*. This remake of the cultish classic 1953 film of the same title divided a lot of people when it came out. I think that’s probably as it should have been, as the original version was a weird movie that opinions are still split on today. I would have been disappointed if they’d just played it safe.
*. No movie made in the ’80s was going to be able to duplicate the dream-like weirdness of the 1953 version, but at least in the early going here I thought this one did a good job, having a unique feel of its own while being studded with references and in-jokes tying it back to the original. The best of these has the actor Jimmy Hunt, who played David in the original, back as one of the two cops who go to investigate the crash site the morning after. As he walks the hill he says “Gee, I haven’t been up here since I was a kid.” There are a few other cute parts like this. But what the alien head in the glass bubble was doing in the school’s basement is beyond me.
*. I like almost all the players. Hunter Carson (Karen Black’s son) does well in the part of David. He played the kid in Paris, Texas and (trivia alert) the original Bud Bundy in the pilot for Married . . . with Children (which I don’t think ever aired). I see from his filmography that he’s kept working, but I don’t think I’ve caught him in anything since this.
*. Timothy Bottoms is great as a dad whose concern would be off-putting even if he weren’t being controlled from the mother ship. Karen Black is the woman who is just too humanly weird to ever be duplicated by an alien. It’s Louise Fletcher though who steals the show as the possessed and obsessed teacher who is going to get her hands on “David Gardner” if it’s the last thing she does. About the only casting decision I wasn’t totally on board with was James Karen as the general. He’s jut too obviously comic and loopy.
*. Directed by Tobe Hooper, who was coming off of Lifeforce, a really good movie that bombed for Cannon. This movie would bomb as well, and Goland and Globus apparently hated it and thought Hooper had misled them. Hooper seems to have been one of those guys who had a hard time catching a break after his initial success with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Which is a shame, because he had real talent.
*. The creature effects were by Stan Winston and I think they’re wonderful. The monsters are likened in the script to Mr. Potato Heads, and I really liked seeing creatures that looked realistic, a bit different, and that weren’t CGI. The head alien looks a bit like the belly-mutant in Total Recall, but that movie came later so you have to give Winston credit here as well.
*. But like I say, it divided people. Those who hated it, really hated it. I liked it though. At least the first half is very good. The back end turns into more of a routine action flick and I’ll admit that’s where I lost a lot of interest. The first part of the movie does a great job balancing creepiness and humour, but they give up on that at the end as well.
*. They do, however, keep the bizarre dream-within-a-dream twist from the original, though it doesn’t have the same punch. Because we’d been here before and knew what was coming? Maybe. It just felt too pat this time around.
*. Part of the weirdness may relate to the target audience. Winston was working on Aliens at the same time, which had a lot more violence and bad language but which still appealed to kids. Put another way, this is a family film, in a genre where I think everyone (including kids) would have been expecting something a little stronger. As it is they just have to make do with Louise Fletcher eating a frog.