Top 10 Horror Films of the 1950s

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Ah, 1950s horror films… Part sci-fi flick. Part action-adventure. Part scary movie. 100% creepy! These movies are all true cinema classics and well worth watching.

If you’re older than 35 like me, chances are you grew up watching re-runs of these movies on “pre-cable” television. (You know, back in the days when there were only 4 or 5 channels!) These movies actually gave you something to look forward to on a Friday night or a Sunday afternoon.

Some of these horror films were shot in black and white, while others were at the forefront of advanced movie technology. That’s right, you heard me… Advanced movie technology back in the 1950s. Several of the Top 10 Horror Films of the 1950s on our list were some of the very first 3-Dimensional movies ever made. Granted, it was nothing near the quality of today’s modern 3-D movie magic, but still very cool and ground breaking stuff for the 1950s.

10. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

Movie Plot:
After nuclear testing, a carnivorous dinosaur thaws from the ocean depths and makes its way down the east coast of North America. Professor Tom Nesbitt identifies the beast as a Diapsid Dinosaur – Rhedosaurus. Soon after emerging from the sea, Rhedosaurus wreaks havoc from city to city until he arrives at Manhattan Island, where Nesbitt comes up with a plan to try to stop the seemingly indestructible monster.

Box Office:
Budget = $210,000 (estimated)
Gross Revenue = $5,000,000 (USA)
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms was the top grossing movie of 1953.

Fun Movie Facts:

  • The dinosaur skeleton in the museum sequence is not a real dinosaur skeleton. It was borrowed from storage at RKO where it had been created for another movie – Bringing Up Baby (1938).
  • The “Coney Island Amusement Park” in the film is actually The Long Beach Amusement Park in Long Beach, California. The production crew was able to film at this park from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m.
  • This was the first film to feature a giant creature awakened or mutated by a Nuclear Bomb.
  • Warner Brothers bought the film from producers Hal E. Chester and “Jack Deitz” for $450,000.

1953 Horror Movie Poster The Beast from 20000 Fathoms

9. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

Movie Plot:
Alien Klaatu lands on Earth with his mighty robot, Gort, just after the end of World War II. They have an important message for Earth’s inhabitants that Klaatu wishes to present to the representatives of all nations. Unfortunately, however, communication between the alien and humans becomes difficult. So, after learning more about the people of Earth, Klaatu decides on an alternative.

Box Office:
Budget = $1,200,000
Gross Revenue = $1,850,000

Fun Movie Facts:

  • The role of Gort was given to a doorman from Grauman’s Chinese Theater – because he was extremely tall. However, he was not very strong and had to be aided by wires in scenes where Gort is shown carrying Helen and Klaatu. He also had issues with the heavy Gort suit and could only stand upright in it for about 1/2 hour at a time.
  • To give the appearance of seamlessness to the space ship, the crack around the door was filled with putty, then painted over. When the door opened the putty was torn apart, making the door seem to simply appear.
  • The spaceship from the movie was made of wood, wire and plaster of Paris.
  • There were two different Gort suits – one that laced up in the back for frontal camera shots and a second that laced up the front for back-side camera shots.
  • Harry Bates was paid only $500 by 20th Century-Fox for the rights to his short story “Farewell to the Master”.
  • In the original story – Gort was the master and Klaatu was merely one of a series of doubles, or maybe clones, that died after a short time.
  • The phrase “Klaatu barada nikto” has become a popular phrase among sci-fi fans and has been featured in other movies, such as Army of Darkness (1992).

The Day The Earth Stood Still 1951 Movie Poster

8. THEM! (1954)

Movie Plot:
Nuclear testing in the desert causes the growth of gigantic mutant ants. The ants then terrorize American south-west cities as scientists and the U.S. Army try to find a way to control their spread of death and destruction.

Box Office:
Gross Revenue = $2,000,000
Them! was the top grossing movie of 1954.

Fun Movie Facts:

  • Flamethrowers used in the movie were standard World War 2 weapons on loan from the US Army. Actors handling the weapons were WW2 combat veterans who had experience using them in battle.
  • When Them! was released in Sweden, it was oddly named “Spindlarna” – which translates as “The Spiders.”
  • The movie was originally planned to be filmed in color. Two days before filming began, however, a nervous studio exec cut the budget and the film was made in black and white. The title of the movie is strangely shown in bright red against a black and white background.
  • It was also supposed to have been shot in 3-D. Some elements of the 3-D effects remain in the film – like the ants having extreme close-ups and flame throwers shooting straight into the camera.

