Usually considered the decade that ushered in the era of paranoia in mainstream entertainment, the 1950s also brought kitsch to the screen in a series of cheap, campy monster movies.
While serious filmgoers pondered the threat of alien invasion presented in such serious-minded fare as The Thing From Another World and War Of The Worlds, Attack Of The 50ft Woman suggested that if a flying cue ball ever arrived from outer space, then at least it would give bored heiresses a novel way to take revenge on their cheating husbands.
Then there was Queen Of Outer Space (“Mankind’s first fantastic flight to Venus – the female planet!”) which together with Cat Women From Outer Space and Fire Maidens Of Outer Space (are you sensing a pattern here?) assured male viewers that the future was indeed bright – each alien planet was populated by comely young women in tight, revealing clothes.
As the years wore on, the movies got campier and the plots sillier until the genre reached its nadir with The Navy Vs The Night Monsters, which pits big-breasted Mamie Van Doren against tree monsters. It took Ridley Scott’s Alien to make monsters scary again, but until then there were several pictures whose outrageousness made them a must see for camp aficionados.
10. Shriek Of The Mutilated (1974)
Responding to a Yeti sighting in upstate New York, a group of teenagers in a van with flower decals on the side set off to solve the mystery. The group includes include a square-jawed jock, a tall redhead, a practical joker and a short, unattractive girl in glasses.
After setting a trap that fails, the creature is revealed to be an authority figure in a costume, who was dressing up as a Yeti to draw attention away from nefarious activity. Even after repeat viewings, niggling doubts persist: were the filmmakers making a horror movie or a Scooby Doo cartoon?
Judging from the Yeti song (“He’s mean and gruesome/He’ll make your threesome into a twosome”) director Michael Findlay wasn’t being entirely serious, which is just as well – a five year old could tell you that the ‘monster’ is a man wearing white face paint, plastic fangs and what looks like a lamb wool coat.
9. The Giant Claw (1957)
Billed as a “Flying beast out of prehistoric skies” on the poster and reckoned to be “as big as a battleship” twelve times during the movie, the eponymous creature looks more like a turkey puppet on wires and caused audiences to burst out laughing even in 1957.
This being 1950s sci-fi, there are countless white coats around to offer ‘scientific’ analysis. “That bird is extra-terrestrial,” claims one. “It comes from some godforsaken, anti-matter galaxy millions of light years from the Earth. No other explanation is possible!”
Perhaps if producer Sam Katzman had gone with Ray Harryhausen, his original choice to do the special effects, the film would’ve turned out differently. But Harryhausen had butted heads with Katzman on Earth Vs The Flying Saucers and knew all about the producer’s penny-pinching ways, so he cited “prior commitments” and politely declined.
Katzman eventually went to a model maker in Mexico, and the results speak for themselves.
8. Troll 2 (1992)
There isn’t a single troll anywhere in this ultra-cheap oddity – the monsters are actually goblins kitted out by former Emmanuelle Laura Gemser in burlap sacks and rubber masks. Played by a group of little people, they lure unsuspecting tourists to “Nilbog”, where they’re transformed into vegetable matter by consuming green gloop.
You see, the goblins are cannibals, but they’re somehow also vegetarians, which means they can only eat people who’ve been turned into what looks like green food dye. They’re ruled by one Creedence Leonore Gielgud, who when she isn’t attempting to seduce teenage boys by showering them with popcorn (don’t ask), mounts her victims in planters. If they attempt to escape, she takes a chainsaw to them while insisting, “You won’t feel a thing!”
Because meat is her Achilles Heel, Creedence can be defeated easily enough – just brandishing a double decker bologna sandwich is enough to make her scream and disappear. Well, why not: Horace Pinker (from Shocker) was brought to his knees by a remote control and The Cape Canaveral Monsters were thwarted by leather wallets, so it’s about time bologna got its day in court.
7. Blood Freak (1972)
Not content with pitting Veronica Lake against Adolf Hitler in Flesh Feast (1970), director Brad Grintner delivers a Z-grade oddity guaranteed to put you off meat for life. Shot for $1.98 and loaded with Ed Wood-style dialogue, Blood Freak’s plot involves a drug addict who transforms into a monster with a turkey head who rampages through town cutting off limbs with a circular saw.
You see, Herschell (Steve Hawkes) needed cash for his habit, so he agreed to take part in trials at his local turkey ranch, where the animals receive an experimental growth hormone. Faster than you can say Thanksgiving, Herschell grows a hilariously unconvincing papier mache head and develops a close attachment to his power tools.
In the best scene, he attempts to reconcile with his girlfriend. “Gosh, you sure are ugly,” she tells him. “If we got married, what kind of life would we have? What would our children look like?”
6. Sting Of Death (1965)
Wearing flippers, a wetsuit adorned with beads and an inflated trashbag over his head that gives him an uncomfortable resemblance to Family Guy’s Stewie Griffin, actor Doug Hobart plays a true cinematic first – a man-jellyfish hybrid. Whisking his victims away to polystyrene cave furnished with a fish tank, TV antennae and a machine with dials and flashing lights he proceeds to….well, let’s not go there.
While the creature is puttering around in broad daylight, somehow able not to draw attention to himself, Neil Sedaka (!) croons on the soundtrack. Sedaka sings “Do The Jellyfish”, a ska-tinged number that encourages the listener to “Forget your Cinderella/ And do the jella/ The jilla jalla jella/ It’s really kinda swella/ To do the jalla jellyfish.”
So enamoured of this finger-snapping froth are the cast that they fail to notice the hybrid has taken up residence in their pool, which comes as something of a surprise to the first drunken bimbo to dive in fully clothed. Given the hilariously unconvincing costume, you’d think it’d be hard to miss.