20 Underrated 50's SF/horror movies

by drmality-1 | created - 18 Dec 2010 | updated - 18 Dec 2010 | Public

Here are some lesser-known flicks from the Fabulous 50's that flew under the radar...

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1. The Vampire (1957)

Approved | 75 min | Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller

A kind, small-town doctor mistakenly injests pills made from vampire bat blood and they turn him into a dangerous fanged creature

Director: Paul Landres | Stars: John Beal, Coleen Gray, Kenneth Tobey, Lydia Reed

Votes: 853

A shocking yet moving take on the vampire motif. John Beal plays the good-hearted small town doctor who turns into a primitive, blood-lusting beast when he accidentally takes pills created by a dead scientist. Beal is terrific as the tortured doctor and the repulsive, caveman-like "vampire" both. Good performances and quirky, true to life dialogue make this a real keeper.

2. The Monster That Challenged the World (1957)

Approved | 84 min | Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller

Giant mollusk monsters attack California.

Director: Arnold Laven | Stars: Tim Holt, Audrey Dalton, Hans Conried, Barbara Darrow

Votes: 2,259

What could have been just another 50's big-bug movie becomes something much more here. The theme of giant bugs on the loose has rarely been handled with more realism. Tim Holt as the pudgy, gruff army man who battles giant aquatic millipedes on the loose dominates a cast full of interesting and true-to-life characters.

3. The Abominable Snowman (1957)

85 min | Adventure, Horror

A kindly English botanist and a gruff American scientist lead an expedition to the Himalayas in search of the legendary Yeti.

Director: Val Guest | Stars: Forrest Tucker, Peter Cushing, Maureen Connell, Richard Wattis

Votes: 3,181

This early Hammer film is eerie and unforgettable with its haunting portrayal of the mysterious Yeti. Despite its low budget, the movie creates a true feeling of cold and isolation. The odd couple of Peter Cushing and Forrest Tucker interact with each other beautifully, with Cushing's man of science playing off Tucker's blunt, money-minded American. The last scene is extremely memorable: "There is no such thing as a Yeti!"

4. Giant from the Unknown (1958)

Approved | 77 min | Drama, Horror

A very large, degenerate, Spanish conqueror is freed from suspended animation by lightning and goes on a killing spree in a small town.

Director: Richard E. Cunha | Stars: Ed Kemmer, Sally Fraser, Bob Steele, Morris Ankrum

Votes: 519

Although far from perfect, this one boasts perhaps the most unusual menace of the 50's: a murderous giant conquistador brought back to life after 500 years by lightning. The crusty-faced brute makes a nice change from killer aliens and giant bugs. A fun cast including vets like Morris Ankrum and Ed Kemmer also helps.

5. The Werewolf (1956)

Approved | 79 min | Horror, Sci-Fi

Two scientists come across an auto accident and find an unconscious man in the wreck. They take him back to their lab and inject him with a serum they have been working with. Unfortunately,... See full summary »

Director: Fred F. Sears | Stars: Don Megowan, Joyce Holden, Eleanore Tanin, Kim Charney

Votes: 1,104

This makes a great companion piece to "The Vampire". Like that film, it updates a classic monster by making it a creation of science. Here, an innocent man becomes a bloodthirsty werewolf due to the atomic radiation experiments of two misguided scientists. The old mythology about full moons and silver bullets doesn't apply to this atomic-age monster. Steven Ritchie is compelling as the tortured wolfman.

6. X the Unknown (1956)

Approved | 81 min | Horror, Sci-Fi

A radioactive, mud-like creature terrorizes a Scottish village.

Directors: Leslie Norman, Joseph Losey | Stars: Dean Jagger, Edward Chapman, Leo McKern, Anthony Newley

Votes: 2,356

A terrific early Hammer SF film with some real scenes of horror and suspense. It closely resembles the popular "Quatermass" films, only American Dean Jagger plays the American scientist standing in for Quatermass. Some horrible force from the center of the Earth is literally melting people into slag near a small village. Lots of suspense as the unseen being creeps up on people and there's a very shocking scene of a victim melting into a puddle. A great SF film!

7. The Man Without a Body (1957)

Unrated | 80 min | Horror, Sci-Fi

A wealthy business man discovers he has a brain tumor and seeks medical help. The business man finds a scientist experimenting with transplanting monkey heads on different monkey bodies. ... See full summary »

Directors: Charles Saunders, W. Lee Wilder | Stars: Robert Hutton, George Coulouris, Julia Arnall, Nadja Regin

Votes: 246

This obscure, almost totally lost film is crazier than a barrel of monkeys on crack. It almost literally defies description. Yet it is impossible to take your eyes off it. A whacky millionaire decides to bring the disembodied head of Nostradamus to life to help him beat cancer. But the legendary prophet has other ideas! The bizarre block-headed monster on the rampage at the end must be seen to be believed! Somebody needs to get this out on DVD!

