It Came from Outer Space (1953)

Directed by Jack Arnold [Other horror films: Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Revenge of the Creature (1955), This Island Earth (1955), Tarantula (1955), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), Monster on the Campus (1958)]

I can appreciate a good alien invasion movie from the 1950’s, and It Came from Outer Space is decent, but compared to others I’ve seen (The Thing from Another World, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and hell, The Blob), this falls a bit flat.

The cast is fine, and I’ve no complaints. Richard Carlson (also in The Maze and Creature from the Black Lagoon) is pretty fun as the main character, a bit of an odd-ball who no one in town believes when he spouts off stories of crashing spaceship. Playing his opposite in many ways is Charles Drake, who has a (pardon the pun) more down-to-Earth view of things, and sort of becomes antagonistic and paranoid toward the end (though certainly with reason).

Even so, I wasn’t really taken in by the story. I sort of like the paranoid feeling Drake’s character starts feeling near the end, but It Came from Outer Space doesn’t nearly have as good a vibe as does Invasion of the Body Snatchers a couple of years later. At the same time, I did quite like a setting, being a small Arizona town surrounded (of course) by desert.

This isn’t a movie I take pleasure in shooting down, nor is that exactly what I’m doing. It’s still a decent movie, but it’s not a movie I could see myself watching that often or really going out of my way to recommend to others, especially when there are so many better movies in the same decade. For the time being, I’d say this is worth one watch, and past that, maybe not so much.

7/10

The Return of Dracula (1958)

Directed by Paul Landres [Other horror films: The Vampire (1957), Destination Nightmare (1958), The Flame Barrier (1958)]

This is a film that I had little interest in, and while I admit that it surprised me a bit in elements of it’s approach, I don’t think The Return of Dracula will end up being that memorable. It’s not a bad movie, but is it noteworthy? Likely not.

It’s the plot here that makes things a bit better then one might think at first. Instead of focusing on some Eastern European country, or the Transylvanian region, the story takes place in sunny California, which was an interesting change of pace. The shift in setting doesn’t really help the basic story any, but it does give the movie a fresher feel.

Only two names really stood out here, being Francis Lederer (from Terror Is a Man the following year) and Norma Eberhardt. Eberhardt had that young, innocent look that made her perfect for a vampire to lust after, and as for Lederer, while his portrayal was nothing special (and Christopher Lee blew him out of the water the same year), it was perfectly competent.

For a slight surprise, there was a small scene in this black-and-white film that utilized color. It wasn’t near as unique as The Tingler’s approach, but when a vampire gets staked through the heart, the scene moves to color and we see the red blood spurt out. It wasn’t a big addition, but it was sort of cool in an otherwise mostly pedestrian film.

From my understanding, this came out before the aforementioned Horror of Dracula, but once Hammer’s second hit came out, this movie, with it’s low budget and black-and-white execution, was largely forgotten. And even had Horror of Dracula not hit the theaters until ‘59, I have a hard time imagining this would be heralded as a lost classic.

Like I said at the beginning, it’s not as though The Return of Dracula is bad. It’s competently-made, and has a few decent scenes. But overall, is the film memorable? Not whatsoever. I’d probably watch it again in the future, but I’d probably have forgotten I’d seen it before. It’s good for a single view, but past that, not so much, and it ultimately strikes me as a little below average.

6.5/10

The Wasp Woman (1959)

Directed by Roger Corman [Other horror films: The Beast with a Million Eyes (1955), Day the World Ended (1955), It Conquered the World (1956), Not of This Earth (1957), Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), The Undead (1957), War of the Satellites (1958), A Bucket of Blood (1959), House of Usher (1960), The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Premature Burial (1962), Tales of Terror (1962), Tower of London (1962), The Raven (1963), The Terror (1963), X (1963), The Haunted Palace (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), The Tomb of Ligeia (1964), Roger Corman’s Frankenstein Unbound (1990)]

I didn’t go into this one with high expectations, and I got pretty much what I thought I would out of it. I didn’t really think The Wasp Woman was horrible, and the story itself wasn’t that bad, but I do feel that this is pretty forgettable, and following The Fly by a year, somewhat laughable.

