Old Horror Movies: The War of the Worlds
Being a big fan of horror films, combined with having plenty of time on my hands, (as a recent graduate!) and my amazing superhuman ability to stay awake until 6am, analysing the good ol’ horrors seems like a perfect plan.
The first of this series of blog posts will focus on the 1953 adaptation of H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds. How can I call myself a horror fan, particularly of sci-fi horror, if I had never seen H. G. Wells’s mutant take-over? I was certainly ashamed of myself, but as of now, I can face the world of horror with my head held high… (for the time being).
The War of the Worlds was published in 1898 and tells the remarkable tale of a strange, alien force landing in Surrey, southwest London. The most striking part of this novel is how Wells imagined the appearance of the Martians:
‘I presently saw something stirring within the shadow: greyish billowy movements, one above another, and then two luminous disks–like eyes. Then something resembling a little grey snake, about the thickness of a walking stick, coiled up out of the writhing middle, and wriggled in the air towards me–and then another.’ – Wells, Chapter 4, The War of the Worlds
For me, Wells is clearly signposting Freudian theories, with his phallic-like Martians ‘coiled up’ as a child in the womb, grey instead of stereotypical green, ‘writhing’ as a new-born snake getting ready to feed. I wouldn’t like to see one of these down a dark alley, that’s for sure!
Ahead of its time for the early 50s, the film adaptation was a big success, though didn’t have audience viewers running to pack their bags as the radio version. Of course, watching the film in 2011 is certainly an experience in itself; embodying laughter instead of fear, The War of the Worlds, is now shown for comedic effect, in the middle of the day, on Film4.
Though the special effects are dated, and the wires holding up the martian hovercrafts are clearly evident, the film adaptation holds its own. With the exception of the hysterical Ann Robinson (the weakest link came later for her… *wink, wink*), playing Sylvia, actor Gene Barry is fantastic as the screwed-on miracle man Dr. Forrester. Often giving glances of pure desperation in his strange madness towards the film’s finale, he manages to survive a full night sprinting through the city of destruction – how he doesn’t get laser-beamed by the hovercrafts completely astounds me! But of course, the protagonist never dies in Hollywood. Instead, the protagonist has nine lives, like our Bruce in the Die Hard series.
So, did this old horror movie best its 2005 brother War of the Worlds?
Certainly. I could laugh over and over again at that martian-screaming, big-lipped, Mick Jagger look-a-like any day.
The War of the Worlds is a timeless classic, providing a laughs-a-lot service for contemporary audiences, but a considerably wonderful sci-fi horror for the generations of the past.