Atomic radiation out of control was usually the catalyst for many of Hollywood's greatest monsters, earth changes, or supernatural entities. For most families, atomic radiation was still a grand mystery, and its powers seemed to be capable of anything, therefore, anything was possible. In fact, if you were a kid about eight or nine years old in the 60's, you've probably come to embrace the words "Atomic radiation" with a high degree of trepidation. Mutant ants, giant scorpions, mega-lizards and leviathan leeches can all be chalked up to good ol' atomic radiation. When I was a kid, the word "atomic" always sounded like outer space, and that's how I acquainted it. If it was "atomic", it either came from space, or was headed there.
My monstercabulary was upped to new levels with words ending in "ium". There was radium, uranium, plutonium, and probably more that I can't think of right now. Each one of these little "ium's" had there own part to play in the nuclear fission that became a cheap plot for even cheaper movies. Most of these classics (particularly the American International Pictures releases) were so bad they were good! Insects, slithering creepy crawlies, and, every now and then, people got the star billing in these films that bookmarked the chapter of black and white horror and sci-fi into our young brains. So, let us dive further into atomic radiation with...
Mad scientists were another factor into the nuclear-atomic theorem. Someone always had to be messing with atomic energy, and there was always one guy who thought he had the world's problems solved. (There were also a few who were in it for themselves). Many times we have heard characters say things like "He's been messing around with atomic energy" or, "Who knows what he's unleashed in that laboratory" Concurrent themes such as mad scientists squirreled away in their laboraties carrying on secret experiments behind locked doors were the pyramidical food chain of the classic sci-fi genre. Yet, had it not been for these loveable whackos, we wouldn't have had those great plot engines, and Hollywood would have been short a few miles of real estate. I say let 'em make giant spiders, let 'em turn themselves into flies, let 'em create master races that terrorize towns. After all, what harm could it possibly do? Mad scientists were largely responsible for the world's mishaps, and usually had an "awakening" toward the movie's end as to just what they've "unleashed upon the world and mankind."
One of my favorite mad scientists of all time was Griffin from "The Invisible Man". Those special effects were great, and his madness was excellent as it morphed into a vicious sense of humor once his invisible secret became known to all. Claude Rains was always a standout, but his voice overs brought about new clarity, and nobody could say "You fools!" like he.
So what happens when natural catastrophes happen? Who's to stop a mysterious metorite from crashing into the desert and morphing into giant pillars of destructive sillicon-sucking force when rained on? What can you do about a planet like Bellus preparing to destroy the earth? Do we build a giant spaceship to flee to Zyrus in search of an habitable atmosphere and hold a lottery to take the ride? This is what I loved about these wonderful earth catastrophe films, for with just a little research, you could carve out a magnificent plot. One such movie was "X, the Unknown" where a blob of radioactive mud grows and moves through a small English village melting everything in its path. "X" is one very stylish and creepy movie, and I loved it when I first saw it in 1963.
Bugs and Dinosaurs
Insects were always the best subjects when it came to horror and sci-fi. Rarely did they ever act on their own without being enlarged by mankind through nefarious methods and dark research with-dare I say it again-atomic power. Spiders, grasshoppers, ants, and even a praying mantis became living legends on backdrop screens which enlarged them to the size of houses and buildings. Dinosaurs were likewise great in the sense that they were almost always Iguana lizards with studio makeup. These Iguanas came with studio fins, custom colors, and a variety of miniature sets to trample upon. Lightning quick tongues forked at the tip zapped out and almost surely wrapped around someone's leg trying to pull them in. Note too, that most dinosaur films that didn't involve modern man, almost always featured cavemen. And since science teaches us that the two never shared the same neighborhood, the movies has them together.
Flying Saucers and spaceships
were a real treat in these old movies. largely because they were designed upon modern reports and fuzzy photos of round silvery crafts. In these old movies, they were by far more mysterious than the big budget special effects blockbusters of today. Being plain, and round, made it impossible for us viewers to comprehend what may be inside or what creatures may be controlling them. As for my own opinion, Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" ruined UFO's in the movies. They were bright and looked like flying ice cream cones or giant chandeliers. There was no mystery to his UFO's, only dazzle. The spaceship in "The Day the Earth Stood Still" was by far more intense, and more threatening. The craft was silver, silent, and once it landed, it was motionless and calm for hours and hours. In the 60's television program "The Invaders", their flying saucers were ultimately the best and looked very much like published photos of UFO sightings. These were flying saucers! Even the "bubble-domed" saucers were great. Who can forget "Forbidden Planet"? Let us not forget for a moment, the technical precision around the designs and animated movements of the flying saucers in "Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers".