It’s more than that, though, because even though the design of the wasp woman is pretty terrible, at least the scenes in which she appeared had some action. Otherwise, the movie was pretty damn dull, and while I can appreciate some set-up, this movie really dragged things out with little reason (especially given the film is just a little over an hour).

The only individual here who I really thought stood out at all was Michael Mark, who played the foreign scientist who led to the creation of the horrifying wasp/human hybrid. Mark certainly wasn’t amazing, but he was amusing from time to time, and given much of the rest of the cast was stale, I guess I’d give him kudos for keeping things fresh.

The finale here seems a bit rushed, and it took the characters in the film more than a little time to realize that people have been dying, so as for suspense, well, I’d look elsewhere. There’s not even much an emotional impact, as the titular wasp woman, played by Susan Cabot, wasn’t particularly sympathetic.

Of course, the design of the Wasp Woman itself was pretty silly, but I suspect they cobbled something together the best they could with what they had, so while it didn’t look stellar, I don’t really hold that against the film. The bigger issue here by far is the lackluster story, and the fact that even at just over an hour, The Wasp Woman dragged like nobody’s business.

All said and done, The Wasp Woman is a weak outing from Roger Corman, who did plenty of actually good movies, such as Pit and the Pendulum, The Little Shop of Horrors, The Haunted Palace, and A Bucket of Blood. Hell, even Attack of the Crab Monsters, a film rather flawed, was more fun than this. The Wasp Woman is just dry and lacking much of interest, and it’s not a movie I suspect I’d watch again any time soon.

4.5/10

The Thing from Another World (1951)

Directed by Christian Nyby [Other horror films: N/A] & Howard Hawks [Other horror films: N/A]

This classic is always worth a watch, because the atmosphere here is next to none. To modern audiences, the story might not be that original, but the setting and atmosphere here really make this a claustrophobic classic.

My favorite performance here is probably Robert Cornthwaite, a scientist who butts heads consistently with the military. His character didn’t always make the best choices, but I can’t help but respect his dedication to science and trying to find common ground between the alien being and themselves. Kenneth Tobey felt more generic than anything, and his romance with Margaret Sheridan’s character didn’t really interest me, but at least Douglas Spencer’s ‘Holy cats’ was fun.

Once the alien being is revived and escapes, the movie begins moving at a quicker pace, what with them trying to locate the creature and the scientists trying to discover more about it (the plasma garden was appropriately grisly on that front), and the tension growing throughout. The finale in itself is solidly tense, and while it’s wrapped in the cliché ‘science is sometimes a boon, not a help’ frame-of-mind, it’s still done well.

The Thing from Another World is one of the few note-worthy horror movies from the early 1950’s, and there’s certainly a reason for that. Though the titular ‘thing’ doesn’t appear that much, when it does, it certainly looks threatening in the black-and-white format of the film. As much as I like the movie, though, I don’t really think it’s perfect, or close (a big part of this is the generic nature of the main character and his romantic entanglements, which seemed entirely unnecessary). Still, it’s a movie very much worth seeing, and I do rather enjoy it.

7.5/10

The Black Scorpion (1957)

Directed by Edward Ludwig [Other horror films: N/A]

The last time I saw The Black Scorpion, I thought it was a bit below average, so seeing it again with fresh eyes, I have to admit that I had no idea what I was thinking. It’s not that this film is utterly amazing, and I don’t care that much for the final 15 minutes or so, but for much of the movie, I thought it was a very effective and occasionally suspenseful creature feature.

Richard Denning, Carlos Rivas, and Mara Corday all did well, but I don’t really think any of them were spectacular, especially trapped within the generic 50’s character roles. I did like Rivas’ character quite a bit, but of course the female protagonist fell for the white guy instead.

