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.
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