Best Horror Films From 1950 to 1959

By MortimerTGraves for Movies

While the passing decades have unanimous opinion on what is “Required Viewing” of horror films; the 1950s is an era that remains more difficult to pin down than the previous ones. This is largely due to an explosive diversity in both subject matter and technology. 

Films of the 50s took off in a million directions, and it is truly up for debate what constitutes the “Best” or “Greatest” of this prolific and diverse decade.  With the discovery of atomic energy, the imagination exploded as violently as the splitting of the atom.   Not only do we get classic horror, but now science and future scope add their hand to the genre of horror.  When you went to the movies back in the 1950s you could watch a classic, aliens, macabre, murder, nuclear, or ghost story.  The horror category opened up to new and exciting subgenres.
Naturally being a Vincent Price fan, the 1950s is(to myself and others) the awaking period of the iconic horror star. So lets dig up just a few of the most influential movies of this most diverse decade.



The Thing from Another World 1951


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American horror sci-fi film produced by RKO Radio Pictures. Scientists at an Arctic research station discover a spacecraft buried in the ice. Upon closer examination, they discover the frozen pilot. All hell breaks loose when they take him back to their station and he is accidentally thawed out!
Being based on a short story titled "Who Goes There?" by John Campbell. This film’s success opened the doors for sci-fi horror, after this space and aliens become a staple of horror films.



House of Wax 1953


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American color 3-D horror film produced by Warner Brothers.  Professor Jarrod is a true artist whose wax sculptures are lifelike. He specializes in historical figures. His business partner, needs some of his investment returned to him and pushes Jarrod to have more lurid exposes like a chamber of horrors. When Jarrod refuses, Burke set the place alight destroying everything in the hope of claiming the insurance. Jarrod, believed to have died in the fire, unexpectedly reappears some 18 months later when he opens a new exhibit. This time, his displays focus on the macabre but he has yet to reproduce his most cherished work, Marie Antoinette. When he meets his new assistant's beautiful friend, he knows he's found the perfect model - only he has a very particular way of making his wax creations.
It is a Price film.  Of course it is good.  Actually this is one of his best films ever.  Price acts with sympathy, then malice.  His acting range runs the full spectrum.  Other than a few scenes that were especially filmed for the 3-D effect(which comes off kinda cheesy), this is a solid gothic horror film.



The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms 1953


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American science fiction monster film from Warner Bros.  As a result of an arctic nuclear test, a carnivorous dinosaur thaws out and starts making its way down the east coast of North America. Soon thereafter the Rhedosaurus emerges from the sea and destroys his way through Manhattan. 
Ray Harryhausen was one of the premier puppeteer when the film was released.  After this movie, he because the go-to expert of stop motion effects.  This is the breakout movie for him and large dinosaur movies.  There is just something about watching a large creature tearing up a city that is so fulfilling.  The stop motion work with the Rhedosaurus is superb considering how long ago it was filmed. 



Godzilla 1954


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Japanese kaiju film from Toho.  Japan is thrown into a panic after several ships sink. The authorities think it’s either underwater mines or volcanic activity. When they head to Odo Island, close to where several of the ships were sunk, something comes onshore that destroys several houses and kills a few people that night. They soon discover something more devastating than imagined in the form of a giant monster whom the natives call Gojira. Now, the monster begins a rampage that threatens to destroy not only Japan but the rest of the world as well.
The grandfather of all men in big rubber monster movies; Gojira, or Godzilla to us English-speaking people.  Yes Godzilla does eventually becomes a protector of earth, but in his debut he is a big mean people chomping monster born from atomic radiation. 



Creature from the Black Lagoon 1954


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American monster horror film from Universal Studio.  A scientific expedition searching for fossils along the Amazon River discovers a prehistoric Gill-Man in the remote and dangerous Black Lagoon. 
This is the last(and by some the best) of the iconic Universal Monsters.  The monster suit and mask is some of the best looking in cinema history.  This is the most crisp and clear film in the Universal Monster movie collection.  The underwater shots are well done.



Tarantula 1955


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American science fiction giant monster film from Universal Studio.  In the Arizona desert, A Professor is experimenting with growth hormones in the hopes of finding a way to increase the world's food supply. His partner was found dead in the desert, suffering from a disease that takes years to advance but, in his case, afflicted him in only a few days. When cattle remains are found in the countryside, evidence points to a giant tarantula as the culprit.
Like The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, and Godzilla, Tarantula started the Giant every day creature craze.  If it was a creepy crawler, they made a movie about it. 
For extra points, the Tarantula is the same spider used in filming the chase scene in The Incredible Shrinking Man. 



