The seven ages of sci-fi (part three)

As you might be aware, the latest issue of Total Film is celebrating the upcoming reimagining of The Day the Earth Stood Still, including an exclusive interview with Keanu Reeves. It’s only available for one more week (at the time of writing), so we think you ought to go to a newsagent now. If you haven't already, that is.

To tie-in, over the next seven days we’re looking back over the seven ages of cinema sci-fi.

See also:

Part One - Futureworlds (1927 - 2007)

Part Two - Nuclear paranoia (1951 - 1962)

Part Four - Inner Visions (1968 - 1984)

Part Three - The Red Menace

"They're here already! You're next! You're next!" (1953-1964)

Senator Joseph McCarthy's House of Un-American Activities Committee spent years terrorising innocent civilians as they searched for Reds under beds, seeding paranoia throughout a nation.

It didn't take long for the United States' anti-communist agenda to hit Hollywood and stories of communist infiltration started leaking into cinemas, often given an otherworldly makeover...

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

If you were an alien (read: communist) and you wanted to take over the Earth (read: America), why would you risk your flying saucers against humanity's newfangled atom bombs? Better to sneak in quietly, eh?

Why not choose a sleepy little town - say, Santa Mira, California - and slowly and surely replace its citizens with clones you've grown from special pods? Nobody will notice until it's too late…

No matter how hard director Don Siegel later protested that his movie wasn't influenced by current events, the evidence is right there on the screen: citizens absorbed into one homogenous mass, lacking humour, ambition, even humanity (read: communism).

It's truly terrifying, too. When actor Kevin McCarthy uncovers a pod containing his own half-grown clone body, it's genuinely chilling. His final warning cries of, “You''re next!” wouldn''t have sounded out of place spilling from the mouth of another McCarthy (“Are you now, or have you ever been, a pod-person?”).

Invaders from Mars (1953)

The Red Menace turns literal as this chunk of '50s cheese sees our Martian neighbours leaving their dusty scarlet home to colonise ours. When their spaceship crashes to Earth, the only witness is a little boy, David ( Jimmy Hunt), who soon discovers that all the adults around him are acting strangely.

But while the later - and far superior - Body Snatchers focused on paranoid psychology, here we get a feast of technicolour sci-fi pyrotechnics.

It Came From Outer Space (1953)

The eponymous 'It' crash-lands in Arizona and proceeds to stalk the locals with its bizarre 3-D vision. Yet again, an otherworldly invader causes innocent people to act strangely, only this time there's a twist: this peaceful alien merely wants to go home.

Sci-fi guru Ray Bradbury penned two versions of the story: the second had the aliens as bad guys. “The studio picked the right concept,” he grins.

The Blob (1958)

The Blob was the poster child for daft B-movies. You don't get more ridiculous than a red glob of jelly from outer space blubbering into cinemas and eating people... unless you consider the fact that one Steve McQueen was tasked with trying to stop it.

Well, we all have to start our careers somewhere. Most famous today for its iconic trailer-tagline ('Run, don't walk, from THE BLOB!').

Dr. Strangelove (1964)

In 1964 one Daniel Ellsberg, a consultant at the US Department of Defence, went to see Dr Strangelove at the cinema. Afterwards he turned to his colleague and observed, “That was a documentary!”

Riding the end of McCarthyism and the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Stanley Kubrick's black comedy satirised the American government and their reactionary response to communism so profoundly it's almost beyond funny... because it's true.

Also see...

  • Red Planet Mars (1952) After a communication arrives from Mars, Earth's governments are thrown into panic in this Cold War propaganda pic.
  • The War Of The Worlds (1953) Spectacular and exuberant adaptation of HG Wells' seminal alien-invasion novel. The war machines' design has yet to be bettered.
  • This Island Earth (1955) A race of apparently smart and reasonable aliens arrive seeking Earth's help to save their dying world. Don't trust them!
  • Earth Vs The Flying Saucers (1956) Despite laughable FX, this UFO-schlocker still retains a certain makeshift charm.
  • Village Of The Damned (1960) All the women in a village fall pregnant overnight and give birth to a race of spooky sprogs. Proof that us Brits were pretty paranoid, too.

Check back tomorrow for more sci-fi

The Total Film team are made up of the finest minds in all of film journalism. They are: Editor Jane Crowther, Deputy Editor Matt Maytum, Reviews Ed Matthew Leyland, News Editor Jordan Farley, and Online Editor Emily Murray. Expect exclusive news, reviews, features, and more from the team behind the smarter movie magazine.