As I sit here watching The Texas Chain Saw Massacre for the first time in my adult life (it’s possible I’ve never seen it 100% through and unedited, to be honest) and I have Eaten Alive queued up, I can’t help but think to myself, “Goddammit, John Carpenter better get to the doctor stat!” We’ve lost Wes, George, and Tobe in a year’s time. If we start tallying up the actors and producers and others involved in the world of horror, the numbers of those we’ve lost in this time is startling. However, those 3 icons are some of the most prominent filmmakers in the genre to ever live… especially for those of us born in the 70s and 80s, who watch their careers unfold in front of us. Carpenter’s health best not be failing yet, because we still need an icon or two to hang our proverbial hats on.
With this latest loss, I reached out the team and suggested we take on Invaders from Mars this week for a few reasons. First, it allows us to commemorate the late great Mr. Hooper. Second, it’s a PG film, allowing my son, Cash, to join in his first Friday Fight. And, last, it’s not one of the most obvious cuts to choose from Hooper’s filmography.
The film, for me, was a ton of fun, even if uneven and absurd. The absurdity and unevenness in the script could have worked more than they did if the acting were stronger, yet there wasn’t a moment of the film that had me yearning to get away or for the film to end. From start to finish, it was a fun ride… and for a film from Cannon, that’s really all I can ask.
Before I turn it over to the team and a couple friends who joined us this week, I just ask Death to give the horror community a break for a bit. I mean, go attack someplace else… or, better yet, take a much needed vacation. I hear Purgatory is gorgeous this time of year.
Welcome back this week a special guest! Brendan Foley organizes a weekly film club on Cinapse called Two Cents that Justin also regularly contributes to (as a member of the Cinapse staff, himself). He hosts a kickass creepy story podcast called Black Sun Dispatches and likes to make snide remarks about Justin’s well established shitty taste in films.
After you’re done reading this and checking out the Cinapse Two Cents piece linked above, be sure to check out Brendan’s podcast!
Much like Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce, no matter what story flaws may mar Invaders from Mars, and it has plenty, the whole is such an audacious bit of genre lunacy that it is still very much worth watching. Hooper could spin mad brilliance out of threadbare budgets (it’s not everybody who changes the entire horror genre on their first outing) but when given real financial resources, he proved again and again to have an incredible imagination and a knack for building images at once beautifully composed and nightmarishly designed (see also: the underground amusement park/cannibal lair in TCM2, and the alien hive in Lifeforce). Where Invaders from Mars falters is on the human end of things, with the alien-swapped locals playing things so broad, so laughably arch, that all sense of reality is tossed out the window and the movie has no place to escalate. Rather than creating a sort of waking-dream feeling of dislocation, it makes the entire film feel like one of those made-for-TV Disney movie where bad actors ham it up for dear life. But on a visual level, Invaders from Mars really is spectacular, from the gigantic sets inside the alien space craft to the incredible creature designs and FX by the late, great Stan Winston. If this film doesn’t measure up to the great creature features of the 80s (Near Dark, American Werewolf in London, The Fly, The Thing, etc.) in overall quality, it certainly matches them in terms of sheer audacious special effects.
If Hooper never again matched the next-level genius of his original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the only film of his that gets close is Poltergeist, and that has a Spielberg-shaped asterisk next to it), it wasn’t for lack of trying. Hooper, especially in this 80s era, was taking big and bold swings and making genre-art that was truly unlike anything anyone else had ever made before or since. I wish Invaders from Mars worked better as a cohesive whole, but even as messy and flawed as it is it represents one of the most important artists in American cinema playing with house money and using the opportunity to try something strange and off-kilter and truly, wonderfully singular.
CASH HARLAN: Invaders from Mars is an awesome movie. I like it a lot. The movie was “weird-scary”. It was weird in the beginning and got scary by the end.
Goodbye Mr. Hooper and thanks for the movies.
[Editor’s (Dad’s) Note: Cash is excited to watch many more Hooper classics as he grows up. He really enjoyed this one a lot and tends to love the horror and sci-fi selections I get to show him.]
RACHAEL HAUSCHILD: You know those times when you’re watching a movie and you think that you may have seen it before? However, you don’t know when you saw it or recall even the title until you’re rewatching it and it hits you? You think:
YES! I’VE SEEN THIS BEFORE!
…and then it all comes back to you?
