It Came from the 1950’s Part III – By Timothy Martinez

 In the last two installments in this series I took a look at the best giant monsters and bugs from the 1950’s. Now it is time to examine my choices for the top five worst. Take note that this is in regards to the FX used to bring the creatures to life and not necessarily a reflection on the movie itself. While none of these films are remembered as being among the best the decade had to offer, there is still an elusive X factor retained by many of them that makes them fun to watch. I will be the first to admit that I own every single one of these films on home video – either DVD or older VHS editions – and I have a blast watching them from time to time. In effect, what I’m saying is that despite getting some harsh words thrown their way in the following article, I still love them, so if you are fans of them as well, you should understand the position from which I am coming.

By the end of the 50’s, moviemakers had already featured a variety of giant monsters, with the best efforts having already graced silver screens across the country. In an effort to cash in on the trend, many smaller companies tried their hand at the concept and thus had to find different creatures to enlarge to giant status. In this fashion moviegoers were treated (subjected?) to a variety of odd huge monsters. It seems anything and everything was a candidate for supersizing and not all of these monsters where brought to life for the silver screen in a convincing manner.

The Giant Gila Monster (1959) – This was one of two films made for the drive-in circuit by a Texas millionaire. Utilizing the American International Pictures approach, the film is aimed at a youthful audience, with the main characters all being Hotrod-loving teens played by twenty somethings. Somewhere in the vast American West, a Gila Monster – a small, poisonous indigenous lizard – has grown to gigantic proportions. The reason for the creature’s great size is never explained, though there is a very brief hypothesis by one character that it has something to do with minerals. The monster is brought to life by filming a real Gila Monster surrounded by miniatures, though given the real life proportions of the species, these miniatures have to be pretty damn small to be effective and thus are easily spotted for the cheesy effect they are. Still, the movie has a certain charm to it when it comes to the monster, with an eerie musical piece that lends a wee bit of atmosphere to the proceedings and a decent monster-on-the-loose mystery for the protagonists to solve as it unfolds. The true horror lies with some of the songs the wannabe musician of a main character inflicts upon the audience. The thought of hearing the words, “Laugh, Children, Laugh,” echoing from my TV is far more chill inducing than the thought of a colossal lizard knocking over a HO scale model train.

The Amazing Colossal Man/War of the Colossal Beast (1957/1958) – These films seem less interested in cashing in on the gigantism trend than presenting a story that is the polar opposite of The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). Colonel Glen Manning gets caught in the blast of a new bomb when he tries to save the pilot of a downed aircraft. The resulting exposure to radiation causes him to loose all his hair in addition to growing several feet each day. Since his internal organs are not growing at the same rate as his entire frame, this leads to some health issues, the least of which not being mental wellness. Glen goes nuts and falls off a dam, only to return in the sequel with a scarred, messed up face and no articulation skills above a pained roar. While there are a few scenes in the first movie that manage to present Glen’s large size in a believable matter, many shots as well as most in the sequel are just cheaply done by superimposing the actor into existing footage. It’s about as realistic as Al Gore on Prozac. Simply put, giant men are not all that scary aside from their big dimensions, which can often be overlooked. The real chills are achieved by the humongous diaper that Glen wears and the implication that those regular sized folks might have gotten an unwanted glimpse or two of his colossal wedding tackle flopping around as he made his way around town. Ewww.

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958) – Seeing as how a man was the recipient of supersizing in The Amazing Colossal Man, American International Pictures decided that it was only right that a woman get the same empowering treatment. Nancy Fowler Archer, played by the yummy Allison Hayes, is not happy in her marriage. It seems her hubby, Harry, is making no secret of his two-timing with local town slut Honey Parker, played by the also yummy Yvette Vickers. Then Nancy has an encounter with the worst man from outer space ever. This guy is 50 feet tall and flies around in a glowing ball. Both he and his space ship do not seem to fully occupy the same space-time continuum as the rest of us, as they both are quite transparent. Of course, this is really the result of the super cheap superimposing done to add them to a scene, but we have to try and be a little creative here. He enlarges Nancy to his size, most likely in hopes of getting some interplanetary boom-boom, but she escapes. Harry has her confined to the house but before it’s over, she gets loose and goes on a rampage, looking for both her cheating spouse and the broad who stole him away from her. Needless to say, the props used as oversized hands look nothing like a real hand, while the Harry doll Nancy picks up and shakes at the end resembles nothing but the toy it is. Cheap FX all around. Check it out.

Monster From Green Hell (1958) – Two scientists study the effects of outer space radiation by shooting up rockets full of bugs and animals. One such rocket holds a bunch of wasps and this one goes haywire, exposing the little pests to many, many hours of radiation before crashing in Africa. The scientists, the responsible researchers that they are, promptly dismiss the crash and forget all about the rocket. That is, until six months have gone by and reports of something odd going on in the depths of the Dark Continent reach them. Then they pack up and head on over for the mother of all stock footage treks through the jungle. The only thing worse than the mind-numbing use of so much stock footage, is the absolutely horrible way the monsters are realized for the screen. The best method is the use of some stop-motion miniatures, though these look nothing like the critters brought to life by the great Ray Harryhausen. Another method is a life-sized prop meant to be the head of one of these giant wasps, but its features don’t exactly match the stop-motion models all that much. The worst method is the horrible, and I do mean HORRIBLE way they are superimposed into existing shots. In these the wasps appear transparent, overexposed and their size ranges from as big as a bus to Godzilla-sized proportions. All in all, a rather lusterless giant monster movie. Did I mention all the boring stock footage?

The Giant Claw (1957) – Here we have the top spot for worst giant monsters of the 1950’s. Before we even get to the issue of the special FX, we need to talk about the absolutely ludicrous premise of the film itself: a gigantic buzzard with an anti-matter shield arrives from outer space (actually an anti-matter galaxy as some dork hypothesizes) and begins terrorizing the people of Earth, attacking anything that moves, whether it be in the air, on the ground or at sea. The truth is, the only thing moving will be yours sides, which will be split from laughter. Getting past the notion of an organic creature just flying through space (how is propelled in the windless vacuum of deep space?) and we realize that the monster is nothing more than a puppet. A horrible puppet at that. I’ve seen more points of articulation on my old GI Joe action figures than this thing. And don’t even get me started on how the bird changes size almost every time we see it despite its size being compared to that of a battleship at least a thousand times during the film. At times it is big enough to carry off freight trains like they were small snakes and other times the bird appears as if a hotrod is barely big enough to grasp. Additionally, the rest of the FX in the movie are just as bad. One plane crash is a laugh riot of cheap models and the battle between the buzzard and some jets looks like it was staged by a first grade class. All in all, the worst looking giant monster of the 50’s, but that is exactly why we love this film to this day. In fact, that cheesiness is why we love them all. So until next time gang, remember to always look up.