Invasion Issaquah: Encounter invaders from outer space at library

September 20, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

In the early 1950s, as the long shadow of the Cold War settled across the landscape, Hollywood used invaders from outer space as a stand-in for the threat posed by communists on the other side of the planet.

The anxiety underpinned “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and other sci-fi films from the Eisenhower era, some classic, others less so. Robert Horton, film critic for The Herald in Everett and KUOW-FM in Seattle, is due to offer a presentation at the Issaquah Library on Sept. 27 about the link between such films and Cold War paranoia.

The anxieties present in 1950s sci-fi flicks show “the way that movies reflect our culture and sort of tell us about our culture, sometimes even when we’re not paying attention,” Horton said in a recent interview.

The films — identifiable by lurid posters and attention-demanding titles such as “Invaders from Mars” and “It Came from Outer Space” — carry underlying messages about the nuclear threat, McCarthyism and other postwar concerns.

“As much fun as it is to talk about the movies, the thing that I try to leave people with is the overall idea that popular culture can be telling us things about ourselves, even if it’s in a disreputable genre like science fiction or horror or whatever it is,” Horton said.

“Invasion of the Body Snatchers” — the 1956 original, not the periodic remakes — is open to interpretation as anti-communism and anti-McCarthyism, for instance.

“There’s something about the invasion from the other — whatever that other might be — that fear of being taken over,” he said.

If you go

‘Alien Encounters: Sci-Fi Movies and the Cold War Culture of the 1950s’

  • 7 p.m. Sept. 27
  • Issaquah Library
  • 10 W. Sunset Way
  • Free

On the Web

Read film critic Robert Horton’s blog, The Crop Duster, at roberthorton.wordpress.com.

Horton, a presenter for Humanities Washington, a nonprofit cultural organization, offers the “Alien Encounters: Sci-Fi Movies and the Cold War Culture of the 1950s” throughout the state. The film critic said the discussion and movie clips often foster nostalgia among attendees.

“The people who come to the shows invariably either saw the movies at drive-ins when they first came out or, like me, they grew up with them on the late show or they’re younger — in some cases, teenage — science-fiction fans who, like many science-fiction fans, are very serious about the genre and really want to know more about it, even if the movies were made long before they were born,” he said.

The long-running “Nightmare Theatre” series on KIRO-TV captured Horton’s imagination at a young age.

“I can certainly trace my interest in ’50s monster movies and alien invasion flicks back to childhood, because I was one of those people who would watch ‘Nightmare Theatre’ on Friday nights and try to stay awake for both features,” he said. “I’m sure it was incubated there in those sessions. I just love those films. They’re part of my DNA.”

Recent sci-fi flicks, original and remake alike, serve as a mirror for contemporary society, Horton added. The recent remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” traded the Cold War nuclear threat for 21st century environmental damage. Steven Spielberg’s 2005 “War of the Worlds” reboot and other recent alien-invasion flicks reflect post-9/11 insecurities.

“I don’t actually believe that aliens from outer space are going to be coming anytime soon, but you can’t help but think about how you would react to a disaster of some vast proportion, and the movies provide you with that outlet of pondering that and kind of walking through it,” Horton said.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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