When I finally got to see this movie (I seem to remember watching it as a kid, but only actually SAW it when I saw it in 35mm a while back) I thought for sure this was a movie every self respecting sci-fi/horror fan loves to bits. Unfortunately my smug sense of who likes what couldn't be further from accurate on this one. As such, I am here to defend its honor for anyone who cares to read this.
FUN! The plot to this movie is pretty cut and dry but I suppose I will give indulge myself. Young David Gardner has a very active imagination. When he sees a giant UFO land over the hill from his house one night, his parents wave it off as a simple nightmare. As the days go by his parents- followed by all the adults (and at least one kid too) that he sees- begin acting very strangely and all seem out to get him because he knows what's up with the invasion. Enlisting the help of the school nurse (the only adult he can trust, played by the legendary Karen Black), David sets out to right what has gone horribly wrong.
That plot synopsis I just wrote kinda sucks, but I rewrote it three times already and am just going to let it be and hope that you trust me here because the movie is actually pretty fun to watch. How many movies can you name where a school teacher gets taken over by evil aliens and gets eaten by their creepy looking soldiers in one tremendous gulp? Anyways, it seems that a decent majority of the moviegoing public really didn't seem to care very much about this film when it was released. The film barely made half of its budget back, and critical response was and generally still is rather lukewarm towards it while the public opinion (based upon my own research) seems to be very mixed and in some cases inaccurate (more on this in a hot minute).
I think one of the bigger reasons this film failed in the box office was that our good old bottom of the barrel friend Cannon produced it (for you readers who have been here since the beginning of this blog you might remember my reviews of two other Cannon films- The Hitcher and Allan Quatermaine and the Lost City of Gold) and for any of you out there savvy to the stuff this company churned out you will know it was done on the cheap end of the scale nine times out of ten.
Lucky for us, Tobe Hooper was at the helm of this picture and he has absolutely no fear of budgetary constraints and pulls off a pretty impressive picture. He is a film maker that in my opinion thrives on such constraints. The original 1953 version of this film had the budget of a pint of potato salad at Fred Meyer (which adds to its schlocky entertainment value to the maximum) so to give this the budget of a major blockbuster would have made it look completely ridiculous. The estimated cost of production is in the 12 million dollar mark (sadly, it only managed to make about 4 million in theaters, but Cannon nearly always recouped its losses in home video rentals and sales anyway). With the crazy looking aliens, sometimes expansive sets, and for a bit some gregarious gunfire, one would think the budget would have been more in the 15-20 million area. Such is the glory of Mr. Hooper. I definitely don't like a lot of his films, but I can say this- they are all pretty well made.
Okay I got a bit sidetracked there but remember like a minute ago when I was discussing response to the film? When one looks it up you find a pitiful response in favor of it. I don't know what people are expecting when they see this besides i don't know, SOMETHING FUN, but they apparently did not find the pseudo intellectual HJ they were hoping for. One would be critic claimed the ending is a "middle finger to the audience". Whoever this fella is obviously has no idea that the original film ends exactly the same way. Middle finger indeed. I feel this is a film that somehow managed to slip through the cracks for 90% of the Earth's population.
I know this is a cult movie, but I wish it were one with a far wider audience than it has as I don't feel like it gets the respect it deserves. The casting is spot on, even Louise Fletcher (if you don't know who she is, you better google it immediately) is in the mix. I should also mention a Devo related cast member for all you you spoudboys and spuddesses out there- Laraine Newman. For those not in the know, she played Donut Rooter (daughter of Rod Rooter of Big Entertainment) in a few inbetweeners on one of their video collections. Anyways Devo time over. Suffice to say the cast is awesome.
I think people really have a problem with this movie because of the childish tone of the story. In case nobody noticed, the events are all viewed through the filter of a little boy, of course it plays out halfway like a cartoon. When you are about four feet tall the world is a very different place, think back on that for a second. You can't drive a car, and adults are already weird to begin with. Everybody needs to drop the logic and get with the program here, this movie is fun period.
The moral here?
Don't take things so damn seriously all the time and enjoy life once in a while.
That includes this movie.