Essays · TV

The 7 Must-See Monster and Alien Movies of the 1950s

Is there anything more worth celebrating than B-movies of the 1950s? The aliens, the UFOs on strings, the rubber-suited monsters. There’s nothing else like it in cinema, and the genre is back in the spotlight with this week’s releases.
By  · Published on March 23rd, 2009

As everyone knows, there are only three simple joys in life: making love to a beautiful woman, getting a tax refund, and watching campy sci-fi films from the 1950s. This is indisputable. Luckily, since Monsters vs. Aliens is coming out on Friday (and Alien Trespass is coming out the next week), we have an arbitrary excuse to plop down on the couch with some of our favorite selections and check out the glory of a genre that’s being parodied by Dreamworks. Crappy UFO effects, paper-thin plot lines, cartoonish pro-American fervor, regional-theater level acting, and questionable relationships between older men and young boys that seemed perfectly innocent at the time. I challenge anyone to find a better group of movies. Go ahead, give it a shot. I’ll wait.

See? Of course you couldn’t do it. But now that you’re back, let’s get on with a list of movies that either directly or indirectly gave rise to this week’s animated release:

Attack of the 50-Foot Woman (1958)

The Tagline: A titanic beauty spreads a macabre wave of horror! A terrifying masterpiece of shock and chills!

The Pitch: With the success of other films featuring the growth or shrinking of an otherwise normal person, Attack of the 50-Foot Woman was a hallmark in putting a woman in the main role as the monster. You can tell by its 4.8/10 rating on IMDB that it’s a brilliantly misunderstood piece of cinema, far above the heads of most audiences. It spins a classic tale of a scorned wife who seeks revenge on her husband…after growing to outlandish proportions and meeting some aliens. Shakespeare couldn’t have written a more universal story. Face it, we’ve all been there.

The Impact: It seems pretty clear that the character of Ginormica in MvA is an homage (if not an outright theft) of Nancy Archer from 50-Foot Woman. Although it looks like she’ll be using her powers for the greater good instead of just taking her cheating husband to task.

The Blob (1958)

The Tagline: Beware of the Blob! It creeps, and leaps, and glides and slides across the floor.

The Pitch: The original working title for The Blob was The Glob that Girdled the Globe. For some reason, the filmmakers foolishly changed the name, not realizing the frightening power inherent in alliteration. Nevertheless, this truly incredible movie has a distinct place in history as being at the beginning for two iconic stars: Steve McQueen and Burt Bacharach. Okay, and Hal David, too. It also has the distinction of having one of the coolest scenes in all 50s B-moviedom – an early scene where an elderly man goes out to investigate a meteorite, only to open it up to find an oozing being. That oozing glob jumps on his hand, causing him to panic and run into the road where he’s hit dead on by Steve McQueen’s car. If you wanna read deeply into it, the blob is also a great metaphor for the way movements attract and consume people. But try not to think too deeply while actually watching this bad boy.

The Impact: Seth Rogen is voicing a formless blob of goo named B.O.B. in MvA. Although he does have an eyeball and a personality.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

The Tagline: Not since the beginning of time has the world beheld terror like this!

The Pitch: This movie was so good that it spawned two sequels and attacked audiences in glorious 3D. In a rare move away from aliens attacking or dropping innocent-seeming goo on the planet, this movie explored what happens when science gets out of the labratory and heads up the Amazon. What happens, apparently, is that a huge fish-human attacks the shit out of you in one of the best rubber suits of all time. The only question I have is about the tagline. “Not since the beginning of time?” What happened at the beginning of time that was so terrifying? I demand a movie be made about it.

The Impact: Yet another character inspiration – The Missing Link in MvA is a fishy-type creature that walks upright yet doesn’t seem to be in a rubber suit at all. Also, he’s being voiced by Will Arnett meaning he’ll probably also have lighter fluid up his sleeve – making him even more dangerous a foe.

