In the late 80s, CBS brought a new version of HG Wells’ classic alien invasion tale to the small screen. Set over three decades after the 1953 film version, this take on War of the Worlds starts with the revelation that the aliens weren’t killed by the microscopic bacteria, but merely placed into a forced hibernation. In a pleasing nod to Return of the Living Dead, the aliens are held in tiny drums until a terrorist cell attempts to take over a military satellite to broadcast their demands and inadvertently end up releasing some of the extra-terrestrials.
The aliens have a adopted new tactic: rather than straightforward annihilation of the human race, they are now able to take over human bodies – à la Invasion of the Body Snatchers – but find that they decompose quickly from radiation. When an attempt to liberate three remaining ships held in storage fails, three aliens (called the Advocacy) are left to contact their own world and begin a fresh invasion. A small band of scientists and military personnel, led by Dr Harrison Blackwood (Martin), whose parents were killed in the 1953 invasion, are the first line of resistance and defence.
Considering that this was a television series, there’s an impressive level of gore, with eye-gouging, melting bodies and enough violence to put The A-Team to shame. That these levels were achieved in spite of a meagre budget and the special effects abilities of the time makes it even more impressive. The acting is, mostly, purely diabolical and at times hilariously bad but this is perfect 80s cheese and the whole package becomes endearing. There are numerous winks to genre fans, with the production pilfering from other successful franchises – an alien trapped in a human body called Quinn whose character sounds decidedly like Willie from V and the Advocacy looking a lot like the zombies in Night of the Comet and Night of the Creeps, just being a couple of examples.
The only major downside to the package is that the episodes are only available in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, rather than the widescreen productions that we are used to today – but then be thankful that they weren’t panned and scanned. Extras are pretty much non-existent, with only episode synopses available. This is not an opportunity to relive classic horror genre television, but more a chance to embrace a time of excess where syndicated programmes like this were rare and given little time to grow. If you missed it when it was first broadcast, or even if you did manage to view any of the episodes, there’s enough of interest here to whet your appetites. Just don’t go expecting anything on the same level as The Walking Dead. Sit back, grab a six-pack and enjoy.