Reviews of the Classics
"The Giant Leeches" were a group of fun-loving creatures mutated to a monstrous size by atomic radiation from nearby Cape Canaveral. Naturally, they abduct a few unsavory townsfolk and proceed to drain them of blood in an underwater cave. The scene in which they do this is actually pretty grisly, and as a kid, it would have been a bit much to take. This movie terrified me as a kid, and my mom was apalled at the subject matter. So much that she seriously considered censoring the type of monster movies I could watch. Fortunately for me, I was able to talk her out of it.
"Fiend Without a Face"The movie could have been a bit better, but I really liked it. There were parts of this little gem that were downright disturbing and scared me to death when I was a kid. The flying brains with spinal cords that jumped out at you, or crawled across the floor were visually too much. Once again, we were dealing with atomic radiation.
"Them!" Giant ants appearing due to atomic radiation experiments gone awry. "When man entered the atomic age, he opened the door to a new world. What we may eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict." This was a wonderful, and fast-moving film with the tension set at a good pace. The photography was top notch setting it just above the norm. This is all attributable to fine production standards such as the movies that Universal was turning out. Let's face it, there was something to be said about big budget after all.
"The Amazing Colossal Man" Lt. Col. Glen Manning is accidentally exposed to a plutonium blast. Elements unknown seem to propel him to a gargantuan size. The lack of blood flow to his brain causes him to go insane and eventually terrorize Las Vegas. I never found this one to be particularly engaging, but felt more duty-bound to watch it; I mean afterall, it was a monster movie.
"War of the Colossal Beast" More of the same as the presumably dead Lt. Col. Manning re-emerges, only this time with far superior radiation mutation. His face had become etched in my brain for years to come, and had they done this in the first one, they wouldn't have needed this brain dead sequel. It did have some pretty grotesque makeup that was particularly noteworthy.
"X, The Unknown" This is a great movie featuring some of the creepiest sets and effects that could be mustered among the early sci-fi/horror films of the '50's and '60's. A radioactive blob eats up the English countryside while scientists try to stop it. Before we even know that there is a radioactive blob, it proceeds to stir up as much trouble and havoc as blobbily possible. This is one very dynamic movie from Hammer Productions
"Teenagers from Outer Space" I watched it though it insulted my young intelligence at every step. Teenage aliens come to earth in search of the perfect grazing land for their "Gargan" herds. The "Gargan" monster is just a shadow of a lobster. The spaceship-usually a highlight in these films-was equally cheap and ridiculous. It was like this glowing corkscrew in the sky. Very boring. I'm guessing the production budget was probably around 20 bucks. C'mon you guys...
"The Black Scorpion"Mutant scorpions from a volcano in Mexico. This is a great classic full of weird insect mutations and about as much fun as one can have with a scorpion. Production standards on this one were a bit better, plus you had the radiant Ms. Mara Corday as the leading señiorita. Once our heroes go into the volcano, they encounter many more weird mutations and the fight scenes among the creatures are great.
"Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers" When I was in second grade, this movie scared the pants off me. I had visions of those robots following me upstairs to my room and waiting for me in the closet. The flying saucers themselves were a miracle of design, very realistic, and I loved the spinning awkward movement of them. Of course, us earthlings had to attempt communication by blasting their ship with cannons once it landed thus proving once again that humans just had no skills whatsoever when it came to cultural competency.
"The Day the Earth Stood Still" While I'm on the saucer kick, let's not leave out one of the most intelligent sucker-punch-to-the-rib-cage sci-fi films of all time. Earth gets a dire warning to basically learn to work and play well with others-or else. Of course, stupid earthlings attempt to interfere, show their independence, then get a little taste of "I told you so" in the meantime. The UFO was incredible as was its landing in Washington DC. Add to the mix, a giant robot named "Gort" who seemed to be a protector of the pilot messenger Klaatu. The dynamic score from Bernard Herrman is timeless and still haunting. Okay everybody! a-one, anda two, anda--Gort! Barada! Nikto!
"The Killer Shrews" Greyhounds anyone? I recognized the "Killer Shrews" as greyhounds with excess makeup baggage. Though the plot is interesting, and the movie is a blast, but it still suffers from obvious monster fakeage which is an unforgivable sin. It does get a bit tense when they devise their escape however. Though it can be extremely cheesy, this is one of my all-time favorite old monster movies due strictly to the odd story line and general weirdness. The movie suffered from very bad acting and not enough shrew action.
