Whether by design or the result of over-analyzation, these sci-fi creatures were cited as physical manifestations of communism’s “evil empire” during the Cold War.
1. A Flesh-Eating Mass in The Blob (1958)
Quick Synopsis: An amorphous, crimson monster that gets bigger with every human victim it absorbs besieges rural Pennsylvania. The movie also gives us the jazziest theme song in sci-fi history.
The Communist Subtext: With a villain that’s literally beet-red, many viewers assumed that The Blob was a b-grade commentary on the growing Sino-Soviet “red menace." Producer Jack Harris later denounced these interpretations as “hogwash.” “Then again,” he conceded, “maybe that’s why it never played in Russia.”
2. A Grotesque Shape-Shifter in John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)
Quick Synopsis: A team of scientists stationed in the Antarctic wasteland inadvertently attract a recently-thawed alien parasite that infects and overtakes every living thing it comes across, copying its prey down to the very skin cells.
The Communist Subtext: “[Communists], like victims of the Thing,” wrote Roger Ebert of the story’s political themes in an early review, “looked, sounded, and acted like your best friend, but they were infected with a deadly secret.”
3. A City-Stomping Insect in The Deadly Mantis (1957)
Quick Synopsis: A 400-foot praying mantis attacks the eastern seaboard—and even scales the Washington Monument! Naturally, Mystery Science Theater 3000 couldn’t resist making fun of this one in 1997:
The Communist Subtext: Critic Melvin E. Matthews Jr. believes that the flying beast symbolically stands in for “enemy bombers in the skies above America.” Moreover, he argues that The Deadly Mantis was heavily influenced by a series of Ground Observer Corps pamphlets which predicted an imminent Soviet aerial strike on U.S. soil.
4. Giant, Extraterrestrial Pods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Quick Synopsis: Who’s human and who’s an impostor? When pods from beyond the stars land in a small California town, they begin replacing every man, woman, and child in the neighborhood with an emotionless duplicate. Can our brave heroes stop the epidemic, or does this mean the end of the world as we know it?
The Communist Subtext: Like The Thing, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is often credited with touting a paranoid, anti-Marxist message. Despite this, longtime producer Walter Mirsh was well-acquainted with the project’s creators and claims that none of them had a political axe to grind or intended it as “anything other than a thriller, pure and simple.”
5. Imperialist Aliens in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)
Quick Synopsis: With a fleet of heavily-armed vessels at their command (impressively animated by the late Ray Harryhausen), a race of malevolent spacemen sets out to conquer our planet.
The Communist Subtext: Alien invasion pictures enjoyed a golden era during the fifties, with The War of the Worlds (1953) leading the way. Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, like many of its brethren, pounced on the concept of totalitarian occupation to strike a chord with American moviegoers (one scene even shows a UFO smashing through the Capitol building).
6. Minivan-Sized Ants in Them! (1954)
Quick Synopsis: Nuclear testing in rural New Mexico unleashes a colony of massive, radioactive ants which leave nothing but a trail of destruction and corpses in their wake. The armed forces are called in to destroy this new invertebrate menace before it spreads all the way into the sewers of Los Angeles.
The Communist Subtext: Warner Brothers’ press agents smelled a way to capitalize on anti-Russian hysteria and promote their movie in one star-spangled swoop. The plan was simple: Real-life military agencies would be invited to put recruiting booths in movie theater lobbies nationwide. Once there, they’d be given signs which read, “What would you do if (name of city) were attacked by Them?! Prepare for any danger by enlisting in Civil Defense today!” Eventually, however, this idea was scrapped.
7. Murderous Plants in The Day of the Triffids (1962)
Quick Synopsis: A plague of epidemic blindness descends upon the Earth just as hordes of poison-spewing plants known as “Triffids” begin crawling across Europe.
The Communist Subtext: The gritty, post-apocalyptic tone invites obvious comparisons to nuclear warfare. The Day of the Triffids was inspired by a book of the same name written by novelist John Wyndham in 1951. Though neither version fully explains where these botanical anomalies came from, in Wyndham’s original page-turner it’s revealed that they were bred by the Soviet Union for reasons unknown. As for the movie, it was written (ironically) by a former communist party member named Bernard Gordon, who’d been blacklisted for his views during Senator Joseph McCarthy’s notorious “witch hunt” a few years earlier.
BONUS: Kim Jong-il’s “Communist Godzilla Movie”
North Korea’s previous dictator also fancied himself a film buff extraordinaire (unsurprisingly, he was also the country’s “number one movie critic”). In fact, the man directly produced several pictures during his rule, including a little gem dubbed Pulgasari (1985). The movie stars an overgrown reptile that rises from the ocean and lays waste to large cities. Sound familiar? Some of the Japanese special effects artists who’d worked on The Return of Godzilla (1984) were brought in to help King Jong-il complete his cinematic vision. A violent brute who greedily devours precious resources, the Pulgasari monster was intended to represent the horrors of capitalism gone haywire.