6 horror/thriller movies that changed the genre in the 1950s

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The world was still reeling from the effects and consequences of World War II, and the Cold War was well underway. As a result, horror and thriller films of the decade reflected the mood of the times and introduced storylines with atomic beings and monster movies filled with all sorts of twists.

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Filmmakers experimented with the advancement of special effects and photography and were emboldened by the films they were able to make with this new technology. This resulted in horror films that had never been seen by audiences before.

The Thing From Another World (1951)


A journalist (Doug Spencer) visits the Alaskan Air Command Officers Club in Anchorage, AK, in search of a story. Several of the men are ordered to fly to the North Pole at the behest of lead scientist Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite), which reports that a plane has crashed. On the spot, the men discover that the plane is a flying saucer and find a body frozen in a block of ice near the accident site. The body is taken back to Alaskan Air Command where the ice melts and the creature escapes.

Like the 1982 film directed by John Charpentier, The thing from another world was based on the 1938 novel titled “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell. The film borrowed elements from the current atmosphere in the United States about science and the idea that things are best left alone. The end of the film finally has the American armed forces prevail against the Thing.

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The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)


In The day the earth stood still, a UFO lands in the middle of Washington, DC and is quickly surrounded by the US military. When a humanoid named Klaatu emerges from the UFO, he is quickly shot when he opens a small device. Klaatu (Michael Rennie) is taken to the hospital and insists he has a message for the president and other world leaders, but his request is denied. Klaatu escapes from the hospital and moves into a boarding house under the alias “Mr. Carpenter”, and befriends the residents Helen (Patricia Neal) and his son Bobby (Billy Gray). Bobby eventually discovers that Klaatu is not human, and Klaatu also reveals himself to Helen. He orders that if anything should happen to her, Helen should go to the UFO and the robot on board named Gort (Martin Lock) and recite “Klaatu barada nikto”

The film’s documentary style won awards and was chosen for preservation at the United States Library of Congress, in addition to recognition from the American Film Institute. The phrase “Klaatu barada nikto” has been recognized as “one of science fiction’s most famous commissions”.

Wax House (1953)


In New York in the early 1900s, Professor Henry Jarrod (Vincent Price), in a chilling performance, runs a wax museum and is renowned for his sculpting prowess. His business partner, frustrated with the museum, sets it on fire and leaves Jarrod for dead. Later, Jarrod murders his former partner and opens a brand new wax museum focused on the macabre. Meanwhile, Jarrod also murders Cathy Gray (Caroline Jones), whose body mysteriously disappears, and sets her sights on Cathy’s friend, Sue Allen (Phyllis Kirk).

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wax house was a huge box office hit and grossed over $5 million. The film was shot in 3-D; that Warner Bros. produced in response to Devil Bwana (1952), which had premiered the previous year and had also been too successfully filmed in 3D. The film also reinvigorated Price’s career which had been stagnating since the 1930s.

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)


As a director Jack Arnoldthe film, Black Lagoon Creature follows a geological expedition in the Amazon that comes across a fossilized skeletal hand with webbed fingers. Shortly after, a creature that shares the hand of the fossil reveals itself. The creature is half-man, half-amphibious and resists the team’s efforts to capture it, ultimately being killed.

Ben Chapman portrays the creature throughout much of the film, with scenes filmed in Universal City, California. Underwater scenes with the creature were depicted by Ricou Browningwith stunning cinematography masterfully crafted by the underwater director James C. Havens. Critics of the film described it as “…Always entertaining, with a juicy atmosphere and bright underwater photography sequences.” Black Lagoon Creature was followed by two sequels and inspired the 2017 The shape of waterdirected by Guillermo del Toro.

Godzilla (1954)


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Image via Toho

The “King of the Monsters” is born! Godzilla follows Tokyo residents who are surprised when a freighter capsizes off the coast. Other boats investigating the cause of the capsize are also destroyed. One night, a violent storm passes through Tokyo and Godzilla makes his first appearance, destroying 17 houses and killing nine people. To prevent Godzilla from entering the city, the city builds an electric fence. However, Godzilla resurfaces and easily breaks through the fence using his atomic breath. That night, Godzilla causes catastrophic damage, with attempts to kill him failing.

Less than ten years earlier, the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had experienced the explosion of atomic bombs. The film depicts the nuclear holocaust and contained many political nuances due to what had been experienced during World War II.

House on the Haunted Hill (1959)


Millionaire Frederick Loren (Price) invites five people to a party at a haunted mansion. The party is in honor of his wife Annabelle (Carole Ohmart). Frederick stipulates that his guests spend the night in the house, with doors locked at midnight, windows locked, and no access to telephones or radios. When Annabelle is discovered dead, after hanging herself, Frederick becomes the prime suspect.

Most of the film was shot on sound stages, with exterior shots taking place at the Ennis House in Los Feliz, California, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. House on the haunted hill is best known for a promotional gimmick that was used in its original theatrical release, called “Emergo”. The trick involved a pulley system near the movie screen that was set up to have a plastic skeleton to fly around the theater. Alfred Hitchcockinspired by the film, decides to produce his own low-budget film which would become the legendary psychology (1960).

NEXT: 10 Of The Best Mystery And Noir Movies Of The 1950s


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