That was me with Invaders from Mars. I remember seeing this many years ago. I remember scenes from it, especially the ending, and upon rewatching it hit me how I actually have seen this before. As I kept watching, I kept thinking how awesome this was that I was rewatching something from my childhood that I could never recall the title and never knew the director. This was like a spiritual moment knowing that Tobe Hooper helped form my childhood love for all things horror and creepy (one of the many influential movies). Not going to lie, I’m upset that I could never recall this movie, but I’m so glad I now know definitively what it is and who did it.
Sure this movie has some corny overacting from Hunter Carson and some questionable script choices, but what do you expect from a B rated horror remake? It was tons of fun watching. The colors, sounds, and having a child vs. alien adult in the last 1/3 of this gave me Little Monster vibes. Two things I learned from watching this – 1. His name is David Gardner, and I’ll never forget that. 2. Louise Fletcher is one scary teacher.
You’ll be missed by many, Tobe. Thank you for all your work and your films.
He’s also the managing editor there. He loves horror films, but probably not as much as he love anything and everything TMNT. But, seriously, who can blame him?
I’m a relative latecomer to appreciating Tobe Hooper. Outside of Lifeforce, he’d been one of my biggest blind spots, so in 2013 I set out to fix that. I finally watched The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Eaten Alive, and The Funhouse in short order, and (despite Eaten Alive) became an immediate fan and continued to trek through his filmography.
Invaders From Mars is a 50s sci-fi throwback and remake, but despite some cool practical aliens, it didn’t really capture my imagination – I found it silly and even a bit dull. But my opinion altered when I realized that I probably would have absolutely loved it when I was 10. It’s unique among Hooper’s films: it’s a kids’ movie. While Poltergeist and Salem’s Lot are arguably family-friendly (at least for horror movies), only Invaders From Mars is for and about youngsters. And when the time comes, this will be one of the first scary movies I’ll get to show my own kids.
LUKE TIPTON: This is the second Friday Fight in a row where we have honored a beloved auteur of horror cinema. I wish it didn’t have to be this way. Wish we could just be watching a Tobe Hooper or George Romero flick because they’re awesome, because they’re classics and worth watching, and not as a way to pay tribute and say goodbye to these filmmakers who have given us so much. Out of the three giants of horror that we’ve lost in the past two years – Craven, Romero, and Hooper – the loss of Hooper hit closest to home for me. That’s due to the deep love I have for his film Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I’ve been a lifelong cinephile, but my deep love of horror really only developed in the last five years or so. My love of horror coincided with my growing love of Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). It was a film that initially impressed me with its grungy, cinema verité style, its atmosphere of stifling heat, and subtle black, absurdist comedy. The film is infamous for its intensity – and its reputation is absolutely earned – but what had surprised me was just how subversively funny it was. In the years since, I have regularly revisited it, at least twice a year. It’s exploitation cinema elevated to the level of art. It’s been on my Letterboxd profile as a favorite film for almost a year now. Texas Chain Saw Massacre feels like a gift to me. I’m grateful it exists, I’m grateful I discovered it, and I am grateful to Hooper for making it.
Invaders from Mars almost feels like the work of a different director entirely. That isn’t a knock against Invaders, so much as a testament to the lightning-in-a-bottle uniqueness of TCSM. Invaders is an offbeat, somewhat messy affair. Its performances are a little uneven, and while it’s not fair to use a child as a scapegoat, Hunter Carson, the young star, is the film’s weakest link. Louise Fletcher steals the movie though, as the teacher under the aliens’ control, with a performance that’s equal parts camp and menace. It’s a solid piece of mid-eighties genre filmmaking. The big reason for this is that Hooper’s love of the source material – both the 1953 film of the same name, and the schlocky b-movies, and drive-in fare of the 1950s – is on full display on screen. He locks on to a very specific atmosphere; Invasion of the Body Snatchers via Steven Spielberg, with a young boy named David discovering that his parents and teachers are being controlled by Martian forces. The creature designs are cartoonish and a little gross in the best way (Is an anus that the Martian brain creature emerges from?). But b-movie schlock or not, Hooper still manages land a few genuinely shocking moments, best perhaps, when David catches his teacher eating a frog. This is the kind of thing that will give a kid nightmares for a week. The fact that Hooper would make a film ostensibly aimed at kids, and still engineer ruthlessly effective scares like that is both endearing and a little subversive. The man had integrity, and he knew a good scare never hurt anybody.
(Rest in Power, Tobe. And say hello to George for us.)