We’re jumping back into the time machine folks and this time we’re heading back to the 1950’s. I know that it’s been a while since I opened the House of Horror to you all, and I apologize for that, but sometimes Stardom just has so much going on that it’s hard to take care of other things apart from that.
This decade gave us some truly iconic movies and introduced the world to one of the most famous monsters in history. With all that said, let’s raise the curtain!
The Mummy – 1959
Synopsis: In 1895, British archaeologists find and open the tomb of Egyptian Princess Ananka with nefarious consequences.
The Mummy is the Rodney Dangerfield of classic monsters — he gets no respect. But Hammer’s sumptuous, beautifully filmed and acted treatment is as good as your going to find. It is also the most detailed mummy film around, with the recreation of its Egyptian tomb gorgeous and authentic. Christopher Lee is little short of brilliant in the thankless title role, actually managing to giving a compelling and at times touching performance through only his eyes and body language. Peter Cushing is superb as always, as is Hammer semi-regular George Pastell in the stereotypical mummy-controller-in-the-fez part. The supporting cast is also classier than usual for Hammer: Sir Felix Aylmer as Cushing’s father is wonderful, aging amazingly convincingly and establishing himself as one of the great gibberers of the cinema; while Raymond Huntley is solid as Cushing’s sensible uncle (and as London’s first stage Dracula, one wonders what conversations he must have had on the set with Lee). Hammer regular Michael Ripper also has one of his best parts as a sodden eyewitness to the mummy’s activities. Director Terrence Fisher (another Rodney Dangerfield) contributes many memorable touches, though probably none so effective as the agonizing slowness with which the stone door of the secret chamber concealing the cursed Kharis closes, which emphasizes the horrific agony of living burial. Everything in this film works, and some elements, such as the photography and the excellent music score, exceed even Hammer’s usually high standards. “The Mummy” might be the British studio’s best film. It is certainly one of their best.
House of Wax – 1953
Synopsis: An associate burns down a wax museum with the owner inside, but he survives only to become vengeful and murderous.
This is a remake of the movie Mystery of the Wax Museum–a decent, though dated thriller. This is one of these cases where the remake is simply a much better film. Don’t be fooled by the fact this was originally a 3-D film–unlike most 3-D films, it’s an excellent film on its own right and doesn’t rely on goofy 3-D action scenes. Vincent Price plays the, at first, sympathetic monster who creates beautiful works of art by covering the dead in wax. It seemed that since his disfiguring accident, he no longer has the skills to create them from scratch. However, it does NOT prevent him from leaving his wheelchair to commit the murders of people he wished to coat in wax. The best of these murders is the well-deserved murder of the man who was responsible for Price’s disfigurement. He puts a noose around this man’s neck and throws him down an elevator shaft!! It’s nothing short of spectacular to say the least. Full of chills as well as a good plot, this is without a doubt one of the best horror film of the 1950s. Do not compare this to the atrocious remake staring Paris Hilton. That film can’t hold a candle to this masterpiece.
The Blob – 1958
Synopsis: An alien lifeform consumes everything in its path as it grows and grows.
I think this is my first film with Steve McQueen in it for my entire series. There just aren’t many memorable horror films, in my opinion, with the actor staring in. That said, what a fun time can be had while watching The Blob! A meteorite with a blob inside it lands, attaches itself to an old man’s hand, engulfs the old man, a nurse, a doctor, and so on…until it is a huge mass of jelly-like substance squeezing through small openings and killing anything and everything in its path. A very young Steve McQueen plays the small-town teenager who just can’t get any of the adults to listen to him. The film was shot with a shoestring budget and the actors, with the exception of McQueen who shows talent and personality even at this youthful age, range from mediocre to downright bad, but none of that is overly important to the monster itself. Nothing like it had ever been on film before and some scenes stand out as decidedly very original and memorable. The Spook Movie festival in the movie theatre and the finale at the diner are such classic scenes
Godzilla – 1954
Stomping into the number 2 slot is everyone’s favourite dino…
Synopsis: American nuclear weapons testing results in the creation of a seemingly unstoppable, dinosaur-like beast.
