1959 was a year dominated by giant killer monsters, science experiments gone horribly wrong, murder mysteries, and lots of Vincent Price. There were 5 films made in 1959 between the directors William Castle and Terence Fisher, with a total of 5 movies starring Vincent Price as well. That's a lot of awesome stuff to watch. And I did, along with plenty of other things as well. 1960 was a much creepier year in movies, with most of the top group there standing out as particularly disturbing in many ways, but it seems '59 was a lot sillier, which you'll probably see for yourself throughout this post.
As always with my lists, reviews, or anything else, this is entirely based on my own opinion, and I fully embrace the fact that most people probably won't agree with me on a lot of these. Also due to lack of availability, several movies I really wanted to see from this year just weren't watchable. That's a shame, but I'm not gonna cry about it. Again, what I classify as horror may be a little different than other people, but I'm not going to be as picky with this year as I was in 1960, since the genre was a little odd in '59...you'll see here in a minute.
Now, before I continue with this list, I'm going to shamelessly plug my 1960 posts again, because this is my blog and I can do what I want.
- Top 10 Horror Movies of 1960
- Horrors of 1960, Part II
Theeeeere we go. That feels a lot better, I think I'm ready to move forward with the list now. And what better way to start this off than with...
10. "Attack of the..."
Attack Of The Giant Leeches, The Killer Shrews, The Giant Gila Monster
Here is my first all-inclusive entry on one of these lists and while I almost feel dirty for having to do this at all, I feel it's almost a necessity. Everyone knows the "Attack Of The Giant/Killer/Mutant" movies, and 1959 was a huge year for them. And they're pretty much all equivalent in some way or another. To include one without mentioning another would be insanely difficult, as they occupy the same dumpster and word gets around fast. The stories of these movies have never mattered, the science behind the creation/discovery of the monsters is also irrelevant, and the monsters themselves are too ridiculous to ignore. In Giant Leeches, the monsters are basically men in black garbage bags with giant sucton cups on them. In Killer Shrews, the beasts appear to be dogs covered in long hair wearing masks (?). In Gila Monster, the monster is...well, a normal-sized gila monster stomping around tiny fake sets. You don't watch these for any reason other than to laugh at the ludicrousliness (that's a word now, I made it up), and they can all be found in the public domain. And yeah, MST3K did commentary on all three of these, in case you were curious just how bad they are.
9. The Hound Of The Baskervilles
The only reason this movie is so low on my list is due to how difficult it is for me to even call this a "horror" movie. But like most other entries on this list, that vague genre label matches up in a way that I don't find uncharacteristic enough to deny it entry into this super exclusive club, so here it sits. It's directed by Terence Fisher, produced by Hammer, starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and centers around mysterious attacks from a seemingly supernatural dog. That's 5 checks in its favor, and I'm not about to play genre gatekeeper on this one. Although I've never been a fan of Sherlock Holmes (this book in particular is among my least favorite novels), Peter Cushing embodies the role perfectly as what I would consider to be the ultimate Holmes performance, and Christopher Lee does a great job at being incredibly imposing and suspicious. With its moody gothic atmosphere and great central performances, this is a fun mystery that unravels far better than the source material and is definitely worth looking into for fans of Sherlock Holmes, Hammer horror, or just great mystery films. If you can find a physical copy in a store for under $10, I'd say it's worth a buy.
8. The Angry Red Planet
I've heard several sources refer to this as a poor attempt at sci-fi with cheap visuals, but I was entranced by those visuals, and they truly felt like nothing I had ever seen before. The story is nothing to write home about (my apologies if you've already paid for the stamp), but where this movie succeeds has nothing to do with the story and is entirely due to the visual experience. Wildly experimental and shimmering with reddish gold light, every scene shot on the surface of Mars feels like it truly was captured in a different world. Combining animated backdrops with bizarre creature designs (I won't son forget the giant spider-rat-bat-crab monster), The Angry Red Planet is a testament to the occasional brilliance of low budget filmmakers taking a more experimental approach of their craft. Supposedly, the visual style of this movie was an accident, receiving twice the exposure originaly intended for the film, but hey, sometimes accidents can turn out to be the best things around -- just ask my mother (I'm kidding, you couldn't make someone as incredible as me by accident). This movie can be found in several Midnight Movie 4-pack collections for around $5, so if you're in the mood for some interesting old sci-fi, I'd definitely give this one a look.
7. Curse Of The Undead
When I first saw a poster for this movie I thought it looked like very forgettable, typical late '50s horror fare. What I did not expect was such a bizarre combination of aspects, and even more so how shamelessly they committed to it without coming across as a parody at all. Allow me to explain. This is a western (as in bang bang, cowboys, ranches and saloons) that features a mysterious stranger who turns out to be a bloodsucker. And he dresses like a cowboy. So yes, this is a totally serious, not at all comedic attempt at making a vampire cowboy revenge western drama, and much to my eternal amazement, it totally worked. I know - I'm still flabbergasted by it. It's not scary, but no movie from this year really was. But it featured interesting backstory, fleshed out characters with defined motivation and personality traits, and used it's dirty western setting to its advantage, never feeling like a cheap gimmick. Granted, it has its moments of unintentional silliness, and it's not exactly a movie I would recommend to everyone I meet, but for such a bold and unique attempt at expanding the genre, it was surprisingly effective. Sadly, I don't believe this one has a DVD release, but you can find it on streaming sites, and is definitely worth looking into if you're sick of just watching giant mOnsted movies of the late 1950s and need something a little different.
