Several years ago Glenn Erickson, AKA The DVD Savant, wrote a beautiful analysis of one of my favourite SF films, William Cameron Menzies' surreal Invaders From Mars. Earlier this month Erickson expanded and updated his already excellent essay, and it's worth a read if you're at all interested in film history, science fiction or cult movies.
What an interesting article, thanks for linking these!
Invaders from Mars - either you love it or you don't. I don't really like it all that much, although the essays did open my eyes to things I missed.
Personally, I grew up with an unhealthy amount of UFO lore. Our local librarian, sensing that science fiction would become very popular, chose to stock the shelves not with Star Trek and Star Wars, but with dozens of much cheaper pulp-style "non-fiction" anthologies of UFO sightings, some of them truly horrifying.
Judged by the standards of (if you believe) the stories of Betty & Barney Hill, the Michigan UFO incidents of 1966, and the Kelly Hopkinsville encounter, the narrative of Invaders From Mars just does not hold any water. However, the inverse it true: if you believe in the nightmare quality of a 10-year-old's fever dream, all those stern Project Blue Book stories seem out of joint.
Where I fail to appreciate the two is that the one narrative seems to exclude the other. But not to Steven Speilberg: he figured out the connection.
It's that damned hill. It's its own character in the story. I never realized how much work went into making that hill look the way it does. So convincing is that hill that Speilberg re-created it twice: once in Muncie Indiana and again in the movie poster. (It's worth mentioning that Muncie is as flat as Saskatchewan, and that the view from the "hill" as as Hollywood as Burt Reynolds' toupee. Spielberg later uses the same hill view conceit to allow Indiana Jones a look at the famous Nasca figures, despite that the gigantic images were drawn on plains and would never have been seen in their entirety by their creators - unless they were aboard a UFO or course!)
I'm glad you enjoyed the piece. Glenn Erickson has long been one of my favourite critics - thoughtful, concise, knowledgeable.
The hill in Invaders from Mars is terrifying. Really, the whole backyard mise en scene is pretty freaky - part of the reason I love the film.
I lived and breathed UFOs in the 70s. The Barney and Betty Hill yarn gave me plenty of nightmares. I watched a lot of Project UFO, too. Oddly enough, my fascination with UFOs ended after Close Encounters...maybe after that there was nowhere to go but down.
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