During Hollywood’s golden age, many of the major film studios seemed to specialize in a certain type of film or genre. Warner Brothers gave us those wonderfully gritty crime dramas and gangster flicks, MGM indulged in gloss, peppering the screens with lavish musicals, Republic Pictures was the action shop, specializing in westerns and serials and Universal, one of the oldest film lots in Hollywood, was the monster factory. Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, The Wolf Man, The Mummy and The Invisible Man were the icons of the studio, starring in a series of films throughout the 1930s and 1940s that helped to establish Universal as Hollywood’s ultimate house of horrors. Dubbed The Universal Monsters, these beasties were brought to life by a talented pool of legendary filmmakers and actors that became as closely associated to the horror film as Bogey and Cagney were to the gangster movie or Ford to the western.
When the 1950s rolled along, the classic monsters of yesteryear were put to rest as audiences had grown tired of Gothic horror and had traded in their fears for potential real-life atomic bombings, communism and UFO sightings. Hollywood listened and started to grind out a series of science fiction thrillers that starred any number of mutated, atomic creatures or bug eyed aliens intent on making our planet their own.
As they had done in prior decades, Universal, now called Universal-International after a merger with International Pictures, once again led the charge with a new series of slickly produced and directed sci-fi flicks that featured a whole slew of memorable monsters. Primarily produced by William Alland and directed by genre master Jack Arnold, these flicks serve up some of the best that 50s sci-fi has to offer. We feel that these “Universal-International” Monsters deserve some of the same respect that their Gothic predecessors have earned throughout the years, thus we’ve put together a list of the creatures spawned from the best of the studio’s ouput. Enjoy!
10. Neanderthal from:
MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS (1958)
Jack Arnold’s final genre film for the studio features a vicious Neanderthal killer courtesy of a silly mask created by make-up artist Bud Westmore. The beast is kept hidden for a majority in what is generally considered Arnold’s worst film for UI, but when it wields an axe and slams it into the head of a park ranger, you can’t help but appreciate its prehistoric ferocity.
9. The Monolith Monsters (1957)
Some of the strangest monsters in the studio’s history are featured in the slick little gem. The titular beasts are jagged monoliths from outer space, capable of growing to massive heights when exposed to water. The stone’s problem with staying erect (no jokes please) and crashing forward into damp ground when reaching a certain height and then growing all over again causes great concern for a small desert town that stands in the monster’s careening path of destruction. Jack Arnold helped write the story.
8. The Deadly Mantis (1957)
Giant bugs were all the craze in sci-fi’s golden decade, and UI jumped on the bandwagon with a couple of mammoth insect films of their own. This is the the lesser of the two, but unique in the fact that the mantis is giant simply because of its prehistoric roots and not because of atomic gene restructuring. You have to dig the sound the monster makes when in flight.
7. The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)
Jack’s Arnold’s masterpiece and one of the best sci-fi films of the decade. Grant William’s portrayal of the titular hero and his adventures with an over-sized cat and spider are still thrilling.
6. the dinosaurs from:
The land unknown (1957)
For a film that was originally conceived as a large budget adventure film complete with state of the art special effects, this “lower” budget dino flick still has a lot to offer for undiscriminating monster fans. The prehistoric beasts that populate the film are a mix of mechanical props, man-in-suit and enlarged lizards. Note that the roar of the film’s T-Rex was used by Steven Spielberg for the final death bellows for both his truck in DUEL and the shark in JAWS.
5. The Mole People (1956)
The least of UI’s 50s sci-fi flicks actually offers up a pretty cool monster, even if it looks like a giant dill pickle with appendages. A fairly inventive plot about an underground civilization and the great John Agar add to the fun.
4. Tarantula (1955)
UI’s answer to Warner Brother’s giant ant flick THEM! is one of their best, with solid Jack Arnold direction and effective Clifford Stine special effects lifting it to the top of the studio’s output. Shots of the spider moving over desert hills or spying on a yummy Mara Corday in her bedroom still pack a punch.
3. Xenomorph from:
It Came from Outer Space (1953)
This spooky little visitor from another world gives new meaning to the term “bug eyed alien”. The studio’s first entry in the sci-fi arena was also the first genre film directed by Jack Arnold and one of the earliest 3-D flicks. Interestingly, the filmmakers orginally planned to use the design for the Mutant from THIS ISLAND EARTH for the alien.
2. Metaluna Mutant from:
This Island Earth (1955)
UI’s most expensive genre flick of the decade features one of filmdom’s greatest alien creations. Saved for the last quarter of the film, the Mutant doesn’t really do much but shamble around and look menacing, but with a look that reads part lobster, part insect and one giant brain, we imagine 50s audiences wet themselves with fear. Supposedly monster expert Jack Arnold was brought in to direct the creature’s scenes.
1. The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
The only monster on the list that gets to hang with both the UI gang and the original Universal Monsters. Half man, half fish, all classic monster. Future generations of man-in-suit monster creations owe a lot to this guy. He was so popular with audences that the studio brought him back for two sequels: REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (1955) and THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US (1956).
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