Them Movie Poster

7. The Fly (1958)

Movie Plot:
A top scientist has a horrific accident when he tries to use his newly invented teleportation device. Unknowingly, a fly was in the device during his experiments and the scientist is transformed into a half human / half fly creature!

Box Office:
Budget = $700,000
Gross Revenue = $3,000,000

Fun Movie Facts:

  • “The Fly” was originally a story published in the June 1957 issue of Playboy magazine.
  • The lab set cost only $28,000 and included some surplus Army equipment.
  • The original movie script was faithful to George Langelaan’s original story, but Fox executives demanded a happier ending.
  • This became the biggest box office hit for director Kurt Neumann, but he never knew it. Unfortunately, he died a month after the premiere, and only a week before it went into general release.

The Fly 1958 Movie Poster

6. The Blob (1958)

Movie Plot:
An alien life-form lands on Earth and consumes everything in its path as it grows and grows. Looking like a blob of jelly, The Blob spreads from town to town and just keeps getting bigger.

Box Office:
Budget = $240,000
Gross Revenue = $4,000,000+

Fun Movie Facts:

  • When the movie ends, it shows the blob being dropped into the Arctic. “THE
    END” appears and then changes into a question mark.
  • The film was partially shot in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. The theater everyone is seen running from is the Colonial Theater.
  • The Blob was created with a modified weather balloon in the early shots. In later shots, it was created and filmed using colored silicone gel.
  • In some promo material, the character played by Aneta Corsaut is referred to as Judy. Her character in the film is named Jane.
  • Movie producers originally signed Steve McQueen to a three-film deal with The Blob being the first project. McQueen was so difficult to work with during filming that he was released from his contract for the other two films.
  • This film was originally titled as “The Glob.” It was changed after it was discovered that cartoonist Walt Kelly had already used that title.
  • When Steve and Jane go to the police station to report the death of Dr. Hallen, the calendar on the wall shows that it is July 1957.
  • Steve McQueen was offered $2,500 — OR — 10% of the profits. He took the $2,500 because the film wasn’t expected to do well by some. It ended up grossing over $4 million.

Horror Movie Poster The Blob

5. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

Movie Plot:
English Nobleman Sir Henry Baskerville returns home to his family’s house on the moors after his father’s mysterious death. Sir Baskerville is soon confronted with the mystery of a supernatural hound that is out for revenge upon the Baskerville family. The famous detective Sherlock Holmes and his assistant Dr. Watson are brought in to solve the puzzling situation.

Fun Movie Facts:

  • The Hound of the Baskervilles was the first “Sherlock Holmes” movie to be filmed in color.
  • The hound used in the movie was a real dog named Colonel. On the set before the hound attacks Christopher Lee’s character Sir Henry Baskerville, they could not get Colonel to jump on Lee, so they started to “prod” him into action. Lee gave up and suddenly, Colonel lunged on him and bit right through one of his arms.
  • For his role as Sherlock Holmes he of course had to smoke a pipe. But, Peter Cushing was either a non-smoker or didn’t like the taste of the pipe, so he kept a glass of milk always to close at hand to remove the taste.

4. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Movie Plot:
Dr. Miles Bennell learns that the population of his community is being replaced by emotionless alien duplicates. After returning to his small-town practice, Dr. Bennell believes that several of his patients are suffering a paranoid delusion that their friends and relatives are impostors. Although skeptical, he is eventually persuaded that something odd is happening and determines to find out what is causing the phenomenon.

Box Office:
Budget = $417,000
Gross Revenue = $2,500,000+ (USA) / $500,000 (Britain)
The film did over $1,000,000 in revenue its opening month.

Fun Movie Facts:

  • Only $15,000 of the total movie budget was spent on special effects.
  • The tunnel scene where the hero hides briefly from the townspeople was filmed at Bronson Cave in Griffith Park – known to locals as the Bat Cave.
  • SPOILER ALERT: The film originally ended with Dr. Binnell on the highway shouting “You’re next, you’re next!” to people driving by. However, the studio wanted a happier ending, so scenes were added to the opening to show him in a hospital telling his story to two other doctors and to the ending where the other doctors find out about teh pods and one of them contact the FBI for help.

