I feel a little empty inside when I think about the days of minimal responsibility and maximum alcohol consumption. When we partied like lunatic kids gathered in a giant circle and binged terror films from the ‘70s and ‘80s. It was a good time.
This article won’t take us back to the ‘70s or ‘80s, but rather, the ‘50s and ‘60s. We’re eager to point out a few really compelling films that Millennials may have unfortunately missed. So, if you don’t mind a black and white image, or a straight-forward narrative that rarely deviates into tricky subplot territory, get ready for some amazing recommendations.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
A trek through warranted severe paranoia, this is one of the finest classics in existence, and it holds that distinction because it’s still – some 60-plus years after release – a captivating piece for all audiences. That all boils down to beautifully written script, an amazing pace and a performance from the late (and definitely great) Kevin McCarthy (who, for the record, also had a cool cameo in Philip Kaufman’s superb remake) that proves insanely magnetic.
The Thing from Another World (1951)
Long before John Carpenter adapted John W. Campbell Jr.’s excellent tale, “Who Goes There” Howard Hawks attempted to adapt the same story. Time and technological limitations ensured that the story could not play too faithful to its source, but this crew did the best they could, and the result is an excellent film with a pitch-perfect performance from tough guy heartthrob (and longtime favorite of mine), Kenneth Tobey, a cool looking alien to tangle with and a serious sense of terror among the crew of this base camp.
The Werewolf (1956)
Somehow, some way, Fred F. Sears’ lycanthropic pic, The Werewolf has been an underappreciated picture for decades, and it really doesn’t need to be. This is a man-turns-man-into-monster story and it’s told with refinement while featuring some key sequences (the haunting early botched burglary, for example). While I would have liked to have seen more action unfold under moonlight, even the daytime hunting is thrilling. It’s a quick flick, and you’re best not to blink – you may miss something awesome.
Cape Fear (1962)
John D. MacDonald wasn’t really known for writing horror stories, and truth be told, The Executioners – the book on which Cape Fear is based – isn’t an outright horror story, either. But when it makes its way to screen, it feels like an eerie thriller and viewers are left hanging by a string, wondering when the vengeful Max Cady will appear to exact his violent brand of revenge on a defense attorney that Cady feels railroaded him. While not as jarring as the remake (believe it or not), the classic Cape Fear is an absolute must-own movie.
Wait Until Dark (1967)
One of the few home invasion films to arrive damn near a half century before a string of similar-themed films popularized the cinematic style today, Wait Until Dark is a genius film that places a blind woman, a trio of crooks and a few nosy neighbors all in each other’s mix, attempting to occupy the same space and walk away with unique objects. The problem – beyond our protagonist’s lack of eyesight (perhaps an inspiration behind Mike Flanagan’s Hush – is the fact the three hoodlums in the tale feel no remorse and have no difficulties in killing someone if it means obtaining a hidden item said to contain a little contraband that could leave these fellows with some beefed up wallets. It’s a creepy, creepy picture with stellar performances and it gives way to a little knot in the stomach that all but ensures you the story is going to crawl into your psyche and the film won’t end on the prettiest of notes.
Village of the Damned (1960)
While I absolutely adore this film, I also hate it. Insane kids, or kids from another planet, scare the shit out of me. They do. So, naturally, when I jumped into Wolf Rilla’s innovative invasion tale, I couldn’t even pretend to pull my eyes from the screen, though I wanted to on several occasions. It’s so beautifully shot that it takes the breath away, and those kids… those fucking kids cross the line (the film features some taboo moments, particularly for 1960 – including a sequence when the children force a desperate man to lift his shotgun up to his own face and…) far too often. The conclusion arrives swift and sudden, but it’s one of the more rewarding film climaxes I’ve ever seen!
Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
Seeing the names Abbott & Costello should immediately serve as a tip-off: This film is bound to be more comedy than horror. The surprise of it all, however, is that the humor and the horror are actually pretty well-balanced. Lon Chaney, Jr., is wildly intense, and Bela Lugosi never quite distances himself from that strangely suave demeanor he loves to apply to potential victims as Dracula. The story itself is a little busy, I admit, but at the end of the day this is one of my favorite films of all time, ranking right up there with some of the earliest Universal Monster movies.
The Haunting (1963)
One of the first haunted house tales to leave a major imprint on the minds of horror fans, Robert Wise’s 1963 shocker, The Haunting, nestles deep in the bones and brain, and the brilliance of that comes in the fact that the film relies on atmosphere and extreme tension as opposed to cheap scares. If you caught the embarrassing remake from 1999, do your damndest to erase that picture from your memory – it in many ways the antithesis to Wise’s film, constantly relying on cheap jump scares and god awful digital effects. The original is the masterpiece you should be seeking out.
The Man Who Could Cheat Death
If you’re familiar with Hammer Films, then you’re likely familiar with one of their true filmmaking aces, Terence Fisher. You’re probably also well-aware at how savvy the man was behind the camera, as he gifted us some of the absolute best Hammer Films to ever be released. The Man Who Could Cheat Death isn’t necessarily one Fisher’s greatest pictures, but it’s damn eerie with an obvious Frankenstein spin, as the story revolves around a scientist who maintains his sharp wit and youth by yanking glands from living specimens. It’s a slept-on film, but it’s also a damn fine watch!
If you’d cornered me 30 years ago and said, “check out this awesome old movie about giant, mutated ants!” chances are I would have laughed in your face. Now, if you’d asked me that same question 10 years later – 20 years ago – I would have leaped to praise Gordon Douglas’ atypically entertaining movie about… well… giant mutant ants! The performances rock, the ants look infinitely cooler than they should and there are a few personalities that really shine. The movie speeds along at healthy clip, so if you choose to check it out, do so while your mind is clear and the boob tube has your undivided attention. You don’t want to miss this one!
Editor’s Note: Since the writing of this article, D.C. contributor Matt Molgaard has passed on. It’s an honor for us to share his final insights with you all. He will be sorely missed.