The other day I got lucky at a public library sale. For a buck apiece I bought VHS copies of a couple of science fiction classics, It Came From Outer Space and Invaders From Mars. As a kid I didn't understand paranoia, but when I saw these movies I understood the basic and raw feelings of the characters. They are trying to explain the unexplainable to others and are disbelieved; they are watching as loved ones are replaced by alien creatures that look like them. To me, this was the recipe for nightmares.
I have plenty of experience with paranoia, in others and in myself. These movies said about my darkest fears what I couldn't have said when I was a kid: That I'd wake up one morning and no one would be the same; no one would feel the same way about me, and I would be cast adrift in an emotional, as well as physical, sense. Children have a root fear of being abandoned, and these movies reach into the primal, deep-down stuff we don't like to think about.
In Invaders From Mars the main character is a boy who sees a flying saucer land on a hill behind his house, then burrow into the ground, unseen. The adults who go to investigate return changed. They have been turned into zombies by the titular invaders. The boy can't make anyone believe him; his fears are from his imagination, from comic books, or television or science fiction movies, according to the very adults who are changing right before him into something alien. Brrrr. What a thing for a kid to have to go through. To a child who depends on adults for everything, his very survival, this is heady stuff. As an adult I can watch this movie and its point-of-view of the young boy, the staginess of the sets, filmed on a backlot somewhere in Hollywood, and understand the craft of constructing a nightmare. The sets are fake-looking, crudely constructed, but that adds to the overall surrealistic atmosphere. Anyone who remembers the movie knows that the "invasion" is a dream. But as the boy awakens it has turned out to be a prophetic dream. The events begin to unfold again. His paranoia has turned real.It Came From Outer Space is a movie I saw in the 1950s in its original 3-D presentation. The sets in many cases are just as phony as Invaders From Mars, showing its low budget origins. The dialogue is written not as people speak, but as actors reading lines which don't sound like human conversation. That also adds to the atmosphere of unreality that the whole theme speaks to. In the story the aliens are making themselves look like humans, although the human beings they are replacing are still alive. The "real" humans are being used as slaves to rebuild the crashed alien vessel. Although the aliens are out to do no harm to humans--even trying to spare people the horrifying sight of them in their monstrous inhuman form--the idea of someone, a double, walking around imitating you is unnerving. Anyone who ever heard the phrase, "I found out I didn't really know this person," will recognize that in the movie. Because of its 3-D presentation, It Came From Outer Space depends a lot on gimmicks while telling its story, but on its basic level it tells a paranoid story of being out of control of your own destiny, a slave laborer, while the rest of the world remains unaware of your plight. The movie was released just nine years after the end of World War II, where millions of people disappeared into slave labor camps. The movie also seems to be at least partially the basis for the very paranoid paperback original novel, Night Slaves by Jerry Sohl.
I don't own this movie, but the most paranoid movie of all is probably Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, which is often cited as a reaction to the Cold War. That could be read into it, but after seeing it a few times over the past 50 years I see it as more of that gut-level fear of not really knowing someone, the fear of being misunderstood, or even ignored. As the heroes rush around trying to warn the populace the general consensus is that the alarm bringers are nuts. That's the way it would be in real life, too. If you ran up to someone claiming that alien seed pods were replacing human beings they'd laugh and you'd be sent for evaluation by mental health professionals.
The fantasy of paranoia is replaced by the reality. The movies are scary and fun but they are just movies. There are a lot of people who truly believe that there is a mysterious and hidden world out there trying to take control. They might even feel the control over them has already been accomplished. You don't need Hollywood or some low-budget movie to tell you that you are surrounded by people or a government manipulating you, your thoughts, your actions. You don't need aliens from outer space out to get you, because everyone around you, even loved ones, are conspiring against you. People disbelieving you or telling you it's your imagination? Forget it. They're just all in on the plot against you.
Ciao for now.