1956 Movie Poster Invasion of the Body Snatchers

3. House of Wax (1953)

Movie Plot:
A wax figure sculptor for a local museum is disturbed when his partner proposes burning the unpopular museum to collect the insurance money. As the museum and its wax figures melt amid the blaze, the two men get into a fight. The sculptor is knocked unconscious and left to die in the flames. He later returns to launch his own wax museum, but the opening mysteriously coincides with the sudden disappearance of dead bodies from the city morgue.

Box Office:
Budget = $658,000
Gross Revenue = $9,500,000

Fun Movie Facts:

  • According to the Guinness Book of World Records, while this film is far from being the first 3-D film, nor the first in sound or color, it IS the first 3-D film released with a stereophonic soundtrack.
  • The name of Vincent Price’s character was changed from Ivan Igor to Henry Jarrod to avoid alienating Russian viewers.
  • This was the first 3-D color movie ever to be produced by a major American studio. Shooting took place January 19-February 21 1953, for release April 9.
  • Nedrick Young (who played the alcoholic assistant Leon) was uncredited because he had been blacklisted during the McCarthy “Red scare” era in Hollywood.

1953 Movie Poster from House of Wax

2. The War of the Worlds (1953)

Movie Plot:
Film adaptation of H.G. Wells’s classic radio radio story of the invasion of Earth by Martians. The invaders unleash a direct assault on planet Earth, using hundreds of indestructible space ships. The war takes place all over the world and all major cities are destroyed one after another. Even the atomic bomb can’t stop them.

Box Office:
Gross Revenue = $2,000,000

Fun Movie Facts:

  • It was originally planned to have the Martian war machines “walking” on visible electronic beams. This was attempted by having electrical sparks flying from the three holes at the bottom of the machines. However, this plan was quickly abandoned due to fire hazards. During filming, the actors were under the impression that they were in fact dealing with the walking tripod machines of the book. This explains the farmhouse scene when Gene Barry says, “There’s a machine standing right next to us.” Even though the shooting sparks effect was abandoned, the machines still have some visible semblance of walking when they are in flight.
  • Orson Welles, who rose to fame with his “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast on Halloween 1938, was pressured into making this his first feature film. He, however, did not want to participate.
  • Filming was stopped for two days when Paramount discovered their filming rights to the novel were only for a silent version. Fortunately, the issue was quickly resolved through the permission of H.G. Wells’s estate and filming resumed.
  • The Martian machines are always seen marching from screen right to screen left, except for the sequence that contains the international efforts against the Martians.
  • The Martian war machines were models suspended from wires. For the final sequences where the machines die, they are shown crashing into telegraph poles. This allowed the filmmakers to hide the suspension wires within the telegraph wires.
  • The design of the Martian machines was based upon the shape and movements of manta rays.
  • The two Martian machines that crash into each other in Los Angeles are really the same machine from a different angle, with the film image reversed.
  • The “heat ray” was a burning welding wire with a blowtorch forcing sparks off of it.
  • None of the original Martian war machines are in existence today. They were made out of copper, and after production, they were reportedly donated to a Boy Scout copper drive.

The War Of The Worlds 1953 Movie Poster

1. Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

Movie Plot:
A scientific expedition traveling the mighty Amazon River encounters a prehistoric humanoid / “Gill Man” in the mysterious Black Lagoon. Expedition members capture the amphibious fish creature, but it soon escapes – only to return to kidnap the lovely Kay – with whom the creature has apparent affection for.

Box Office:
Gross Revenue = $1,300,000

Fun Movie Facts:

  • The movie was originally titled simply “The Black Lagoon.”
  • A professional diver was hired to hold his breath for up to 4 minutes at a time for the underwater role as the “Gill Man.” The director’s logic was that the air would have to travel through the monster’s gills and thus not show air bubbles emitting from his mouth or nose. This detail was ignored in later remakes and air can be seen emanating from the top of the creature’s head.
  • The eyes of the Creature were a fixed part of the rubber construction of the suit. The actors who played the part of the “Gill Man” could barely see when in costume.
  • The physical appearance of the Creature was modeled after a likeness of the Oscar, the annual award handed out by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The Creature From The Black Lagoon Movie Poster
Creature from the Black Lagoon 1954 Movie Poster2

Article Written by Brian Douglas


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17 Comments

  1. Only the first 5 minutes or so of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” was horrifying. The rest of it was just science fiction and a morality story. It was not a horror movie after the first 5 minutes or so. Similarly I do not consider the “Hound of the Baskervilles” a horror story. It was mysterious but not horrifying. Only the final confrontation between Holmes and the dog could be remotely considered to be horrifying. Even then I would say it was more intense and dramatic than horrifying. That is the way I see it.

