(director: Stuart Orme; screenwriters: from the novel by Robert A. Heinlein/Ted Elliott/Terry Rossio/David S. Goyer; cinematographer: Clive Tickner; editor: William Goldenberg; music: Colin Towns; cast: Donald Sutherland (Andrew Nivens), Eric Thal (Sam Nivens), Julie Warner (Mary Sefton), Keith David (Alex Holland), Will Patton (Dr. Graves), Richard Belzer (Jarvis), Yaphet Kotto (Ressler), Marshall Bell (Gen. Morgan), Nicholas Cascone (Greenberg); Runtime: 109; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Ralph Winter; Hollywood Pictures; 1994)
“Lacked suspense.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Brit director Stuart Orme, in his American debut, brings Robert A. Heinlein’s exciting 1951 sci-fi book to the screen at last in this low-budget B-movie. It’s too bad that the filmmaker reduced Heinlein’s effusive original work to mediocrity, making it into a tawdry thriller that looked like a cheesy television production. It tells of aliens landing in the small-town of Ambrose, Iowa, a population of about 10,000, and taking over humans as the creepy sluglike parasites leech themselves onto people’s backs and control their bodies and minds like puppets. Top-level government agents from the secret Office of Scientific Central Intelligence, headed by gruff Andrew Nivens (Donald Sutherland), and including Andrew’s son Sam (Eric Thal) and Mary Sefton (Julie Warner), an exobiologist borrowed from NASA, visit the site of the alien flying saucer landing and quickly uncover a coverup to dispel the fact that extraterrestrials have actually landed.

The security troubleshooters attempt to crush the alien’s scheme to take over the planet and run into difficulty stopping the ever-growing widespread invasion. It leads to a daring nighttime army parachute jump into downtown Des Moines, and a lackluster pursuit of the aliens that lacked suspense. The inevitable scientific solution of how to save the world, comes as expected in the nick of time. It’s fast-paced and offers some low-rent thrills, but the special effects are below par.

The Puppet Masters Poster