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50’s Monster Movies Do You Have a Favorite? A Local Expert Weighs in on Some of the Classics

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Circleville – Cameron Jones a Circleville native loves classic movies, recently he traveled to Vegas for a vintage movie convention.  I convinced him that he should write a piece about some classic cinema that people would remember and enjoy.
I love classic cinema, particularly films from the 1950’s, and I think its safe to say I have an obsession with 50’s monster films. When I was asked to do this article I quickly came up with a list of nearly 20 films. I needed to narrow that down. Doing a list of just 5 would have been impossible, there’s just no way I could narrow it down that far. A list of 10 would’ve been a bit too long. I went with 7 films that I think represent the very best. So in no particular order here is my list of  the Top 50’s Monster Films,

 Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
Based on a short story by Ray Bradbury entitled ‘The Fog Horn’ ‘Beast From 20,000 Fathoms’ was the genesis of the ‘monster on a rampage’ film cycle. The story goes like this-atomic bomb testing in the article circle sets free a hibernating dinosaur known as Rhedosaurus. The creature makes its way down from the arctic attacking fishing boats and a lighthouse before reeking havoc in Manhattan. It eventually reaches Coney Island in a memorable finale. The attack on the Lighthouse (done with stop-motion effects by Ray Harryhausen) is a standout scene. Its just really fun to watch! In the original Bradbury short story the lone surviving member of a type of Sea Monster rises out of the ocean when it hears what it thinks is a mating call. The monster leaves the Lighthouse in ruins after it discovers the mating call is only a fog horn. It’s actually really sad when you know the history of the scene. The film features a fine performance by monster hunter extraordinaire Kenneth Tobey, and the creature effects by Ray Harryhausen are top notch.

Godzilla aka Gojira (1954)
The film that launched a franchise that continues to this very day. The original ‘Godzilla’ was inspired by the success of ‘Beast From 20,000 Fathoms’. The plot, as if any of you out there didn’t know, an ancient fire-breathing Kaiju (giant monster) is awakened by an atomic bomb and attacks Japan. Unlike the sequels to follow this giant monster attack isn’t played out as tongue-in-cheek fun but as genuine Horror. There’s absolutely no doubt Godzilla and the destruction he brings represents the horrific devastation of the atomic bomb. It had been only 10 short years since the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the end of the deadliest war the planet had ever seen. People only familiar with the later entries in the series might be surprised at how dark and serious this original film is. But make no mistake ‘Godzilla‘ is still a must see and my personal favorite film in the franchise. You may notice Godzilla only seems to attack at night in the film. Its a clever way to make the suit and miniature model effects look more realistic-and it’s successful. Two years later in 1956 the U.S. would release a cut of the film which takes out about 20 minutes of footage to make room for new scenes featuring American actor Raymond Burr playing a visiting U.S. reporter.

Tarantula (1955)
‘I knew Leo G Carroll was over a barrel when Tarantula took to the hills.’-Rocky Horror Picture Show fans will know what I’m on about. I once saw the plot for ‘Tarantula’ described at ‘Experiment gone wrong + Huge spider + TNT= Mayhem’ That pretty much explains it! A scientist (played by Carroll) is experimenting with food infused with radioactive isotopes. It’s all an attempt to find a magic pill solution to the problem of future food shortages. The Doctor estimates that by the year 2000 the world’s population will swell to an unsustainable 3 Billion people, when it reality the population in 2000 would be around 6 Billion! As part of his experimentation he grows huge Rabbits, Hamsters, and of course a huge Tarantula. The giant arachnid escapes, keeps growing, and soon becomes 100 feet tall. It then precedes to wreaks havoc upon the small desert community. There’s just something about the desert that makes an excellent setting for a giant monster movie. The film uses process-screen effects so what you are seeing is an actual Tarantula blown up and inserted into the film, it’s very well done. The Tarantula looks frightening, and the film overall still looks great even after 60+ years. With a fine script, good acting and, as I mentioned above, fantastic effects.. This ranks as one of the very best giant bug films of the 50’s. P.S. Keep your eye out for a young Clint Eastwood who shows up at the end in a jet to save the day.

Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)
Although ‘The Creature’ is undoubtedly a member of the prestigious Universal Monster gang. ‘The Creature From the Black Lagoon’ comes nearly 25 years after ‘Dracula’, ‘Frankenstein’, and ‘The Mummy’ (‘The Wolfman’ came in 1941). If I had to choose a favorite amongst the group The Creature or ‘Gill Man’ as he has come to be known, would probably be it. A fossil hunting exhibition traveling down a tributary of The Amazon river enter the Kingdom of the prehistoric Creature. He is eventually tranquilized, caught, and brought onboard the boat. Unsurprisingly when he comes to he’s not happy, and soon escapes. He then attacks and kills several members of the crew, and kidnaps the female member of the team (played by the very beautiful Julie Adams). The end scenes of the film take place in the Gill Man’s lair-a cave off the lagoon. If you look closely in the background at the depths of the cave you can see white pillars rising out of the waters. This always suggested to me that perhaps the Gill Man was much more than just a monster living in the dark muck. ‘Creature From the Black Lagoon’ features what may well be the best Monster makeup of all time. The film has stood the test of time, and is the very definition of a Classic.

THEM! (1954)
I always tell everyone its not ‘Them’ its ‘THEM!!!’ It stands for Terror, Horror, Excitement, and Mystery. ‘Them!’ was the first and best giant bug movie not only of the 50’s but probably of all time. The formula for ‘Them!’ would be copied by numerous 50’s creature films to come. Radiation from the original nuclear bomb tests cause Ants to mutate into 8 foot giants. There are no stop-motion or post production camera effects. The Ants are very well made props that for the time are pretty impressive and scary. As for the characters you’ve got the military man, the FBI agent (played by the Thing’s James Arness), the General, the Professor, and his young attractive assistant.. This cast of characters would pop up in most of the copycat mutant creature films to follow. One of my favorite scenes is a fantastic sequence where the team heads down into the giant subterranean ant colony. Watch out for a short scene featuring Star Trek legend, and my personal hero Leonard Nimoy. ‘Them!’ was a huge success. It’s still considered an important classic to this day.

The titled referrers to the distance between Earth and Venus. The first manned mission to Venus arrives back to Earth and crash lands into the Mediterranean. Only one man survives. There is another survivor, in the form of an egg which contains a species native to Venus. The egg hatches and what emerges is a creature that has come to be known in the Sci-Fi world as a Ymir. He’s a bipedal reptilian beast who starts out the size of a doll, but because of the Ymir’s rapid growth he soon is the size of a large building. The film takes place and is shot in Italy, and has a thrilling finale at where else.. The Colosseum! The real star of ‘20 Million Miles To Earth‘ is once again the fantastic effects by Ray Harryhausen. All the scenes with the Ymir creature are just so much fun to watch. The film was originally released in black and white, and while I am usually not a fan of the colorization of classic films in this case I make an exception. A colorized version of the film was released in 2008 and was done very well, the whole film is gorgeous. Seeing Harryhausen’s monster in brilliant green is a real treat.

Howard Hawk’s ‘The Thing’ is not just a great 50’s monster movie, its one of the best Sci-Fi films of all time. An Air Force crew stationed at the North Pole, once again led by Kenneth Tobey, discovers what is assumed to be a downed plane but is actually a huge flying saucer frozen in the ice. The inhabitant of the craft is brought back frozen, but is soon unthawed and unleased on the men and women of the polar base. A technique that would be used in future horror films-the creature is seen only in brief glimpses or in shadows for most of the film leaving your imagination to go wild. ‘The Thing’ is a physiological thriller as much as a Sci-Fi movie. The dangerous isolated setting really adds to the eerie quality of the film. Another aspect worth noting is the dialogue. Most movies, especially of that era, have perfectly timed dialogue-when one person stops speaking another begins. In this film character dialogue overlaps, and they talk over one another. Its much more natural. All these things add to the films greatness. After a dramatic conclusion ‘The Thing’ ends with a simple ominous warning.. ‘WATCH THE SKIES!’

Honorable mentions!
‘The Fly’ (1958)
‘The Blob’ (1958)
It Came From Beneath the Sea‘ (1955) –All three are great movies, definitely worth watching. They would’ve been included if I had extended this list to 10 films. Perhaps if I do a part two!

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