Special effects in The Black Scorpion were mostly well done. The scorpions looked mostly fantastic (until there was a close-up on it’s face, in which case they looked goofy), and the cave sequence was very solid (which included the best scene in the film, being a tense rope sequence), so there weren’t many issues there.

I think that The Black Scorpion is mostly solid with some decent sequences, such as the aforementioned rope scene, along with the the train derailment. I won’t say that it’s amazing, but I had a lot more fun with this and the initial mystery of the deaths than I did when I first saw it.

7.5/10

The Strange World of Planet X (1958)

Directed by Gilbert Gunn [Other horror films: N/A]

I’ve seen this British science-fiction/horror movie once before, and as it turns out, I remembered it a bit more fondly than it really deserves. The movie’s not bad, but it does drag quite a bit at the beginning, and save for one scene of note, the special effects were poor (especially coming out four years after Them!), and there wasn’t really enough meat to really keep me occupied.

Sometimes known under the title Cosmic Monsters (as the poster above attests to), The Strange World of Planet X had potential that the film didn’t really reach. Many of the performances were decent (including, in no particular order, Wyndham Goldie, Martin Benson, Alec Mango, Geoffrey Chater, and Forrest Tucker), but the only one that I really loved was that of Mango’s mad scientist.

The story, too, was decently solid, but in a movie that’s barely over an hour and ten minutes, having the first real action start up forty minutes in seems an unwise choice. Additionally, throwing in a more science-fiction subplot didn’t bother me that much, but it was just a bit corny.

When the action does start, we’re treated to mostly unspectacular effects. Insects increase in size, and by that, they’re enlarged image is superimposed over the screen, so about none of the insects look particularly convincing (though the millipedes got the closest). One highlight of the film, though, was what looked like a cricket chewing on a man’s face. It wasn’t really bloody (this is black-and-white, be reasonable), but it was a tad more violent than I’d have otherwise expected.

The Strange World of Planet X is worth at least a single watch if you’re a fan of giant bug movies, but it really doesn’t compare with other classics such as Them! or Earth vs the Spider (which I know is almost universally bashed, but I enjoyed it). Still, this British addition to the genre is watchable, and occasionally enjoyable, though I do wish they sped up a bit to the action.

7/10

The Bad Seed (1956)

Directed by Mervyn LeRoy [Other horror films: N/A]

When I was younger, I saw this film quite a bit. My mother in particular really enjoys this one, so I’ve seen it a fair deal of times. And while I do enjoy many things about it, I’ve never been able to go as far as to say I love it.

A lot of this has to do with some central characters. Nancy Kelly did really well much of the time, but she was really wearing thin on me toward the end. Maybe it’s due to the fact that I’m not a mother, but she didn’t handle her daughter with nearly as much force as she should have. Related, Patty McCormack was an annoying little brat most of the time, and I get that it’s the point, but God, I couldn’t stand any time she went into her ‘you’re the best mother, nicest mother,’ spiel. God, she was annoying, and the fact no other adults were really able to see through it was just disturbing.

Henry Jones was probably one of my favorite characters. I just loved his interactions with McCormack, and he really had the upper-hand a few times. Eileen Heckart played a great drunk, and Evelyn Varden was decently lovable in her own way.

Another thing that sort of rubbed me the wrong way was the stage call at the end. It’s sort of fun in an old movie way, but then it ends at a ‘funny’ scene which takes the somewhat somber finale and instead finishes up on a light-hearted note. From my understanding, that was a carry-over from the stage production, which had a different ending than the film, so made more sense, but here, it just felt really out of place.

Really, The Bad Seed has a solid story and pretty good suspense, but you can definitely tell it came from a play, because many of the conversations have a very stagey feel to them. You know the type – long conversations that take place in one room, few changes in scenery. It’s adapted well here, but it’s not always the most engaging material.

When all’s said and done, The Bad Seed is a good movie with a few untenable characters. Should one be a fan of 50’s horror, it certainly merits a watch, but it’s never been one that I’d go back to that often, even though I do ultimately find the movie above average.

