Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Top Ten Horror Movies of the 1950s

Top Ten Horror Flicks of the Fifties

Going back to the fifties, it becomes harder to find a distinct line between horror and sci-fi. In this era, the byproducts of science had become the most horrific things imaginable (check out Radiation Cinema for more on that). The nuclear era was in full swing, and the public knew little about what kind of effects this could really have on them. So, we get pictures with shrinking people and giant ants. This being the case, I'm really not going to make any attempt to exclude films that may be more sci-fi/horror than they are horror/sci-fi. It's really easier this way.

And, full disclosure (just so I don't get lynched), I've never seen Diabolique or Eyes Without a Face. But I will.

10. House of Wax (1953) - What's that? A 3D remake of Michael Curtiz's Mystey of the Wax Museum starring Vincent Price? Mark me down. If you liked the earlier Curtiz effort, then you'll enjoy this somewhat campier, but more energetic and creative remake. It's the story of a horribly disfigured man who takes out his agression on his victim, subsoquently dipping their dead bodies into wax and putting them on display at his wax mueseum. From that description alone, you have to give the film cool points. Add the fact that the evil caretaker of this museum is none other than the late, great Vincent Price and I think we've got a winner on our hands.

9. Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953) - Setting a prescedent for what would in later years become an absolute staple in the horror world, the horror-comedy, the Abbot and Costello "Meet" films were a necessary smirk on the face of horror film. It seems that horror goes through cycles. When the Universal Monster pictures were first released, they were shockingly scary pictures that frightened every movie goer who braved them. But by the late forties and early fifties, those same Universal Monsters had been pretty much played out as Universal cashed in on as many spinoffs and sequels as they could. By that point, the only thing left to do with them was to play them for laughs. The same is true for most horror franchises that carry on a little passed their prime. Think about Freddy's Dead and Jason X or Leprechaun in tha Hood. Yeah, it's still happening. Going back to the film in question, the "Meet Jekyll and Hyde" is the best of the pictures that they made. Go back and watch it, it's a riot.

8. The Tingler (1959) - It's hard not to admire William Castle. The man was the PT Barnum of the film world, giving his sometimes lackluster films extra cache by incorporating great gimmicks into the screenings. For The Tingler, Castle had theater attendants wire their seats with joy buzzer type devices that would administaor a small shock during certain pivotal scenes. Fascinating! On top of all that, the movie itself ain't half bad either! Vincent Price, at his campiest, plays Dr. Chapin, a doctor who unwittingly unleashes a slug-like creature that is formed from...fear. That's right, it's hokey, but undoubtedly one of the most fun creature features you're likely to see.

7. Horror of Dracula (1958) - You knew there had to be at least some Hammer Horror make its way onto the list, and what better picture than 1958's Horror of Dracula? Known simply as Dracula in its native Britain, the picture stars, you guessed it, Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, and Christopher Lee as Dracula himself. We're lucky that Hammer was still around to remind us that gothic horror could still be really excellent, even while Hollywood was busy tackling new foes. Perhaps the best cinematic telling of the Dracula story, Horror of Dracula gives us just the right amount of horror, eroticism, action, and humor.


6. The Thing From Another World (1951) - Later on, this picture would be completely restructured as (and bested by) John Carpenter's The Thing. But even though the "remake" is superior, doesn't mean that the original isn't a wonderful little scientists in the arctic unwittingly thaw out a blood thirsty alien that has been frozen in the ice. From there, you can imagine what kind of bedlam breaks loose. If you've only seen Carpenter's version, you'll be surprised to find out that the Thing in this picture is a humanoid (James Arness, no less!) and that the strong sense of paranoia is all but nonexistent. Even still, the film is a tight little exercise in tension and fear of the unknown. I would really recommend that you get your hands on a copy of this Howard Hawks produced (and, perhaps partially directed) gem.

5. The Blob (1958) - Starring a young Steve McQueen, The Blob is an oft under appreciated little gem about a gelatinous, all devouring creature from outer space run amok in small town America! The film plays out like a lot of films from the fifties, there's a group of teenagers that become privy to the alien's existence, but nobody believes them until things start to get pretty hairy. Actually, I guess that's still the trope for a lot of modern horror flicks as well. If ain't brok I guess...anyway, even though the story sounds pretty stock, it's exceptionally well made (especially for a non-major studio film in the fifties!) and actually still holds up well today.

4. Them! (1954) - Giant insect movies were a staple of the fifties sci-fi/horror genre, but none were better than 1954's Them!. The story is simple, a group of investigators and scientsits come upon a group of giant, radiated, killer ants! From there, the army gets involved and eventually everything works itself out (though, not without a few casualties). Like I said, a simple story but one told deftly and shot skillfully enough to clearly set it apart from a lot of the other, often rushed and hackneyed, giant insect flicks of the same era. Check it out if you're a fan.

3. House on Haunted Hill (1959) - An absolute horror classic, House on Haunted Hill sets up a trope that would be used in horror films for a long time. The idea of gathering a group of people together and having them stay a night in a haunted house has been used over and over again throughout the years. Sometimes its pride that's at stake, in the case of House on Haunted Hill, it's a cash prize that lures the victims into the house. Vincent Price, in the role he was born to play, delivers the goods as the creepy-as-hell Frederick Loren, host of this macabre party. This is probably William Castle's most respectable picture, but that didn't deter him from bringing in at least one of his patented gimmicks. During a particularly pivotal scene in the film, there happens to be a flying skeleton. Well, if you happened to be in the theatrical audience for the film upon opening, you might just have been lucky enough to witness a lovely plastic skeleton flying from the rafters of your cinema as well!

2. The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) - Based on an amazing story by Richard Matheson (which I highly recommend you read), The Incredible Shrinking Man is the story of Scott Carey, a man who becomes radiated by a cloud of pesticide and, you guessed it, begins to shrink. While the effects were quite stunning for the time, and there's a lot of emphasis on the science fiction elements of the story, the real meat of the things lies within Carey's ability and inability to cope with his physical defencies (in his case, shrinking). The tension between he and his wife becomes obvious the smaller he gets, and it becomes increasingly difficult for him to function. Of course, there are spectacular action sequences as well, including an epic fight with a spider.

1. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) - Usually read as an allegory about Mcarthyism (the writer was black-listed), Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a timeless tale about people not being exactly what we think they are...of course, in this case, "not what we think they are" means replacement "pod" people from outer space. No biggie. Anyway, the movie is a true classic piece of fifties science fiction terror and tension that ends in one of the most iconinc closings in cinema history. Having been remade many times (including a rarely seen effort from Abel Ferrara), the original is still the best and a great starting point for anybody interested in the world of terrificly terryfing vintage sci-fi/horror pictures.

3 comments:

B-Movie Becky said...

nice list. i really need to see more films from this era, but i'm not a huge fan of the flying saucer pics so it's tough

The Warfreak said...

Well, only two of the flicks on the list involve aliens, so there is a wealth of other films there for you to see! Check them out!

Carl (ILHM) said...

Plenty of great calls, of the lot Invasion deserves the top spot!

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