Following the release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), science fiction narratives focused on alien visitors to Earth become more popular and prolific than they had been since the 1950s. Invasion films experienced a particular resurgence, with many films borrowing their basic narratives from the science fiction films of that earlier decade, including Strange Invaders (1983), Night of the Creeps (1986) and They Live (1988), which variously borrow from the likes of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), The Brain Eaters (1958) and Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). However, while these films owe a great deal to the golden age of sf cinema, they frequently revise its Cold War politics 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.
A distinctly 1980s sub-set of alien invasion films are concerned with aliens coming to Earth to consume humans as a food source. While this type of invasion narrative was not unique to the 1980s (its most famous antecedent is The Twilight Zone‘s ‘To Serve Man’ ), it became a particularly popular theme in that decade in films such as Without Warning (1980), The Deadly Spawn (1983), Lifeforce (1985), TerrorVision (1986), Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988), Critters (1986) and its sequel Critters: The Main Course (1988). This paper will explore the theme of extraterrestrials eating humans – thus usurping our position at the top of the food chain – as an element of the invasion narrative particularly pertinent to the Reagan era. It will explore how these films, in which human beings are reduced to little more than meat, can be considered to satirise the individualist rhetoric, greed and rampant consumption that underpinned Reagan’s America.
About the speaker
Craig Ian Mann is Associate Lecturer in Film & Media Production and Film & Television Studies at Sheffield Hallam University. His first monograph, titled Phases of the Moon: A Cultural History of the Werewolf Film, is forthcoming from Edinburgh University Press. He is broadly interested in the cultural significance of popular genre cinema, including science fiction, horror, action and the Western; his work on this subject has been published in Science Fiction Film and Television, Horror Studies and the Journal of Popular Film and Television as well as several edited collections. He is co-organiser of the Fear 2000 conference series on contemporary horror media.