7.5/10

The Fly (1958)

Directed by Kurt Neumann [Other horror films: Secret of the Blue Room (1933), She Devil (1957), Kronos (1957)]

Filmed in glorious color that, for 1958, looks damn good, The Fly is a classic piece of science-fiction horror. Personally, I like most things about it, and it always warrants a watch when the movie comes on. With a great cast, interesting and engaging story, along with a very solid reveal that possibly even rivals the 1925 classic The Phantom of the Opera, The Fly is a movie that’s recommended to all fans of the classics.

The cast here is moderately small but all the better for it. Patricia Owens did most commendably in her role, and you really feel the emotional upheaval she’s going through. At times, her hysterics do become a bit much, but unfortunately for this era, there’s not really much she could have done. David Hedison’s performance too was fantastic, and he’s perhaps one of my favorite versions of a work-obsessed scientist.

Though his role isn’t quite a big as the name would imply, it’s always great to see Vincent Prince in an early horror appearance (certainly some movies, such as The Invisible Man Returns, House of Wax, and The Mad Magician predate it). Price’s character is also solidly sympathetic, and especially toward the end, when with Herbert Marshall’s character, you really get some feeling from the both of them.

Another thing that I adore about this film is the presentation and set-up. We get thirty minutes of story before we finally get the extended flashback that tells us how the actions at the beginning of the movie occurred and make sense. Invasion of the Body Snatchers from two years previously did the same thing, as certainly did The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, but neither one had a thirty-minute beginning before jumping into the flashback, which is something I always forget when I saw this as a kid, but thought was sort of nifty when I see it now.

On a related note, the fact that this movie’s in color really solidifies the opening scene as pretty graphic, especially with that blood splatter. This is the late 1950’s, about six years before H.G. Lewis would craft Blood Feast, so even though it’s not that much in comparison to later works, it really stands out in color. Also, speaking of gruesome, that final scene, while somewhat memorable for it’s hokey feel, was pretty terrifying. I know it looked, for lack of a better word, somewhat bad, but still, the implication was certainly depressing.

This is rightfully a classic, and like I said, it’s always worth a watch, and perhaps the best movie featuring a fly ever.

8.5/10

Attack of the Puppet People (1958)

Directed by Bert I. Gordon [Other horror films: Beginning of the End (1957), The Cyclops (1957), War of the Colossal Beast (1958), Earth vs the Spider (1958), Tormented (1960), Picture Mommy Dead (1966), Necromancy (1972), The Food of the Gods (1976), Empire of the Ants (1977), Burned at the Stake (1982), Satan’s Princess (1989), Secrets of a Psychopath (2015)]

I wasn’t much impressed with this late 50’s flick at all. Though it was decently well-paced and had a somewhat interesting and innovative story, not to mention a few solid performances, the film just felt somewhat off to me.

The best I can say about this is that John Hoyt has a very solid (and somewhat hammy) performance as a lonely, somewhat unstable doll-maker. Hoyt’s character was sort of sympathetic (though honestly, they easily could have thrown more of an origin), and decently creepy near the finale. The only two others who make any difference at all are June Kenney (who appeared also in 1958’s Earth vs the Spider and 1961’s Bloodlust!) and John Agar (who was in such classics as Revenge of the Creature, 1955’s Tarantula, 1956’s The Mole People, 1957’s Daughter of Dr. Jekyll, and others), and neither one really bring a whole lot to this picture.

Admittedly, Kenney does occasionally have a solid ‘little innocent girl’ feel to her, and due to the plot turn taken about twenty minutes in (which sort of took me by surprise, if I’m being honest), she’s placed in a rather compromising position. A big part of my problem with this, though, are the reactions of the other characters reduced in size – that is, to relax and enjoy the fact that they no longer have any worries. When they sort of change attitudes when alone with Kenney and Agar’s characters, I didn’t feel much more pleased with them, and it’s around that time what was a somewhat taut flick begin falling flat for me.