8. Gog (1954)

Approved | 83 min | Drama, Horror, Romance

A security agent investigates sabotage and murder at a secret underground laboratory, home of two experimental robots.

Director: Herbert L. Strock | Stars: Richard Egan, Constance Dowling, Herbert Marshall, John Wengraf

Votes: 938

One of the ultimate hard science fiction films of the 50's. On one hand, it seems completely dated yet in other ways, it was amazingly ahead of its time with predictions of invisible stealth bombers, killer heat mirrors from space, cryogenic suspension and radio remote control. A super-secret scientific base is being sabotaged by a mysterious enemy making use of the robots Gog and Magog to do its dirty work. The film combines a dry, almost educational tone with some pretty harsh murders.

9. The Return of Dracula (1958)

PG | 77 min | Drama, Horror, Mystery

After a vampire leaves his native Balkans, he murders a Czech artist, assumes his identity, and moves in with the dead man's American cousins.

Director: Paul Landres | Stars: Francis Lederer, Norma Eberhardt, Ray Stricklyn, John Wengraf

Votes: 1,062

Dracula comes to America in this subtle tale of the master vampire invading a typical 50's small town. Francis Lederer makes for a suave, Continental vampire who masquerades as "Cousin Bellac" in America to escape communist persecution in his homeland. He sets about seducing the typical blond teenage girl in his household. This is yet another film with realistic dialogue and sharp characters written by Pat Fiedler, who did the similar "The Vampire" and "The Monster Who Challenged the World".

10. Night of the Blood Beast (1958)

Not Rated | 62 min | Horror, Sci-Fi

An astronaut is killed on reentry to Earth, but his body is seeded with rapidly gestating aliens.

Director: Bernard L. Kowalski | Stars: Michael Emmet, Angela Greene, John Baer, Ed Nelson

Votes: 1,611

This super cheapy seems like a dry run for the "Outer Limits" which would appear on TV a few years later. An astronaut seemingly returns to Earth dead, but then comes back to life just as strange murders strike the scientific outpost where he awakens. A freakish looking alien lurks about as scientists show up headless. And then we find out what's inside the astronaut's body... Schlocky yet entertaining!

11. The Black Sleep (1956)

Not Rated | 82 min | Horror, Sci-Fi

Sir Joel Cadman, a mad scientist, kidnaps his victims and cuts open their brains in an effort to discover a means to cure his wife's brain tumor.

Director: Reginald Le Borg | Stars: Basil Rathbone, Akim Tamiroff, Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine

Votes: 1,274

This twisted tale of medical experiments gone horribly wrong features an amazing cast of horror stars. Basil Rathbone is ice cold as Dr Cadman, whose brain experiments designed to bring his wife out of a coma have created a dungeon full of demented freaks. Sickly Bela Lugosi is wasted as a mute butler while Lon Chaney Jr. plays the crazed Mongo. Also starring a blind and hulking Tor Johnson, a scenery-chewing John Carradine and Akim Tamiroff as the grave-robbing gypsy. Worth seeing for this wild crew!

12. The Haunted Strangler (1958)

Not Rated | 78 min | Crime, Mystery, Horror

A researcher investigating a notorious serial killer who was hanged 20 years earlier seemingly becomes possessed by the long dead strangler.

Director: Robert Day | Stars: Boris Karloff, Anthony Dawson, Jean Kent, Elizabeth Allan

Votes: 1,079

For my money, this is one of Boris Karloff's best performances...certainly his best in the 50's. He plays a famous author who tries to clear the name of a man hung for being the notorious Haymarket Strangler. Karloff's character succeeds in clearing that man's name...but only when he learns the true devastating identity of the Strangler. Boris gives it everything he has in this very underrated period piece.

13. Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957)

Approved | 62 min | Horror, Sci-Fi

Scientists become trapped on a shrinking island with intelligent, murderous giant crabs.

Director: Roger Corman | Stars: Richard Garland, Pamela Duncan, Russell Johnson, Leslie Bradley

Votes: 2,542

OK, the crab monsters themselves look none too convincing when seen for an extended period of time, but ignoring that, this is a pretty eerie tale of scientists on an island being stalked by monsters that assume the personality of their victims. Lots of eerie scenes of dead character's voices being used to fool the living. If budget had matched the script, this would have been an all-time classic.

14. The H-Man (1958)

Approved | 79 min | Crime, Horror, Sci-Fi

When a narcotics deal goes sour and a suspect disappears, leaving only his clothes, Tokyo police question his wife and stake out the nightclub where she works. His disappearance stumps the ... See full summary »

Director: Ishirô Honda | Stars: Yumi Shirakawa, Kenji Sahara, Akihiko Hirata, Eitarô Ozawa

Votes: 1,047

Strange science fiction/film noir combo from Japan, created by the same crew that did "Godzilla". A police investigation into dope smuggling near a seedy nightclub reveals the existence of "liquid men" created by atomic radiation. Like "X The Unknown", there were disturbing scenes of melting humans. One of the most unusual Japanese SF movies ever!

