spooky scenes to speak of involving the possession of bodies, but there really isn’t much more to crow about, as the plot’s basically a retread of many films before it, and with this collection of borderline-douches manning the recording equipment, it’s a sad state of affairs we’re in that something such as this has crept its way towards us all again. I’m always down for jumping into a cold grave, especially when there could be a sweet prize to be dug up in all that dirt, but Delirium was one of those movies that never let you find your footing, even after you’ve clawed your way through all of the funereal sediment – take a hard pass on this one.


  • Film


Got about a half-dozen bros with cameras and a wanton will to get slaughtered on camera, all the while repetitively uttering the same phrases all damn day long? Then my friends, you’ve got yourself a horror movie!

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Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Review – A Timid Step Towards a Frightening Possibility



Starring Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Yuki Kaji, Tomokazu Sugita

Directed by Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita

The Godzilla series is the longest-running franchise in cinema history. With over 30 films over a 60+ year career, the famous kaiju has appeared in video games, comic books, TV shows, and more, cementing its place as one of the most recognizable cultural icons in the past 100 years. With Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, the titular beast makes its foray into the world of anime in this first film in a proposed trilogy. While there are moments that are genuinely thrilling, the film unfortunately fails to capture the imagination and wonder that is at its fingertips.

The story is quite simple: Earth is under attack by swarms of various kaiju who are wreaking havoc across the planet. Entire cities are being destroyed when Godzilla appears to vanquish humanity’s foes. Unfortunately, the King of the Monsters isn’t really there to help humans and its rampage continues until a race of alien beings arrive at Earth asking for a place to stay in exchange for defeating Godzilla. When they are unable to do that, the remaining humans board a giant spaceship to venture off into space in search of a new home only to come back some 20 years later, nearly 20,000 years later by Earth time (think Interstellar logic), to search for resources and, possibly, a planet that will welcome them once again. However, Godzilla is still around and isn’t keen on sharing.

The main character of the film is Haruo Sakaki, a young man who begins the film by nearly following through on a suicide bomber terrorist act that is meant to call attention to humanity’s loss of vision and failure to fulfill their mission of finding a suitable home for the remaining survivors. Even though he is accosted and jailed for this act, he is eventually freed when people realize that his lifelong passion of killing Godzilla is the foundation for research he’s done in finding a way to take down the creature…a plan that just might work. The other characters are so forgettable that I forgot their names during the film.

From there, the film essentially pivots into following a massive team of volunteers who land on Earth’s surface to lay a trap for Godzilla in order to destroy it. Since this is Earth 20,000 years after they left, the flora and fauna have evolved and changed so radically that the team have no idea what to expect or how to react, so caution is a must.

The problem with this is that while the characters have to be cautious, the film doesn’t nor should it. The movie has the chance to explore the wealth of imaginative opportunities at its fingertips and yet does almost everything it can to avoid doing just that. The color scheme is flat and uninteresting. The character movements lack smoothness and the action sequences fall victim to shaky cam syndrome. There are a few mentions of some of the changes that have taken place on the planet, such as razor sharp plants, but they’re so incidental or offhand that it feels like no one making the film has any interest in seeing anything other than man against beast.

Speaking of this dynamic, the action sequences are quite entertaining but also feel somewhat reserved. Godzilla barely moves and much of the destruction levied against the humans is seen from a distance, apart from an attack on a military outpost by dragon-like creatures. For nearly the entire film, I found myself thinking, “I’m okay with this but that’s about it.

The brightest moment in the film are the last few minutes and I won’t spoil what happens. Suffice it to say that it definitely has me interested in the second and third films but I really hope that this new world will be explored further in those entries. Otherwise, we’ve got a fascinating foundation that will be squandered.

  • Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters


Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is a bland entry in a trilogy that has great potential. For a first course, there’s a distinct lack of flavor or complexity. The final minutes are the only saving grace and I hope that the second and third films make use of that grand wonder.

User Rating 5 (1 vote)
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