The Fly (1958)

The Tagline: If she looked upon the horror her husband had become…she would scream for the rest of her life!

The Pitch: This is one of my favorite movies of all time for one very simple reason – Vincent Price. In the original version, the scientist is testing out a teleportation device when things go terribly awry and his body is spliced with that of a fly. Brilliantly, the story is told in flashbacks as his wife explains why she had to kill him – because he’d become a monster who begged to be put out of his misery. In one of the better movie twists, Price’s character and the scientist’s son end up finding the fly who originally flew into the chamber trapped in a spider web. What happens next, I wouldn’t want to ruin, but I have a strong inclination that you’ll scream for the rest of your life. Something tells me.

The Impact: Although it’s not as direct, or maybe it is, the character of Dr. Cockroach PhD in MvA seems at least borrowed from this concept. Either that, or its just a horrific, animated version of Gregor Samsa, and I would hope Dreamworks would realize that children hate Kafka references.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

The Tagline: A robot and a man…hold the world spellbound with startling powers from another planet!

The Pitch: Ah, the grandfather of them all. This flick is in the pantheon of all-time sci-fi greats. It manages to be earnestly frightening despite being terribly, terribly campy. And despite the awkward relationship between Klaatu and Bobby. He’s an adult alien from another planet wanting to hang out with a young boy. Nothing wrong with it people. Now stop giggling and calling Child Protective Services. Say what you will about the film holding up over time, but there’s not many images as striking as Gort standing against that spaceship – a hunk of metal unmoved by the plight of man.

The Impact: I have no idea whether characters were spawned from this stunning masterpiece, but the campy feel and tone of the trailers seems obviously influenced by The Day the Earth Stood Still and others of its kind. The smiling, glad-handy, hair-parted government officials and the complete fervent support of the United States. If anything, the inclusion of Stephen Colbert as the voice of the President leads me to believe we’ll see some major shades of the Earth standing still.

The Thing From Another World (1951)

The Tagline: Howard Hawks’ Astounding Movie

The Pitch: Despite a severe lack of exclamation points in the tagline, The Thing is a brilliant film that balances its cheesy effects work with strong acting. If the premise of a group of scientists encountering an alien menace in the arctic seems familiar, it’s because the film was remade by John Carpenter in 1982. Or you happened to have read the novella, “Who Goes There?” that it was based off. As a hallmark of the time, the film begins with a group of scientists investigating some sort of aircraft that has crashed down. They then go on to accidentally thaw out a monstrous presence with an electric blanket – the 1950s version of the Snuggie.

The Impact: The sensibilities of the film ride alongside those of The Day the Earth Stood Still although the films are very different in feel. With the beginning of the Korean War and a propaganda campaign against communism well underway in the country, the theme of Americans fighting (and triumphing) over a soulless, unwavering force seems like an obvious correlation. Plus, The Thing gives us the presence of a straightforward yet compassionate military leader in the form of Captain Patrick Hendry.

Earth vs. The Flying Saucers (1956)

The Tagline: Before you scoff at flying saucers – see the the greatest SHOCK film of all time!

The Pitch: The United States government has proven itself to be a reckless, idiotic entity from time to time in films, but with this one, they accidentally fire upon a group of aliens, leading said aliens to kill everyone at the scientific test site save two. The resulting events compound until the saucers are attacking every major city on the planet. The best part about this film, as well as it being in line with the tone of other alien B-movies, is that Ray Harryhausen did all of the UFO effects, so they are actually really cool.

The Impact: The use of the word ‘versus’ in a title.

Also for consideration: Invaders From Mars, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, It Came From Outer Space, When Worlds Collide, The Day of the Triffids, Plan 9 From Outer Space, and Killers from Outer Space – we could go on and on, but all of these films have the same basic impact on Monsters vs Aliens, namely the same sensibilities mentioned above with the other brilliant, totally underrated 1950s (and, fine, some 1960s) sci-fi works.

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