Forget “Carrie.” Forget “The Exorcist.” Forget “Silence of the Lambs.” The scariest movie of all time is the 1953 version of “The War of the Worlds!” Well, at least that’s the case if you’re a little kid growing up in the 1970s. This film scared the you-know-what out of me as a child, and since Halloween is here again, I thought this would be a good time to revisit the Martian invasion. Again, I’ll try not to give away the complete story. I’ll just give you enough to get you interested and let you know why I love this film.
The movie begins menacingly, with a look at the other planets in our solar system (this was back in the days when Pluto was officially a planet and Uranus had the embarrassing pronunciation). The Martians determine that Earth would be the best world to colonize, and so begins their complicated invasion. You see, rather than just arrive and start shooting people immediately, their spaceships arrive disguised as meteors. Since everyone generally knows what a meteor is, nobody suspects anything too unusual. . .until the spaceships come creeping out of the meteors.
And when the machines creep out, they kind of look like a street light. . .they kind of look like the street lights next to my house! AAAAA!!! For a while, I was creeped out by those street lights, since they reminded me of the Martian spacecraft. All I had to do was look at them and imagine the hissing noise of the spaceships, and I was gone.
Anyway, the Martians come crawling out, and the first people to see them try to be friends with them. But it doesn’t quite work. The Martians blast them to dust with the now familiar sound of their ray. (Incidentally, the sound effects from this movie are ingrained into my memory forever!) Then they (somehow) cut off all electricity and communication lines as their spacecraft begin flying across the countryside destroying everything that might be a threat. More meteors land, and the true war begins. The special effects are still pretty special, even in this age of computer graphics.
But not everyone is quick to fight. Someone asks, “Shouldn’t you try to communicate with them first, then shoot later if you have to?” What sounds like a reasonable idea is swiftly ignored, and so this person has to take matters into his own hands - in one of the most dramatic and touching moments of the movie.
Conventional weapons seem to have no effect on the Martian spacecraft. Ah, but what about atomic weapons? Surely they will save us! Everybody knows that nothing can withstand atomic weapons! Right? Right? As we shall see, mankind doesn’t know everything. Incidentally, the footage that you see of the “Flying Wing” in this movie is some of the only footage of that particular aircraft that is known to exist. And that voice. . .yes, it’s Paul Frees! The vocal artist who helped make the Disneyland attractions so memorable has a brief role in the movie. (Frees narrated the original “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” and the “Adventure through Inner Space” rides. He also voiced a few pirates in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride).
As in the Star Wars films, the romance factor is actually an important part of the story. As they flee the Martians, Dr. Forrester and Sylvia fall in love. But they never kiss each other in the film. Their love is demonstrated in other ways through the plot. The scene where they meet up together near the end is very moving. It’s a great example of romance without being “mushy”. Although I like the Tom Cruise version as well, the romance factor is missing from that version. (In that version, a different kind of love is promoted - family love).
Anyway, Dr. Forrester and Sylvia hide in this abandoned house, see, and the aliens land right outside the house, and . . .AAAAA!!! Creepy, snake-like Martian machines come crawling in, followed by creepy Martians! It’s hard to convey just how scary this is to a little kid. But just imagine if you were in a house at night and you happened to peek out the window and see a Martian running across your lawn! And then, to feel a hand reach up and touch you on the shoulder. . . After this movie, nearly all of the evil things that go bump in the night that I could imagine looked something like the Martians.
Then the black car comes driving slowly down the street. “Everyone, please listen. The Martians are coming this way! Take food and water with you.” The evacuation of the cities adds to the feeling of helplessness. And the fear that it could actually happen.
Some have said that the movie’s (and book’s) ending is a “cop-out.” But it isn’t really. If you watch the movie carefully, you begin to see that one of the points of the film was to say that little things that seem unimportant and not powerful are actually very important and powerful. Trying to communicate before going to war. Picking up a ball that a little girl has dropped. A square dance. Fried eggs. Horses. Flocks of birds. All these little things appear briefly in the movie, and they’re all important in their own way. It may seem like prayer is a last resort for dealing with such a menacing foe. But it was the little things that destroyed the Martians.
The film is a rare and wonderful example of a scary film with a good message. The modern horror films don’t seem to have any point other than to scare and/or disgust. This movie has a point about hope. Corny as it sounds, it has a very real meaning for mankind. It conveys that we shall overcome, even if we don’t seem to be overcoming. It conveys that when our cause is just, we will succeed. Good message, moving story, great production. . .hey, this is a wonderful movie. Whether you get scared or not.
“War of the Worlds” is available on DVD and VHS. It also occasionally shows up on television. Please “watch the skies” and keep your eyes open for it. The Wikipedia article below contains some more information:
Now let’s talk about some REAL scary things, like the wildfires here in Southern California. I was delighted to hear from a few people asking if my family was okay during the recent wildfires. Thankfully, everything is OK in my world. Thanks to the special folk who took time to ask! I definitely appreciate you & I hope all of this comes to an end quickly.
While driving home with a friend one evening recently (we don’t often get to carpool, but hey, we do what we can), a person ran across the street right in front of us. It made me realize the “true horrors” of Halloween. Martians? No. A vampire? No. Stupid people crossing the street right in front of a moving car? Yep. Please be careful out there, folks. And not just on Halloween.