"When Worlds Collide" I could imagine that the sales of telescopes increased sharply after this movie came out. I always loved this one because it moved so fast. The basic formula was simple, and to watch it unfold before our eyes made for a cinematic masterpeice. Considering the film's age, it still holds up today, and I'm surprised that a remake has never happened. Richard Denning and Barbara Rush made a great on screen pair, and the scenes of his lighting his cigarettes with money is priceless. The rocket they build is very 50's, and the ramp, looking like a roller coaster, is very impressive.
"Invasion of the Saucermen" Now, don't get me wrong; I love this movie! It's just that the makeup and flying saucer are incredibly lame, and the fact that it's basically a comedy was a bit disdainful to me even as a kid. But this was a rather stylish little peice and probably deserves just one more dot, but dot's the way da ball bounces.
"Godzilla" As a kid, I said shame on this one and all of its ancestors and sequels. I NEVER liked Godzilla and felt I could've done much better with an 8mm camera and a monster model.
"The Incredible Shrinking Man"Yes, size does matter. Passing through a strange mist, our hero, played by Grant Williams, begins to shrink in size. The special effects are top-notch, and as he begins to seriously reduce, the sets are marvelous. His final showdown with the spider is awesome. In these classic sci-fi/horror films, they're either enlarging us, or shrinking us down, but in any event, this movie is far superior to any of the others.
"The Deadly Mantis" The story is okay, but during the destruction sequences of the city, you can see a truck tipped over with a thin straight metal axle exactly the same as those on Tonka trucks. Nice try guys...
"The Monolith Monsters" This is a very stylish movie with decent sets and an interesting storyline. Again, Universal studios were on their game. These giant rocks seem to get angry when they get wet! They also suck sillicon from any living entity. (I'd say about 99% of today's actresses would be in big trouble). Naturally, once the scientists solve the clues as to what can stop the things, we are amazed at the simplicity of it all. I love watching it, even to this day!
"The Invisible Man" Here we go again, yet another mad scientist playing with things that "man should leave alone." This movie for its age is still highly entertaining, and is an absolute masterpiece. Once Dr. Jack Griffin is exposed to the townsfolk, his invisible celebrity knows no bounds, and when betrayed by his most trusted companion, his vengeance is wonderful. Every kid wants to be invisible every now and then, and this movie gave us all an opportunity to experience just that.
"Thirteen Ghosts" William Castle always had brilliant production standards on a budget. Visually, Castle's films are dazzling, but there's always something not quite right in them. However, In this case, He hit a home run. The basic premise is of an absent-minded professor who inherits a mansion complete with ghosts that can be seen through a special pair of glasses. There are ghosts galore in this film, plus the scares are also plenty. This was the A-typical ghost movie for kids to watch, and originally premiered in theatres in 3-D. Ready for the clincher? His name is Dr. Zorba, and his kids' names are Buck and Medea!
should be as well planned as an evening's dessert wine. First, one must be careful with their selection. A good monster movie should have lots of suspense. Therefore, chewy is always best, it keeps the jaws working and the fingernails out of the mouth. If the movie offers much destruction, roaring, or screaming, one can get away with crunchy things like potato chips or corn curls. Still, nothing beats popcorn, the most important staple and core element of movie watching.
Complimentary Concession Cause and Effect:
1. Popcorn: always a bare necessity
2. Potato chips & corn curls: munching can cause loss of hearing of important dialoging.
3. Ice cream: There's never a bad time for ice cream.
4. Pop: tastes great, refreshes, but how long is the movie, and how long could you hold it until, well, you know?
5. Chewy candy: Perfect movie accompaniment
Dots, Jujyfruits, and Mexican Hats were great, but if you were a color-sorter (digging out you favorite flavors for last), they were difficult to see in the dark. Pom-Poms, Milk Duds, and Sugar Babies were wonderful, but I always loved the chocolate so much that they seemed to go too fast. Still, nothing could beat a box of Milk Duds. Candies like Good N' Plentys or Red Hots were great, but being so small, many spilled from your hand and went to the floor when pouring.
Let us now venture into the Sucker division: Suckers were always great because they lasted so long. Sugar Daddys and Black Cows were my favorites, though I preferred a Black Cow for the rich chocolate as opposed to the hard carmel of a Sugar Daddy. Still, either would suffice. I was also very big on Tootsie-Pops even though they were smaller. Charms were pretty cool, but they weren't always available at the corner stores. Dum-Dums were good, but just too darned small.