    • Thanks, Little Sam. I appreciate your comments. And, I personally feel that “sci-fi” and “horror” went hand-in-hand in movies from this era, where today we have a much more distinct line between what sci-fi and horror actually are.

      Either way, I hope you at least enjoyed the list!!

  2. I’ve seen all of these. I’ve got to say that Creature from the Black Lagoon was scarier than most monster flicks of the era. House of Wax is one of my favorite movies. Nice suspenseful scene on the city streets late at night.

    War of the Worlds was the dumbest of the above movies. Imagine if they’d actually written a script based on the original book…

  3. None of these were “scary” and I saw them all at the Parthenon theater in Hammond,Indiana as a teenager. “House Of Usher” and “The Tingler” ,both with Vincent Price-Now,they were scary.

  4. ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ is based on HG Wells classic BOOK. Orson Welles adapted said book into a radio show.

    Also, this list fails for lack of ‘Night of the Demon’.

  5. “The Thing from another World”
    “IT!” The Terror from Beyond Space”
    “Godzilla”
    “Tarantula”
    “The Deadly Mantis”
    Just a few that would keep me awake at night when I was a kid. Make a longer list and include some of these classics.

  6. WAR OF THE WORLDS the creepy sceine in the farm house with that martian layings its hand on her shoulder was what realy scared me as a kid when i first saw it

  7. How about “THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN” (1957) starring Grant Williams and the INFAMOUS TARANTULA in the cellar of his house that is out to get him !!!

  8. Does Night of the Hunter count as horror? If so I think it should have been in this list. Even to this day nobody can straddle the line between charming and menacing quite like Robert Mitchum could. See also: Cape Fear. Though I think that was the 60’s.

  9. Curtis Stotlar on

    Good list. The William Castle films “Tingler” and “House on Haunted Hill” are always fun, but I was hoping “The Thing” would be there. It scared the living daylights out of EVERYBODY. Thanks for the list.

    Curtis Stotlar

  10. I saw a black and white movie (probably 1950 to1960’s era) about a doctor that took something in his lab and then turned into a hideous monster with a man’s body. His name was “paul”. He had a girlfriend. I thought his lab assistant was a very young Clint eastwood. There is a scene where as the monster, he chases his girlfriend down a neighborhood street. Does this ring a bell with anybody? i would love to see this movie again. I was about 10 years old when I saw this movie. I
    am now 56 yrs old.

  11. Bobbie Bostick on

    None of these is the one I remember. My picture was very dark, gloomy and misty on the water with lost/abandonded ships. There were wraithlike people who walked on the water that had grass or fungus to support them. If there was a plot it long escapes me as this was in the late 1950’s to the 1960’s. We saw this at a drive in and had to carry each of our four children to the restroom as they refused to put their feet on the ground. They knew they would be swallowed up. Why, as adults, we ever allowed our children to watch this horror show gives me pangs of guilt after more than 50 years.
    I hope someone will recognize this and tell me the name. I’m hoping to be able to see it again and see it for the hokey production it probably was.

  12. I own all these films. Watched them several times over growing up. I love old horror and sci-fi, especially the early black and white stuff. I don’t see the old films as outdated or tacky. These are some awesome movies to have on the shelf. Little windows into the past that give a glimpse at how people interacted with one another, their logic and beliefs. Cool stuff.

  13. Does anyone remember this movie that came on TV when I was a kid? Thinking it was late 60’s maybe and not sure if Vincent Price was in it. There were moving arms and legs behind some sort of panel or curtain and there was a head in a small box. The mouth would open and would make some kind of sound like Ahhhhhhh or Awwwwww. It is not the Brain that Never Died…I think that is the title. Been searching for that movie for months now and getting nowhere. Thanks

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