Mind Blowing Movies: Invaders from Mars (1953), by Douglas Rushkoff

Mm200This week, Boing Boing is presenting a series of essays about movies that have had a profound effect on our invited essayists. See all the essays in the Mind Blowing Movies series here. -- Mark

Mind Blowing Movies: Invaders from Mars (1953), by Douglas Rushkoff

[Video Link] The first film that blew my mind was Invaders from Mars -- the 1953 version. I was 6 when I saw it, in a motel in Phoenix (my first motel stay) with my family on the way to the Grand Canyon. There was a metal box on the nightstand, and if you put a quarter in, the bed would vibrate for ten minutes.

And on that vibrating bed, with my brother and father, I watched this movie about a kid whose dad changes into this other guy who looks the same but is actually a bad man. And no one believes the kid. And I totally knew what the kid felt like. And he does everything right -- even going to police when the stakes get high enough, but by then the chief of police has been turned into one of these alien people, too.

It ended with the kid seeing the head alien octopus creature in a glass bubble, but even though that was supposed to be scary I saw it as vindication. There really was an alien invasion, and it was captured on film. (My sense of reality watching TV hadn't been fully formed, yet.)

And from then on, whenever my dad was mean I'd check the back of his neck to see if he had been changed.


  1. As I recall, there were different endings for this movie.  One included the boy waking up only to spot the Martian ship landing for real (which they used for that horrible remake)

    1. Yeah, it was the UK ending that was more grim. A trend, I hear, in 60-70’s UK sci-fi. See “Quatermass and the Pit,” or “Village of the Damned” for more pessimistic storylines in the same vein.

  2. That movie scared the shizzle out of me when I was a kid. I sneaked a furtive look at the back of my parents’ necks for days afterwards, terrified that I’d see a little round mark. What blew my mind was that one by one, the people the boy trusted most including the authority figures who should have protected him were turned into aliens, a pretty scary thought for a kid. The ending was pure nightmare, when he looks out his window and sees the alien ship landing. Yep, that movie did it for me, too.

  3. With so many mindblowing movies being listed so frequently on BB, at what point does it become more interesting to post about non-mindblowing movies?

  4. One of my most favorite movies as a kid. I remember the martians ran like they had shit in their pants!

  5. It was the quicksandily thereminny stuff which did for me. And the underfoot rug removal as – one by one – the people you trust become turncoats. It also kind of undermines those warnings you’re given against accepting gifts from strangers, since you can’t even trust your ain folk.

  6. I’ve never seen this one, but this is still a good policy:

    check the back of his neck to see if he had been changed.

  7. Pretty good stunt work by the kid when he takes that backhand in the face from his dad.  

    He’s going down just a hair too soon but that shot freaked me out more than the soldier getting sucked into the sand.

  8. I was a teen when I saw Invaders from Mars, so it wasn’t terrifying . . . but it was still creepy. There was a wonderful dream-like air to it.

    One shot stands out. A little neighbor girl gets “turned,” and starts a fire. It might have been her own house, I forget. But I remember this LOOK on her face, the most amazing evil smirk, when she is asked if she knows anything about the fire.

    Trivia: The wall of boiling bubble-like stuff was made of inflated condoms.

  9. Alright already! I’ll watch it.

    Trivia: The wall of boiling bubble-like stuff was made of inflated condoms.

  10. I wasn’t allowed to watch scary movies of any sort when I was a kid.  No Outer Limits, no Twilight Zone — not even Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein.  To this day I recall peeking into the living room from the stairs, watching a movie in which people had marks on the back of their necks (barbed wire was given as an excuse at some point?) and there was an underground room with warty surfaces.  It scared the hell out of me and gave me bad dreams, which I couldn’t run to my mother with since I’d been watching something I shouldn’t have. I think that is one of the very few times I ever thought my mother just might be correct about one of her rules.  At least now I know what the movie is, and I can FINALLY watch all of it, more years than I’ll admit to later.

  11. I’ve got the horror story to beat everyone re this film. At 5 y/o my parents had just been in LSD tests with some MK-Ultra related doctors and in my mom’s case she was turned loose to wander L.A. and never recovered–she was in her room crying much of my childhood and remained pretty stressed out constantly while ignoring us–so we were glued to Outer Limits & the Twilight Zone every day, along with seeing this movie.

    But around the same time, one night my brother told me to wake our parents and come in the living room (they were out stone cold) and look across the canyon.

    Above the house of my best friend, whose dad Gene Barry had recently starred in War of the Worlds, was a UFO the size of a full moon, except it rose up, hovered a few minutes and then disappeared behind the hill.

    So when my parent’s behavior had dramatically changed and I saw this movie, I suppose another conspiracy theorist was made for life. And for some odd reason my friend seemed to fade out of my life at that point too.

    Still trying to comprehend if this was all a synchronistic accident or a contrived experiment…

    1. and the Tavistok institute might really be manipulating popular culture to manufacture mindless consumer zombies.
      Man! I want to believe but…. Names!
      Name and shame these damn Doctors. The whole first (truly modern) generation of attempts at mind control seem to be like attempts at micro-surgery with a chainsaw. The damage they did to some people was indefensible and as much as the history is maligned in relatively mainstream sources we are still left with stuff like Scientology and advertising, Pop and Paul is Dead.

  12. The 1950s version of Invaders from Mars was THE scariest movie I had ever seen. In Los Angeles we had the Million Dollar Movie where they showed the same film every night for a week. And, of course, I watched it every night. I was so scared at the end of the week I couldn’t go to sleep. I never walked through a vacant lot again without looking at my feet to make sure the ground didn’t suddenly open up. Years later, I made a photograph about it. 

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