If you’ve followed my articles at all, you’ll know that I am a massive and unapologetic Godzilla fan. One thing I bet most of you don’t know is that the original from 1954 was technically considered a horror film in Japan when released. Sure, it’s definitely Science Fiction by today’s standards but it still has that label on it so it qualifies. First we had King Kong (1933), one of the most important and first large monster films, than we had giant insects the point in which you thought that all large monster films are gonna die. Godzilla (1954), is bigger, badder, better, meaner, faster, and more artistic than any other monster films. It’s the movie that sets some new standards. The film was based upon the story of Shigeru Kayama “Gojira” from the words “gorilla” and “kujira” (whale). It’s without any doubt one of the most significant SF/Horror films in Japanese cinema, which is a proven fact due to the large number of sequels this movie spawned. A large monster suddenly comes alive, and it’s growing in catastrophe for human civilization. You can easily say that the story motives are the same just like in the Frankenstein (1932), for example… But Japanese view of these thing is different. Godzilla is not appearing for some purpose, he is there only for the plot, he is an unstoppable, blind force ready for destruction, and there’s also a human’s error of his interfere in nature, so by the looks of things, the large monster is some kind of “payback” from mother nature. The movie has good acting crew, excellent direction, an inspiring and brilliant music score by Akira Ifukube, who also made Godzilla roars, the special effects were also great, done by Eiiji Tsuburaya. Godzilla is the golden standard for all Kaiju and monster films, there is no debating it.
Our time machine is about out of energy for this trip folks. The best horror film of the 1950’s belongs to one film..
Dracula (aka Horror of Dracula) – 1958
Synopsis: Jonathan Harker begets the ire of Count Dracula after he accepts a job at the vampire’s castle under false pretenses, forcing his colleague Dr. Van Helsing to hunt the predatory villain when he targets Harker’s loved ones.
Hammer made several classic horror movies : The Curse Of Frankenstein, The Curse Of The Werewolf, Dracula – Prince Of Darkness, The Devil Rides Out, She, The Quatermass trilogy amongst others. However for me, their first Dracula movie is a true horror masterpiece. Although based on the novel by Bram Stoker, the movie doesn’t even try to adapt the book. Jimmy Sangster simply took the characters and events he needed, and went off and did his own movie, and it works brilliantly. Jonathon Harker arrives at Castle Dracula under the guise of being Dracula’s new librarian. Actually however, he’s there to destroy the vampire. When he fails, Dracula wrecks vengeance on Harker’s fiancé and family, while Van Helsing arrives in the hope of ending what Harker couldn’t.
As I said, nothing like the novel but it doesn’t matter. This is the best Dracula movie ever made.
To begin with, the set design by Bernard Robinson is superb. His design of the castle is fantastic. Jack Asher, the cinematographer does a stunning job lighting the movie, especially Dracula’s first appearance. The music by James Bernard, taking it’s cues from the title, Dracula, is wonderful, bringing excitement, dread, fear and everything you could ask for. Terence Fisher, Hammer’s most important director, keeps things going at a brisk pace, staging some brilliant set-pieces. Fisher made most of the early horror classics: The Curse Of Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Curse Of The Werewolf. He also made many more movies for Hammer, but this is his finest movie. Where Hammer got lucky was Christopher Lee. His Dracula performance is gripping. He’s charming when he needs to be – watch the brilliance of his first appearance. He appears at the stop of the stairs looking menacing, thanks to the lighting and music, then walks down the stairs and introduces himself! But Lee is as scary and terrifying as he needs to be, when stalking Mina and Lucy, but also almost passionate with them. And he proves a worthy adversary for Van Helsing. Which brings me to Peter Cushing. Simply put the best Van Helsing on screen, played by the best actor ever in the horror genre. Cushing brings compassion to Van Helsing (watch the scene with the child in the graveyard) but also determination and obsession at ridding the world of evil. Even though he made a lot of horror movies in his career, and thus is somewhat under-rated as an actor, he never gave a bad performance and here like Lee he is at the top of his game. it’s no wonder that they both became like a double-act in horror movies!! Although by todays standard, some of the acting may appear wooden, or ‘ham’ and some of the effects, especially in the movie’s stunning climax may have dated but the movie as a whole has not. I cannot recommend this movie more, and while the Americans may have confused us all by changing the title, it is still one of the best Dracula movies ever made.