The alien invasion narrative was, of course, one of the defining modes of science fiction cinema in the 1950s. From early examples such as The Thing from Another World (1951) and The Man from Planet X (1951) through to Invisible Invaders (1959) and Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), America spent an entire decade obsessed with extraterrestrial invaders from worlds beyond our own. Archetypal readings of these films have linked them decisively with Cold War tensions between the United States and Soviet Russia, and particularly with the dual threats of communist infiltration and nuclear annihilation. But as Dwight D. Eisenhower's presidency came to an end and John F. Kennedy took office, the nation's appetite for interstellar marauders dwindled in the early 1960s, and the alien invasion narrative did not experience a popular resurgence for nearly twenty years. It was only under the presidency of Ronald Reagan between 1981 and 1989 that America once again became obsessed with extraterrestrial invaders. Perhaps this is not surprising; a back-to-basics conservative, Reagan sought to erase the social progress of the 1960s and 1970s and reignite the Cold War (or, in other words, take America back to the 1950s).
And, importantly, the new cycle of alien invasion films that proliferated during his presidency borrowed heavily from the golden age of science fiction cinema. This is especially true in the case of direct remakes such as The Thing (1982) and Invaders from Mars (1986), but the likes of Strange Invaders (1983), Night of the Creeps (1986) and They Live (1988) also borrow variously from Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), It Conquered the World (1956) and The Brain Eaters (1958) amongst others. However, they frequently revise the Cold War politics of their predecessors for the Reagan era. In They Live's take on the Body Snatchers narrative, for example, infiltrating aliens no longer stand in for communists but capitalists: its extraterrestrials are interstellar yuppies who silently brainwash the inhabitants of other planets with subliminal messages encouraging obedience and consumption. This seminar will explore the social, cultural and political significance of the Reagan era's invasion cycle, and will pay particular attention to the ways in which they might be seen to support or subvert New Right politics.