Horror films have always reflected -or helped to feed- the fears of each era. Looking with a historical perspective at the predominant sub-genre in each decade, we can detect an evolution in what the film industry detected -or dictated- about what was keeping society scared at each moment. This has been the case in horror films, and there is a specific story that has been repeated and versioned throughout the history of the genre: “The Body Snatchers”.
This saga has been recurrent in scary movies, but in each new version it has gradually changed its focus. This gradual evolution may lead us to think that Hollywood has been seeing socialist and communist ideas with better eyes.
“The Body Snatchers” emerged as a science fiction novel written by Jack Finney in 1955. It tells how a small town in California, Santa Mira, was invaded by seeds from outer space. These seeds secretly infected the humans and killed them during their sleep, creating a perfect clone that woke up with the same appearance, intelligence and memories, but stripped of all feeling, ambition, or individuality, becoming part of collective consciousness. Each clone lived only for five years, during which time it was dedicated to infecting its unsuspecting family, friends, or neighbors in a silent, unstoppable invasion that would eventually lead to the total extinction of humans.
A year later, in 1956, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” appeared, being the first cinematographic version of this evident allegory of communism. An external enemy that remains hidden and acts at night, among the shadows, that corrupts the minds of all those around you and in whom you trust and, in case there was any doubt, did so in five-year periods.
Directed by Don Siegel, famous for his collaborations with Clint Eastwood and considered a director of conservative political ideas, this first version takes place in a small town, where all its inhabitants know each other, and where peace is threatened by this extraterrestrial invasion that tries to destroy its humanity, its individualism and its traditional American way of life.
In this film the enemy is clearly Communism, which is considered as something evil, cruel and implacable; without ambiguity of any kind. The film ends well, when the American Army is informed of this plague and they manage to stop it.
The first remake arrives 22 years later, in 1978, with the same title and starring Donald Sutherland. On this occasion, the invaders arrive in San Francisco, and here you can see the main difference from its predecessor. It is not a traditional town with a conservative atmosphere, but it is a city with a very liberal lifestyle and progressive laws, where citizens already think and act in a progressive way.
Somehow, it is suggested that this invasion would not be so terrible or change so many things. Yes, it’s a horror movie. Yes, the invaders are still the bad guys. But it leaves in the air the question of whether it would really be something so different and negative. Besides, at the end of the film, it seems that the invasion will not be able to be stopped.
In 1993 Abel Ferrara directs the third version, “Body Snatchers”, which this time takes place within a military base. If in the first film it was the Army who saved the planet at the end of the day, in this one it is the military who help the aliens to achieve a more organized and effective invasion.
The actor R. Lee Ermey, the hated instructor of “Full Metal Jacket” (Stanley Kubrick, 1987), is used as a resource to make the viewer despise the military. If the previous film raised the question of whether the invaders were not so different from a modern society, this one implies that the American military is an equivalent or even worse threat.
When the protagonist is forced to kill her infected younger brother, it is made clear that, trying not to lose her individuality, she has ended up losing her humanity as well. The end of the film proposes that whatever you do, the invasion will inevitably succeed, so why resist?
In the last version, “The Invasion” (2007), starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, the distortion of the message is completed and it totally changes its original meaning. In this film the space fungus do not kill, but leave the guest without feelings, eliminating both love or happiness, as well as fear and aggression. A grey and apathetic, but calm society is created.
In the end, free people manage to stop the spread of the fungus and, in this case, those infected, once cured, wake up with no memory of what happened during the invasion. However, the protagonist does know what happened, and seeing that the newspaper is once again full of news about war, violence and hunger seems to miss the world that the aliens promised.
Communism according to The Body Snatchers
If the saga of “The Body Snatchers” is indeed an allegory of communism, in the 1950s it was seen as something terrible that the West had to fight against. In the seventies it came to be seen as something not so different from what the capitalist way of life offered, equating both with its good and bad things. In the film of the 1990s it is argued that by trying to defeat it, free societies have become as bad or even worse. And in the most recent, it is directly posed as something desirable and worth exploring.
The parallel with reality in terms of the evolution of general sentiment toward communist ideas is scarier than all these horror films put together.