I like to think that I’m pretty okay with scary movies. As a teenager, I remember watching Halloween and the Saw series and being relatively fine. I’m pretty alright with gore and horror and the like, but one movie I have been terrified of for many years isn’t even a horror film. It’s a comedy. It’s the 1996 cult classic, Mars Attacks!
So I decided to rewatch it properly for the first time since I was a kid, and let me tell you – this movie is chaotic evil.
Let me reiterate here – when I first watched Mars Attacks! as a kid in the late 90s (it came out in 1996, and I’m pretty sure I saw it on TV) it gave me wild nightmares and I genuinely haven’t been able to watch it since. Any time it’s on TV I have tried, but the trauma of those bastard aliens with their huge brains and “Ack! Ack! Ack!” has freaked me out too much and I have to switch it off.
Also let it be known that I had to RENT this film on my Fetch account, because for some reason it wasn’t streaming on Netflix or Stan. That’s right, I paid a whole $4.95 to revisit childhood nightmare fuel. I actively paid money to once again look at my sleep paralysis demon right in the face. Why the fuck did I do this to myself.
Anyway, because it’s literally been like 20 years since I watched this film, there’s a lot that I’ve missed. First, it’s a Tim Burton film? I mean, of course it is – that explains so fucking much – but I like pretty much everything else that Tim Burton has done. How and why did he ruin me with this one? Why do that?
The cast in this film is also incredibly stacked. Natalie Portman? Tom Jones? Jack Nicholson? Michael J Fox? Christina Applegate? Danny DeVito? Jack Black? What the fuck is going on here?
Not only that but Jack Nicholson plays two separate characters in Mars Attacks! He’s both the president of the United States AND a dodgy casino developer that looks like the main style inspiration for Joe Exotic.
For everyone that is in this film – I guess it was a Tim Burton in the mid-90s, that’s why everyone’s in it – they’re just in the most unsuspecting roles. Glenn Close is the First Lady to Nicholson’s Mr President. Natalie Portman is their daughter. Jack Black is a baby-faced Southern military kid who lives in a caravan with his family. I legit didn’t recognise him at first.
Then there are the Martians. Look, considering their first entrance into the film they literally vaporise everyone in their path and kidnap Sarah Jessica Parker and her dog, I can understand how this scared the shit out of me as a kid. That’s terrifying. Watching these cranky little skeleton-brain creeps literally razing down a crowd of people with ray guns truly is nightmare material.
But now, in 2020, the animation and CGI is just so dated and terrible that it’s just funny. There were definitely feelings of unease creeping in as soon as those gangly little pricks came onscreen but the more I watched the film the more I realised that I’m not really scared of them anymore.
Plus the whole film that unfolds from that point on is just 400 levels of absolute chaos so it doesn’t even matter what the aliens look like, everything is just so bonkers anyway. Nobody, no matter how famous you were in 1996, is immune or safe from the aliens’ weapons. Just about everyone of note dies, except for Tom Jones (who’s playing himself.)
What I do feel though, is this overwhelming understanding of how being exposed to something like Mars Attacks! – which very nearly copped an R rating if it had kept its original gnarly deaths – affected my relationship with future movies.
Maybe it’s the reason why I had bad dreams after one episode of The Simpsons that heavily featured the aliens Kang and Kodos. Maybe it was the precursor to me being absolutely petrified by Signs in my teen years.
There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that Mars Attacks! is a fucking weird-ass movie. It’s classic Tim Burton. It’s crook as all hell and the fact that I actually laughed out loud at it (possibly at SJP’s head being stitched onto a chihuahua’s body) makes me think that maybe I’m sure of it scaring me.
That fucking alien bastard is still my sleep paralysis demon, though.