While stargazing one night, little David MacLean (Jimmy Hunt) witnesses a glowing, green flying saucer land in the fields behind his house. His scientist father ventures out to investigate, but when he doesn't return, David fears the worst. His suspicions are confirmed when his father shows up later that morning, a changed man - and with a mysterious wound on the back of his neck...
This archetypal, paranoid, alien invasion movie of the 1950s was written by Richard Blake, and directed by celebrated art designer William Cameron Menzies, one of a handful of odd, low budget films he directed during his career. It is obviously aimed at the kids of the time, with its juvenile hero who has trouble making adults believe that aliens are taking over the bodies of important people to sabotage Earth's space race, but actually has appeal to sci-fi fans of all ages.
Menzies also handled production design duties on Invaders from Mars, and his simple sets give a dreamlike quality to the film - look at the police station, which consists of a long, white corridor, an stark office and a jail cell. The nightmarish atmosphere is heightened by having authority figures, notably the boy's parents, turned into gruff, malevolent saboteurs; even a little girl victim burns down her own home. We know when characters have been taken over because we are treated to sinister closeups of their unfriendly faces.
The 1950s love of technology is there, but only if it's in the right hands, i.e. not in the hands of the Communists, er, I mean, Martians. Military hardware is fetishised with much stock footage of tanks and missile launchers as America rouses itself into action against its attackers - the aliens want to stop us Earthlings getting into space and taking over, you see (this situation is imminent, according to the film).
David gets surrogate parents in the shape of a kindly doctor (Helena Carter) and a helpful astronomer (Arthur Franz) while his own mother and father are under the influence, but there's a reassuring ending where everything returns to normal... or does it? Depends which version you see. The 1980s remake had a bigger budget, but none of the hallucinatory power of the original. Music, including a creepy, discordant choir whenever victims are sucked beneath the ground, is by Raoul Kraushaar.