15. The Man from Planet X (1951)

Approved | 71 min | Horror, Romance, Sci-Fi

As a mysterious planet hurls itself toward earth, an enigmatic extraterrestrial scout arrives on a remote Scottish island with unknown intentions.

Director: Edgar G. Ulmer | Stars: Robert Clarke, Margaret Field, Raymond Bond, William Schallert

Votes: 2,261

Directed by quirky Edgar G. Ulmer, this cheapy was arguably the first alien visitor film, predating both "The Thing" and "The Day The Earth Stood Still". An alien spacecraft lands on the lonely Scottish moors and the potato-headed intruder becomes the pawn of an unscrupulous scientist. Is the alien here to destroy us...or save us? Ulmer gives the film a gloomy, gothic look despite its low budget.

16. Terror from the Year 5000 (1958)

Approved | 66 min | Sci-Fi

Prof. Erling and his financial backer Victor build a prototype time machine to snatch objects from the past. Latest find, a statuette, radiometrically dates to 5200 AD! When this draws ... See full summary »

Director: Robert J. Gurney Jr. | Stars: Ward Costello, Joyce Holden, Frederic Downs, John Stratton

Votes: 1,156

If you call this a confused mess, you wouldn't be wrong, yet it has many scenes that stick in your head. The "face-stealing" scene where the mutant woman from the year 5000 simply "takes" the face of a beautiful nurse after killing her is real nightmare stuff. It's a time travel story featuring some really weird and off the wall characters coming into contact with a female killer of the future on a mission to save her race. Notable mostly for its unique weirdness.

17. The Maze (1953)

Approved | 80 min | Drama, Fantasy, Horror

A Scotsman abruptly breaks off his engagement to pretty Kitty and moves to his uncle's castle in the Scottish highlands. Kitty and her aunt follow Gerald a few weeks later, and discover he ... See full summary »

Director: William Cameron Menzies | Stars: Richard Carlson, Veronica Hurst, Katherine Emery, Michael Pate

Votes: 821

An odd, gloomy tale of family secrets in a Scottish castle. Richard Carlson, the great icon of 50's SF, tries to unravel the mystery lurking in the castle and discovers a very different kind of monster. Most people simply don't have the ability to look past what the monster is to see the tragic, pathetic nature of its existence. Admittedly, the beast is goofy, but the story is sober and well-presented and perhaps you,too, will feel sorry for Sir Roger McTeam.

18. The Angry Red Planet (1959)

Not Rated | 83 min | Adventure, Sci-Fi

One of only two survivors from a Martian expedition is so traumatized she doesn't remember the circumstances of the trip.

Director: Ib Melchior | Stars: Gerald Mohr, Nora Hayden, Les Tremayne, Jack Kruschen

Votes: 2,601

I can't get enough of this hallucinogenic Martian odyssey. The opening part is as dull as dishwater, but once our crew lands on Mars, watch out! The chromatic red tint is a stroke of brilliance, giving everything an eerie look. It also makes otherwise cheap FX take on a completely different appearance. Look out for not only the infamous bat-rat-spider-crab, but also the giant amoeba with its whirling eye, man-eating plants, three-eyed Martians and other wonders. A film that dares to suggest that humans are the evil invaders, not the other way around.

19. The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (1959)

Approved | 70 min | Horror, Mystery

Jonathan Drake, while attending his brother's funeral, is shocked to find the head of the deceased is missing. When his brother's skull shows up later in a locked cabinet, Drake realizes an... See full summary »

Director: Edward L. Cahn | Stars: Eduard Franz, Valerie French, Grant Richards, Henry Daniell

Votes: 777

Chilling little horror epic about family curses and Jivaro headhunters. A man finds out his brother's body is missing its head and discovers that he is to be the next victim of a deadly curse. Pretty shocking for its time and different than most 50's flicks. It resembles a longer, stronger episode of Boris Karloff's "Thriller" and even features the great actor Henry Daniell, always a perennial presence in that show. The menacing Indian with his lips sewn shut is the stuff of nightmares!

20. The Thing That Couldn't Die (1958)

Unrated | 69 min | Horror

A psychically gifted young woman discovers a centuries-old crate buried on her aunt's ranch. Opening it, her family discovers the living head of Gideon Drew, a 16th century devil worshiper ... See full summary »

Director: Will Cowan | Stars: William Reynolds, Andra Martin, Jeffrey Stone, Carolyn Kearney

Votes: 1,239

Another 50's horror flick that kind of defies description. A psychic young girl on an isolated ranch discovers a box containing the still living head of a 16th century warlock! The head is desperate to reunite with its body and conquer the modern world. There are cheesy bits but also a couple of real jolts...including a great scene involving a bedroom stabbing. The magnetic eyes of "The Head" are scary indeed.

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