Dissecting the Macabre: 1950s Horror

Hey there, Creepy Peeps! Today's Dissecting the Macabre will be a little different in comparison to the video that went up today. Basically, the next two weeks are super friggin' busy for me, so I'm cutting a bit of a corner with this post. I hope you'll understand.

That being said, this post is not totally unrelated to my video -- which you can watch above. I'm repurposing an assignment from my horror film class and posting it here, this is what I wrote for the 1950s horror section of the class, where we were discussing Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  


Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) can be interpreted as both an anti-communist and an anti-McCarthyistic film. The film’s director, Don Siegel, “was widely known to be an ardent right-winger in terms of politics” (Muir 166). On the other hand, “among those blacklisted as a commie was a left-wing novelist named Daniel Mainwaring” who wrote the screenplay (Muir 164). Furthermore, both points of view are not all that far from each other in terms of ideals as both were against an extremist ideal. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is an anti-extremist film: “Perhaps the central idea is resisting group think or the mob mentality under any guise” (Muir 167). The use of cinematographic techniques such as lighting and camera movements are elements that convey the horror of extremist society.

There is a clear distinction between night and day in Invasion. Much of the action happens at night during the film: Miles (Kevin McCarthy) and Becky (Dana Wynter) get called over to the Belicec’s at night, Miles goes to Becky’s basement at night, then the next day Teddy (Carolyn Jones), Jack (King Donovan), Miles and Becky discover the pods in Miles’ greenhouse at night leading to the night car chase. Siegel use of low-key lighting creates harsh shadows that suggest the unknown as Miles uncovers what is happening in Santa Mira. In these scenes, Miles discovers much of the authority figures of the town are now pod people, and he discovers the pods themselves and their purpose. In terms of the political climate of the United States, the uses of shadow through low-key lighting represents the unknown communists working in Hollywood or the looming threat of communism in general. Another example of this is the shadows cast on the walls throughout the film. When Miles takes Becky home, they are startled by a noise from the basement. The first thing they see is a mysterious shadow cast on the wall as the figure, reminiscent of Count Orlok in Nosferatu, climbs the stairs. The use of shadow in this scene suggests fear of the unknown and the fear that we do not know our neighbor (a fear many felt during the 1950s).


The camera movements, specifically tracking, is used in the film to suggest the invasion of the communists in society. After the pods are discovered in Miles’ greenhouse, Jack takes a pitchfork with the intention to destroy the doubles growing inside. The camera is placed very low and tracks left, we only see Jacks feet and the end of the pitchfork as he approaches each pod. This could either be seen as The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hunting down communists in Hollywood or, more generally, the American people eradicating the communist threat. Jack and Miles can both be seen form this same low angle when they are wielding the pitchfork, making them look large and menacing.

These night scenes contrast with the brightly-lit daytime scenes where one could assume nothing disturbing or scary would happen. One of the more chilling scenes happens after Becky and Miles have spent the night hiding out in Miles’ office. They watch the town acting normal and milling about in the town square, then, as soon as some outsiders get off a bus and leave the town square, the pod people quit their “normal” act and all converge in the center of town. The abrupt transition from normal citizens to pod people is startling and exemplifies how quickly a group of your peers can turn into a mob.


“The horror tale compels us to contend with a particularly violent and uncanny disruption of our unremarkable, everyday experiences, one that carries both individual and social implications” (Worland 1-2). Invasion of the Body Snatchers is the perfect example of this as Miles’ normal town of Santa Mira is disrupted by the invasion of the pod people. Siegel’s use of low-key lighting for the bulk of the middle of the film creates harsh shadows and the distortion of camera angles creates a nightmare world out of Anytown, USA. These horror elements convey they dangers of extremist thinking whether it be in terms of McCarthyism or communism.

Works Cited

Muir, John Kenneth. Horror Films FAQ: All That's Left to Know About Slashers, Vampires, Zombies, Aliens, and More. Milwaukee: Applause Theatre & Cinema, 2013. Print.

Worland, Rick. The Horror Film: An Introduction. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2007. Print.