Invasion of the Body Snatchers  1956


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American science fiction horror film from Allied Artists Pictures.  Dr. Bennell returns to his small town practice to find several of his patients suffering the paranoid delusion that their friends or relatives are impostors. He is skeptical, especially when the alleged doppelgangers are able to answer detailed questions, but he is eventually persuaded that something odd has happened and determines to find out what is causing this phenomenon.
What makes this ingenious is to create a story where a whole town gradually turns into a villain, and even natural, unavoidable biological functions threaten our heroes' destruction. In conjunction, it all creates an intense sense of claustrophobia and paranoia.  Very few films can capture this sense in so many forms. 



The Curse of Frankenstein 1957


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British horror film from Hammer Film Productions.  In prison and awaiting execution, Dr. Frankenstein recounts to a priest what led him to his current circumstance.
Yes a retelling and re imagining of Frankenstein, but from a English perspective.  I love the Universal film, but a full English cast and the story they tell is almost as good.  Plus the huge number of iconic horror stars; how could you not like it.  This was also a shocking film for the amount of gore shown.  Gore in mainstream films were still a very new thing, and this was one of the first deemed “Video Nasty”(this term grew in popularity in the 1980‘s with home video players).  These films that were criticized for their violent content by the press, social commentators and various religious organizations.

This movie cemented my personal idea of a English Gentleman. All have to be measured by Cushing.  His performance is close to perfection. Easily my second favorite horror actor behind Price(of course), however it is very close.  



The Fly 1958


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American science fiction-horror film from  20th Century Fox.  After her husband is killed in a mechanical press, his wife recounts to his brother and a police Inspector the events of the previous few months.  Scientist Andre was experimenting with teleportation. Transporting objects from one point to another by breaking the object down to the atomic level and then reassembling it in a receiver a distance away. The system had some glitches, it seemed to work with inanimate object but his cat disappeared when he tried teleporting it. He thinks he's solved all of the problems with his invention and decides to try and teleport himself. When a fly enters the teleportation device with him, disaster strikes.
Another great Price performance.  The only real problem I have with this iconic film is how it is structured.  The film starts at the end, and then retells what happened.  I have never been a fan of this form of storytelling.



Dracula 1958 (Horror of Dracula for us in America)


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British horror film from Hammer Film Productions.  Another retelling of the classic novel Dracula.  After Harker attacks Dracula at his castle somewhere in Germany, the vampire travels to a nearby city, where he preys on the family of Harker's fiancée. The only one who may be able to protect them is Dr. Helsing, Harker's friend and fellow-student of vampires, who is determined to destroy Dracula, whatever the cost.
Just like The Curse of Frankenstein, Hammer is becoming the new leader in horror films.  As Universal Studio’s did in the 30‘s and 40‘s to classic and modern horror, Hammer gives us their take on these stories.  And with them we get a new generation of iconic horror stars.



The Tingler 1959


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American horror/thriller film from Columbia Pictures. A pathologist who regularly conducts autopsies on executed prisoners at the State prison. He has a theory that fear is the result of a creature that inhabits all of us. His theory is that the creature is suppressed by our ability to scream when fear strikes us. He gets a chance to test his theories when he meets a couple, who own and operate a second-run movie theater. The wife a is deaf and mute and if she is unable to scream, extreme fear should make the creature, which Dr. has called the Tingler, come to life and grow. Using LSD to induce nightmares, he begins his experiment.
This movie outside of the acting doesn’t really have anything outstanding except for the way it was shown.  They rigged the seats of theaters with buzzers that would go off when the Tingler was on screen.  This was called submersion viewing.  It was revolutionary. Movies that interacted with the audience.



House on Haunted Hill  1959


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American horror film from Allied Artists Pictures.  Eccentric millionaire and his 4th wife, have invited 5 people to the house on Haunted Hill for a "haunted House" party. Whoever will stay in the house for one night will earn ten thousand dollars each. As the night progresses, all the guests are trapped inside the house with ghosts, murderers, and other terrors.
This is arguable the best Haunted House movie ever made.  It combines all the elements associated with the haunted house film.  The cast, atmosphere, props, and scenery is superb.  I admit the scene with the lady caretaker; I about sh*t my pants.  It came out of no where lol. A true iconic horror film.



Honorable Mention:  Plan 9 from Outer Space 1959


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American independent black-and-white science fiction film from Valiant Pictures.  In California, an old man  grieves the loss of his wife and on the next day he also dies. However, the space soldiers use an electric device to resurrect them both and the police Inspector that was murdered by the couple. Their intention is not to conquer Earth but to stop mankind from developing the powerful bomb "Solobonite" that would threaten the universe. When the population of Hollywood and Washington DC sees flying saucers on the sky, a colonel, a police lieutenant, a commercial pilot, his wife and a beat cop try to stop the aliens.
The only reason why I listed this film is because it has gotten a bad rap.  It is far from the worst film ever, to be honest it is average. As I have always said, a bad film is something that bores you.  If a film is entertaining, then it isn’t bad.  And this film is entertaining.  Plus we got the best selling Halloween mask in history up into the 1980's from this movie. So it can't be that bad.

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