The 1950's was a great time in our history for the good old fashioned horror movie. Hollywood cranked them out by the dozens. They were easy and cheap to make and the fans loved them. Most of them were what we used to call "B" rated films. In other words they just weren't very good. But there were a few standouts that have become classics and have been adored by fans of the genre for decades.
I begin our journey back to the 1950's with a movie starring the creepiest guy of the 50's, Vincent Price. The movie is called "Tingler". Price plays Dr. Warren Chapin and it co-stars Judith Evelyn as Mrs Martha Ryerson Higgins. The film was directed by William Castle.
Doctor Warren Chapin treats patients who are suffering from strange growthsâtinglersâon their spines. These tinglers attack only when people are frightened. He meets Ollie Higgins whose wife Martha dies from the tingler's effects. Dr. Chapin finds the tingler during her autopsy. Ollie owns a theater in which the tingler escapes, and Warren urges the audience to scream. I remember seeing this one at theater. Certain seats in the theater were rigged to deliver a small electric shock. The audience was terrified and many people ran from the theater screaming. They just knew tinglers were loose among them. This movie was a pioneer in using special effects along with film. It is now common place in 3-D films featured at amusement parks like "Honey I Shrunk The Audience" at Disneyland and many others.
Coming in at number nine is another one of those creepy, crawly films of the 50's starring a hunk of protoplasm. The movie is called "The Blob" starring Steve McQueen in his first big movie. It was later re-made in 1988.
Teenagers Steve Andrews and his girlfriend Jane Martin report that a hunk of protoplasm has devoured a doctor and his nurse, Of course no one in the town believes them, who could blame them. They are convinced something is amiss when more of the town's people are eaten by the blob. This movie is a cult classic and a whole lot of fun to watch.
Number eight is another movie starring Vincent Price and Carol Ohmart called "House On Haunted Hill". This one was also directed by William Castle. Frederick Loren played by Price has offered $10,000 each to five people if they will spend one night in his haunted house that has been the site of a number of murders The people show up of course, being enticed by the money, but get more than they bargained for.
But behind Frederick Loren's back his wife Annabelle, Ohmart's character, has plans of her own to collect the reward money. The doors are locked at midnight and the guests are subjected to all sorts of horrors and not everyone will live through the night.
I think this movie is of particular note because it is prototype for many of these kinds of horror films that have been made through the years and continue to be made.
Number seven is one of the greatest one of the greatest films of the early science fiction genre "Them". It stars James Whitmore and James Arness. The story begins when New Mexico state troopers discover a gutted trailer home and a catatonic young girl who utters, "Them." This sets off an investigation by the FBI and others. They learn that secret nuclear testing has created gigantic ants, and now they must destroy the queen ants before more ants are hatched. This movie was particularly terrifying at the time because it played on the fear of hideous creatures being created by exposure to radiation. It is the first in a long series of these type of films.
Number six is another movie starring James Arness and Kenneth Toby called "The Thing From Another World". It was later re-made in 1982 by John Carpenter. This classic film from 1951 is about an enemy from outer space played by Arness. A UFO has crashed at an Arctic radar post. Captain Patrick Hendry, Tobey's character, accidentally explodes the UFO ship, but The Thing remains frozen in ice. An electric blanket is used to thaw The Thing, but it escapes and goes on a rampage. The U.S. Army has to stop the creature before he destroys the earth. This is one of the first films that played on the fear of aliens coming form other planets to take over the earth. That is what makes this one a classic.
Coming in at number five is a ground breaking film called "The Curse Of Frankenstein". It stars Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein and Christopher Lee as the Creature. It is probably the best of Mary Shelley's stories about a man entering a new realm of science without first considering the consequences. This is the story of Dr. Frankenstein trying to make a creature from spare body parts, but during it's transformation into what the good doctor hopes to be a normal human being, it turns into a homicidal monster. Many of the good townsfolk are victims before a confrontation between Dr. Frankenstein and the Monster puts a stop to the carnage. This is definitely one of the best of the early classic horror films.
Number five is another first in our list. This is Christopher Lee's first performance in the role of Count Dracula in "Horror Of Dracula". This film is important because it will lead to a series of Dracula films. Bram Stoker's tale of vampires has been told many times through the years and continue to be very popular.
Number four is another great film starring Vincent Price as Professor Henry Jarrod in "House Of Wax". This movie caused quite a stir in theaters with it's use of 3-D. In this classic movie Professor Jarred, a horribly disfigured sculptor opens up the House of Wax in New York, using the wax-covered bodies of his victims as his displays. He lost his hands in a fire and turns to murdering young ladies to complete his work.
A great classic monster movie "Godzilla, King Of Monsters" is my pick for the number three greatest of the 1950's horror films. It stars Raymond Burr as American reporter Steve Martin and Takashi Shimura as Dr. Kyohei Yamane. This was the first in a long line of stories about the 400 foot monster resembling a giant lizard or dinosaur that was brought back to life by underwater nuclear testing. In this film he terrorizes the city of Tokyo, Japan. Godzilla has appeared in 28 films.
Coming in at number two is a 1959 film, which was an outstanding remake of a 1932 film starring Boris Karl off "The Mummy". The story is about an archaeological dig during which the tomb of Princess Ananka is desecrated and Ananka's lover Kharis who was buried with her is awakened. The Mummy follows John Bannon played by Peter Cushing back to England to seek revenge.
And the number one greatest horror film of the 1950's is "Invasion Of The Body Snatchers". This one stars Kevin McCarthy as Dr. Miles J. Bennell and Dana Wynter as Becky Driscoll. Dr. Bennell arrives back in town after a medical conference. He realizes much to his dismay that his family and neighbors are not behaving in their usual manner. This leads him to discover that they are being taken over by pods from outer space There seems to be a rash of patients who believe their loved ones are being replaced by imposters. Their aim is replace the entire human race. The film climaxes with Bennell and Driscoll attempting to escape the pod people, intending to warn the rest of humanity. They hide; Driscoll falls asleep and is subverted. Finally, Bennell is picked up by the police and questioned in a clinic. The end of the story is left open.
The 1950's were a great time for the horror film and produced many great pictures that laid the foundation for many great movies to come.