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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Tuesday Top 10: Favorite Horror Movies of the 1950s

In the spirit of previous lists in which I compiled my favorite horror films of the 1930s and the 1940s, this time out I'm switching my attention to the decade of Elvis and Eisenhower; to a simpler time when children sang along with Howdy Doody, and hid under their school desks to escape nuclear annihilation.

The 1950s was an amazing time for terror, filled with giant critters, 3-D nightmares, drive-in grotesqueries and the birth of sci-fi horror. There are so many to choose from, but if you held me down at gunpoint, these would probably be my ten favorite...

10. The Fly (1958)
I've really grown to appreciate the original version more and more over the years. As excellent as the Cronenberg remake is (and there's no doubt it's more terrifying), there's something about this classic that gets under my skin. I really love the mask, which was very effective, especially compared to later installments. And who could forget that ending... "Help meeeee!!"

9. The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
The birth of the true Hammer horror tradition, this film took a Universal classic, melded it with the original Shelley source text, and created a gruesome hybrid that's a joy to behold. Peter Cushing is at the height of his powers, Chris Lee rocks the house in some serendipitously hideous Frank makeup, and then of course, the lovely and late Hazel Court ain't so hard on the eyes.

8. House of Wax (1953)
We must laud this film for doing two things: popularizing 3-D, and anointing Vincent Price as the crown prince of horror. This one scared the crap out of me as a kid, and made me swear off wax museums for years! The makeup is brilliant, the garish technicolor suitably sickening, and then of course there's Price himself. Do I really need to say that's he amazing? Well, I'll say it anyway: He's amazing.

7. Gojira (1954)
I didn't really understand that this was a true horror film until I saw the Japanese original. For anyone who's only ever seen the 1956 American re-edit with Raymond Burr, I can't stress strongly enough the need to check this out. The brooding cinematography, along with Akira Ifukube's powerful score, help make this tale of Tokyo's obliteration absolutely horrifying to behold.

6. The Thing from Another World (1951)
The remake may be superior--in this case even moreso than that of The Fly--but that's no reason to give short shrift to the original, as is often done. Luminaries such as Stephen King, John Carpenter and my dad have cited it as one of the most influential horror films of their youth, and with good reason. This gem almost single-handedly kicked off the sci-fi/horror craze of the '50s, and did it better than nearly any other flick in the subgenre.

5. Night of the Demon (1957)
Probably the least-known film on this list, this British entry directed by Jacques Tourneur (one of Val Lewton's proteges) is a broiling kettle of occult goodness. Based on a classic M.R. James short story, it also features a hideous creature that is seen very little throughout the picture, but leaves a lasting impression. This one will stay with you for sure.

4. Les Diaboliques (1955)
Is it just me, or are there a ton of foreign films on this list? Now it's time for the French to get their due, for this stellar motion picture that's one of the best ever made, horror or otherwise. The wife and mistress of a vicious headmaster manage to kill the guy, then somehow lose the body. Here's a film that clearly influenced Hitchcock's Psycho, as well as decades of tense thrillers that would follow. Bathtub scene=unforgettable.

3. Horror of Dracula (1958)
Many consider this the finest version of Dracula ever filmed. And although I'll always have a soft spot for Bela Lugosi, I must admit that Terence Fisher's vampire opus is a rich, atmospheric piece of horror candy, to be savored with relish. Christopher Lee is dripping with menace as the Count, plus for the first time in a major vampire movie, we get actual fangs and blood galore!

2. Them! (1954)
There's something about this movie that just seems to have gotten into our collective subconscious. Maybe it's the whole fear of bugs thing. Ask anyone who's ever seen it to name their favorite horror films, and it's more than likely that this title will come up. Much better than 99% of the giant-irradiated-creature flicks that filled 1950s cinemas, this one does what so many of them failed to: It's actually extremely scary.

1. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Yes, it's an obvious allegory for America's fear of Communist infiltration, but this classic original is also a damn fine horror movie that gets everything right. From acting (Kevin McCarthy is amazing) to special effects, to music and beyond, it's an absolute opus of terror from beginning to end. There's something about the dreadful inevitability of it all that gets me every time--in a way, this flick is a precursor to Night of the Living Dead. Plus there's that image of the pitchfork going into the face of that one pod person... brutal. And what more can be said about that incredible, Twilight Zone-like ending? Remade several times, but the power of the original never gets old.

14 comments:

Pierre Fournier said...

Wow. An excellent list!

My own list of favorites would include REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958) — it would be my #1 — and THE MUMMY (1959), which I think is an underappreciated gem.

Pax Romano said...

Great list! Night of the Demon, The Fly and Invasion of the Body Snatchers would all be on my top ten of 50's horror classics.

Jeff Allard said...

Excellent picks! As the last of the great Universal monsters, I do think Creature from the Black Lagoon deserves a place here but I can't think of what I'd bump in favor of it - maybe Curse of Frankenstein.

Lily Strange said...

I actually liked the original Fly better than the remake in spite of the better special effects in the 80's version. However, I did like the 1980's remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers slightly better than the original. The 1990's remake was shite, in my opinion. But it's only my opinion.

Planet of Terror said...

Great list. Until I hit the ripe age of 16, I too thought that the Hammer Dracula was the very first. That's how much more of an impact it had on me. The bloodshot eyes scared the piss out of me when I was a kid.

Mr. Fiendish said...

Great list, and you did a good choice on including Les Diaboliques. It tends to get over-looked by horror fans

RayRay said...

Great list. Them!, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and The Thing from Another World are three of my favorite classics. In fact, I watched TTFAW last weekend on Youtube, and was set to watch Them! when my wife protested I was hogging the computer.

I remember seeing Them! as a youngin' at my grandparents' country house and it scared the bejeezuz out of me. During the day I was fine, but I felt like there were gigantic ants lurking behind the treeline at night.

And of course, the other picks were great as well.

Stuart Conover said...

All this list has done has made me want to watch Them! Again since I haven't in years. Curses! *waves hand sleepily in the air*

Gid said...

Great list, could hardly better it, maybe Tarantula, Quatermass 2 and The Incredible Shrinking Man if you can class them as horror.

Edward Brock said...

Great list, I'm a fan of all of them (though I'd have put Gojira at #1). I know it was hard to choose just 10, because we are missing:

CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954)
TARANTULA (1955)
THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1957)
The BLOB (1958)
HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959)

Steve said...

I agree with Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Good list.

B-Sol said...

Thanks, all! And let me just say that every single one of the alternate choices you guys suggested was seriously considered for inclusion. It's damn hard to narrow it down to only ten, lemme tell you...

Brett G. said...

I like the list a lot, but I'd have to find some way to get Night of the Hunter on there somehow. :)

MrJeffery said...

Cool list... There are some I haven't seen yet (night of the demon). Invasion is a good #1 not only because it's so good but for sociological reasons as well.

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