Goofy Horror Films of the 50's: Did They Really Scare Audiences?

Were audiences in the 50’s really scared by the schlock horror films (Creature from the Black Lagoon, I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Attack of the 50-foot Woman, and the like) that we make fun of today?

My dad (born 1954) remembers watching old monster movies on the television and in the theater when he was quite young and was scared to death of them.

So I imagine for children they were quite scary.

Some of them used gimmicks to scare the audience. William Castle was famous for this.

I seriously doubt it. The point of the movies wasn’t really to scare people, but to provide something to watch at the Saturday Night Movie Show or Drive-In. Back in the 50s a lot of people didn’t have TV yet – the neighborhood theater was effectively the local TV. These were like the TV shows for a lot of folks then.
That said, there’s a world of difference between Creature from the Black Lagoon and, say The Cape Canaveral Monsters. Jack Arnold’s movie about the Gill Man was well-made. One of the suits worked under water! You genuinely got concerned for the heroine when the monster was swimming near her. And it was in 3-D! The Cape Canaveral Monsters was filmed o n an almost non-existent budget and had the teenagers save the world by building a hydrogen bomb from their plastic belts.

So there was a broad spectrum along which films might fall. It’s worth considering that The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms – the first 1950s creature flick, received an “X” certificate (ADults only) when it was first released in Britain. The British clearly didn’t think it was kiddie stuff at the time.*

*Of course, six years later I saw it on TV when I was four or five, and didn’t feel traumatized at all. Times change.

The original “The Blob” scared me out-of-my-mind. I lived in a creepy (un-gentrified-at-the-time) wooden farmhouse, with an attic stairway right outside my bedroom. I would imagine The Blob oozing out of the attic, down those stairs and underneath the door into my sleeping quarters.

I was born in 1949, FWIW.

Hell yeah. I wouldn’t put Creature and Teen Werewolf in the same category, though. The Thing was pretty scary first time I saw it.

It sure scared me when I was a kid. I used to check under lampshades when I was small, to make sure the Blob wasn’t clinging under the bulb waiting to drop on my hand.

I imagine that some day someone will be asking the same question about all the slasher movies made in the 80s. By then, they’ll be even more cliched than they are today, and the incessant repetition of the plots (Have sex, die in a brutal manner. Rinse and repeat.) will make them seem more comic than scary.

I actually think that this exact thread was on this board a while ago. If not here, another board I frequent. Someone asked whether anybody ever found things like the original Friday the 13th scary.

And even when I was younger I thought that there was no way anybody really found The Exorcist scary.

I imagine that when I have kids someday they’ll feel the same way when I tell them that I had to stay awake all night the first time I saw The Ring.

I recall when The Simpsons did a “Treehouse of Horror” segment on Poe’s “The Raven.”

BART: That’s it? That’s supposed to be scary?!

LISA: Well, it was written in 1845. I guess people were easier to scare back then.

BART: Yeah, I guess so. Like Nightmare on Elm Street Part I. Seems pretty tame by today’s standards!

I saw Them! in the theater when I was 9 or 10. Had to walk home in the dark. My older brother was with me but he heard a noise and ran, and I couldn’t keep up with him.

It depends on how old you were. By the time we were in our teens, we were making fun of the silly monster costumes and the awful special effects. But we could still be affected by atmosphere and a good story so we appreciated movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Haunting, Psycho, and The Birds.

And the original Invaders from Mars, even though you could see the zipper on the back of the alien suits – that scared us. Your mom might not be your mom! Don’t trust anybody!

Four movies have genuinely scared me in the 70 years I have been watching movies. *The Thing *which I saw when I was 14 and which gave me nightmares for weeks. *Night of the Living Dead *which I saw when I was in my 30s and which had me crouching down in the theater seat in fear. Texas Chain Saw Massacre which I saw when I was in my 40s and had me believing I was watching a documentary! And for some strange reason a film I saw at a drive-in when I was about 10 called The Face Of Marble; I don’t remember anything about it except it I was terrified all the way home in my parents car and have I never forgotten the fear it induced in me. Someday I am going to rent it on video (if it has been so released) just to see what it was about.

As is often the answer It Depends. There are quite a few well made a scary horror films of the era (Them!, The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Thing, Invaders from Mars*, etc.). There were also schlock films (Robot Monster, The Horror of Party Beach, Plan 9 From Outer Space, The Wasp Woman, along with others that weren’t as notoriously bad, but still not particularly good).

Horror films of the time didn’t depend on gore, but rather on suspense and mood. Audience expectations have changed, so a horror film without gore doesn’t really register.

*I was lucky enough to see it in 3D, along with It Came from Outer Space.

This one? The Face of Marble review

The only movie that scared me silly was the original Frankenstein. As a child, after seeing the original Frankenstein in the theatre, when I got into bed that night, I imagined that the monster was under my bed and I started crying. My grandma heard me, asked what was the matter, I said I was scared, and she told me to get out of bed and come downstairs. I leaped out of that bed as high and as far as I could and ran downstairs.

I was a little kid in the early-to-mid-50s. For 25 cents we saw a double feature every Sunday afternoon. Some of them were scary as hell. I actually wet my pants during The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.

I was born in the 60s, but some of those old movies shown on TV scared me when I was a little kid.

I think another element is that film-making techniques and acting styles have changed a lot in the intervening years. It’s much harder for a modern audience to suspend their disbelief and properly immerse themselves in an older, black and white movie, so any sense of tension is lost.

Agreed. Not only that, but the way that films portray suspense and scary things in general is totally different now from what it was then. Compared to modern movies like Saw or The Strangers, something like Thing From Another World (which I love, btw) or, for that matter, Halloween is going to seem plodding and dull if you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.

I think that’s out of necessity - audiences get used to what passes for scary fairly quickly so techniques have to change to keep them interested.

My father was born in 1940, and tells me that the original version of The Thing was the scariest film he’d ever seen.