During the Cold War, invasion came to be a dominant theme in film. The invasion narrative has always been popular (War of the Worlds, Mars Attacks!, Transformers), and has portrayed a wide variety of invaders; human, alien, robot, and monster. Invasion narratives promote an “us vs them” mentality. The threat of “them” in an invasion is the most concrete way to portray a fear of a people; a kind of xenophobia. By physically invading a people, or place, the invader is challenging the everyday workings of that society. One aspect of the invasion narrative that is extremely prevalent, to this day, is small town invasions.
An invasion narrative that takes place in a small town makes the invader seem doubly evil because they are not clashing with military, or government forces, but with the family, and community. Small town invasion narratives often show the invader as hardened warriors with no compassion for the people or their values. This is a more effective way to stir up pathos for the people being invaded.
The small town invasion films came to be extremely popular during the Cold War. Sometimes the invaders in these films are a direct representation of the west’s fears, communists (Red Dawn), or the invaders are science fictional (Independence Day, Invasion of the Body Snatchers). What the invaders have in common, supernatural or not, is that they challenge the American way of life, usually the suburban or small town family life. Through the invasion style apocalypse narrative, the threat of communism was brought to the everyman. The Cold War was being waged through a nuclear arms race, or on distant shores, so these narratives give the everyman a chance to take a starring role, and help to defend the United States, and more importantly, the American way of life.
Milius, John, dir. Red Dawn. Metrocolor, 1984.