The special effects are okay, but The Devil-Doll (1936), a film with a somewhat similar idea to this one, was almost more impressive in terms of what they could do on-screen, and it’s perhaps not really surprising coming from a director like Bert I. Gordon, who, while he’s done some films I enjoy, is somewhat well-known for his lower-budget features. In fact, there’s a minute or two of a previous film of his, The Amazing Colossal Man, in this film, playing at a movie theater. Solid advertising, brah.

Attack of the Puppet People had potential, but after a certain point, despite the somewhat quick-moving and interesting story, this just didn’t possess that feeling of dread I was looking for. Certainly a lower-class tier flick for the late 50’s (which was a decently prolific and solid time for the horror genre), Attack of the Puppet People (which, by the way, is a somewhat misleading title) just didn’t do a lot for me, and I couldn’t see myself watching this a second time all that willingly.

5.5/10

House on Haunted Hill (1959)

Directed by William Castle [Other horror films: Macabre (1958), The Tingler (1959), 13 Ghosts (1960), Homicidal (1961), Mr. Sardonicus (1961), The Old Dark House (1963), Strait-Jacket (1964), The Night Walker (1964), I Saw What You Did (1965), Let’s Kill Uncle (1966), The Spirit Is Willing (1967), Shanks (1974)]

I can nary think of a more charming movie than this late 50’s feature starring Vincent Price. It’s opens on a hokey note, it ends on a hokey note, and it’s just an entirely fun ride throughout.

This is a movie I’ve loved since I was a kid, and everything I liked about it then still stands to today. It has a great cast, a fantastic vibe, a fun story, enjoyable conclusion, and it’s an all-around solid film with virtually no flaws (which is somewhat amazing, but it stands true – I can’t think of a single problem with this film).

Of course, Vincent Price being the star has a lot to do with it. Before this film, he appeared in a few horror films, such as The Invisible Man Returns (1940), House of Wax (1953), The Mad Magician (1954), The Fly (1958), and if you’ve a broader view of the genre, Tower of London (1939). In my opinion, though, it was this film that fully brought him into a long career in the genre, going on to star in many fantastic films (such as The Tingler, The Bat, Pit and the Pendulum, The Haunted Palace, The Last Man on Earth, The Oblong Box, and Theater of Blood, not to mention the many I’ve not seen yet, such as House of Usher and Diary of a Madman).

Vincent Price is a legend, and is, in fact, my favorite actor in the genre. In House on Haunted Hill, his character’s fantastic throughout, and pretty much every line of his is one I’ve loved since I was younger. His performance here alone warrants a strong rating for the film (especially toward the conclusion), but he’s far from the only solid performance.

Pretty much everyone in the movie does admirably. If Richard Long is a bit on the generic side, you still have Carol Ohmart in her fantastic role as Price’s wife, Alan Marshal in a more cerebral role, Elisha Cook Jr. as a drunken doomsayer, and Carolyn Craig as the innocent, wide-eyed younger woman (it’s tragic that Craig killed herself about ten years after this came out). Julie Mitchum didn’t do that much here, but she was fun too, and Leona Anderson provided us with one of my favorite pre-1960’s scares. And let’s give it up for the Skeleton, who, as the credits say, played himself.

I loved the opening and closing of this film. With Vincent Price narrating the origins of the party (“She’s so amusing,” he says, chuckling) and introducing the main characters, to Cook Jr. closing us out with a direct plea to the audience, complete on both ends with great spooky sound effects (screaming, ghosts wailing, chains clanging, the whole works) that just put you into the mood.

This would easily be in my top ten horror films for the 1950’s, perhaps of the whole pre-1960’s – House on Haunted Hill is a fantastic movie that oozes charm and occasionally has some legitimate scares too. Nothing really stands out in any negative fashion here. The conclusion is fun, and, if it’s your first-time viewing, somewhat a surprise. The atmosphere is great, and really, when it comes down to it, this is my favorite Vincent Price movie (of his films I’ve seen so far), and having seen it many, many times, it definitely stays atop of the crowd. William Castle, who directed many other favorites of mine, definitely made a winner here.

10/10