Creature features from the 1950s and 1960s rarely fail to disappoint me, so I had fun with a majority of these four films from my late brother’s DVD collection.
THE CYCLOPS (1957)
This silly, 66-minute movie is essentially patterned after the original King Kong. The biggest thing it has going for it is horror legend Lon Chaney Jr.
A missing test pilot’s girlfriend puts together a search party to find him. They crash on an island and soon have run-ins with giant spiders, lizards, hawks, and mice.
41 minutes in, there’s some giant, one-eyed POV. Awesome.
Soon after, we see the cyclops, but his one eye isn’t in the middle of his face! He’s been deformed, so one eye has been mutated closed.
The film subtlety suggests the possibility that the cyclops is actually the girlfriend’s man, affected by the same thing that created the giant size creatures. For reasons she can’t understand, she feels bad for the creature. And when a giant snake comes for her, the cyclops battles it to protect her, just like King Kong and his snake.
For me, the only really cool part of the film is when a dude nails the cyclops in its eye with a torch spear. Ouch.
WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST (1958)
This is a sequel to The Amazing Colossal Man, which my brother didn’t have in his collection of DVDs along with this one, I assume because it never got a U.S. DVD release as far as I can tell.
No need to worry about seeing the first film, because characters in the sequel fill us in quickly on how he became colossal and that he is believed dead. Plus, the monster eventually has flashbacks to the first story.
His sister believes him still alive, so she teams up with a military man and doctor to go find him in Mexico.
When they first see the man, he looks mysteriously like The Cyclops, mostly because it’s the same actor in nearly the same makeup making the same grunting sounds. And yet, a different actor played the role in The Amazing Colossal Man.
The military captures him and ties him down, so naturally he breaks free and weaves his way around or just demolishes miniature buildings that get in his way.
The highlight for me was a flashback in which a scientist tries to inject the beast with a huge needle, so the beast picks it up and uses it as a dart to impale him.
The film also uses the magic of color film as a gimmick…the movie is black and white, but both the colossal beast and us get a shock at the end when everything temporarily goes full color.
THE SPIDER (1958)
At 73 minutes long, this giant critter movie gets gloriously to the point.
After her father never returns home, a young woman and her boyfriend go looking for him. They find his vehicle near a cave with a danger/no trespassing sign, so of course they go in–a plot point that has echoed through horror ever since.
The place totally looks like Bogeyland from March of the Wooden Soldiers, right down to giant fishing net…I mean…spiderweb.
And then there’s the huge spider. A team is sent in and kills it. Or so they think. In another plot point that has echoed through the horror decades, a bunch of kids partying and blasting rock ‘n’ roll music waken the creature. Eek!
Interestingly, scenes of a spider walking through mini-building models is kept to a minimum, because the spider heads back to its lair, where the final battle takes place.
THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS (1962)
Forget that this doesn’t quite stick to the details of the original novel. This is a classic sci-fi/horror scenario focused not only on the monsters in the movie, but the monsters that people become when the world begins to fall apart.
A meteor shower brings awesomely cheesy alien plants–essentially trees–to earth, offering up a kill and the monster money shot right pretty early in the film.
The Triffids walk on their roots, have faces, and eat people. If it weren’t based on a novel from a decade before, this film would seem to be a bit of a rip-off of The Little Shop of Horrors from 1960.
During the invasion, a military man pretty much on his own rescues a young girl, and together they try to leave the country while dodging monsters and dangerously desperate humans. Classic plot, I tell you!
There’s a scientist trying to figure out how to kill the plants, and much like War of the Worlds, also from a decade before, the key to taking them out is something quite abundant and obvious.
Despite its age, the film manages to deliver suspense, atmosphere, and a fun and creepy presentation of the plants. Also, the effective use of light and fog makes me think that perhaps this film was an inspiration for the John Carpenter classic The Fog.
Of course, there’s no denying that when an army of Triffids makes a final stand, the tree soldiers look like a bunch of stalks of celery….