6. The Mummy
Another Hammer film starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, this one definitely falling more easily in the horror genre than The Hound Of The Baskervilles, despite not being quite as good of a movie as a whole. Or maybe it is, it's honestly hard to compare. But with a killer Mummy (Christopher Lee) on the loose and Peter Cushing giving a very toned-down performance with a limp, this movie does put these two actors in roles that suit them well: Lee is a daunting and very physical actor, while Cushing is far better at minimalist acting, expressing himself through voice and subtle gestures. The lighting and set design is creative, with beautiful-looking flashback scenes that rival the classic Universal version in atmosphere. It took a few tries for me to come around on this one, but it really is one of the more fully-realized Hammer horror flicks, and only gets better every time I watch it. In all honesty, this is one of the few legitimate horror films on this list, but since I'm basing this countdown more on what I found enjoyable than what I found effective as horror, it doesn't go much higher on the list. But honestly, it could earn a spot on the list for the mummy's design alone, which is badass and allows Lee to emote surprisingly well. It can be found on DVD for $5-10, with the blu-ray costing closer to $15. Unless your TV is the size of an airplane hangar, I would recommend just sticking with the DVD, but it should definitely be part of a serious horror collection, especially if you already own Hammer's first entries in the Frankenstein and Dracula series.
5. Plan 9 From Outer Space
Often considered one of the greatest bad movies of all-time, Plan 9 From Outer Space is one of those "classic" horror movies you can watch again and again and still find new things to be entertained by. Edward D. Wood, Jr. made several disastrously hilarious movies throughout his career, and this is the one most people remember him by. Starring Tor Johnson (a wrestler whose face later became a best-selling Halloween mask), Vampira (the original busty horror movie commentator/presentor), and about 30 seconds of Bela Lugosi stock footage abused to its absolute limit, you can paint quite a vivid picture of this disasterpiece just by reading the first half of that sentence. Use of endlessly repeated footage, laughable sets and dialogue, incomprehensibly stupid plot, and much much more, this is one of the few movies I feel would be best advertised in the form of an informercial. Did it make this list because it's secretly a pretty good horror movie with some spooky elements and a creative visual style? Don't make me laugh -- the movie already did that enough for me. Everyone knows why anyone enjoys this picture, and that's entirely due to how addictively and hilariously bad it is. It's less of a horror movie than anything else on this list, but that doesn't mean it isn't trying really hard to be. And it's the thought that counts here. Watch it online, buy it on DVD; there's no wrong way to watch this, and it deserves your time.
4. The Man Who Could Cheat Death
Okay, I promise this is the last Hammer movie to be featured on this list. But I just want to make it clear: I didn't actually know this *was* a Hammer movie until I had already watched it and it proudly displayed it at the end. Which is weird, since I have examined the list of their horror releases many times, and they probably said it was one at the beginning of the movie...I guess I just wasn't paying attention. Either way, what surprises me most is the fact that this is my favorite of the movies Terence Fisher directed from this year, and yet it's the only one that doesn't star Peter Cushing, who stands as one of my top 5 favorite actors ever (behind only Daniel Day-Lewis, probably). This one is all about the build-up. You know before it ends what to expect from it by the end, but as the story unfolds the complexities of its characters and their dynamics together come more to the surface. It's a slow drama with very few "horror" scenes, but the atmosphere and lighting set a dramatic tone that amplifies these moments and make them work far better than they would in a less skillfully-crafted film. There's a palpable sense of urgency to this movie, in spite of turning out exactly as you would expect. But it's a cool ride, and among the better Hammer horrors. It can be found for pretty cheap in a 2-pack with The Skull. Definitely a worthwhile purchase.
3. A Bucket Of Blood
Roger Corman is another horror director I will eternally defend, and this is one of his most entertaining movies ever. We all know the "wax sculptures that are actually real dead people covered in wax" trope, but this one takes it and runs with it in the most humorous ways possible, leading to an absurd turn of events putting the murderous goofball lead character in the spotlight as some kind of genius artist. It's an idiotic set-up and an unbelievable premise for a movie, but that level of absurdity and bizarre humor is right up Corman's alley. When he wasn't helping to redefine the gothic horror genre in the early '60s, he was directing and producing weird garbage like this. But it's the best kind of garbage, with enough self-awareness to laugh at itself and amp up the crazy. Overall this is probably the most intentionally funny movie on this list, and it actually manages to be slightly creepy at the same time. Though it honestly doesn't even pretend to make a legitimate attempt at horror. I was able to buy this one in a collection with The Return Of The Living Dead and Swamp Thing for $10, and I haven't regretted this for one second. It's cheap (in several ways), ridiculous, and a whole lot of fun.
2. House On Haunted Hill
I love Vincent Price. I love William Castle. And this is one of the best collaborations they ever had, a sometimes spooky but entirely silly and entertaining supernatural horror comedy. As I've mentioned before in previous posts, William Castle was a filmmaker mostly remembered for his use of in-theater gimmicks meant to enhance the experience for his audiences. Some of these gimmicks would include putting rumble-packs in theater seats, having audience members use colored lenses during specific scenes in his films and in this particular instance, dangling fake skeletons from the ceiling and having them essentially fly around above the audience during key scenes. Though I obviously never got to see this for myself, I can only imagine how fun it must've been, but that doesn't mean you feel like you're missing out watching this movie at home -- thanks largely to Vincent Price's character's hilarious interactions with his wife and the generally sarcastic tone of the script as a whole. This movie was not a legitimate attempt at horror, but it does feature a few moments that are pretty alarming, and the humor is more than enough to keep the whole thing afloat even during the less eventful patches. But honestly, this movie is never boring and manages to be funny, thrilling, and completely charming every single time I watch it. This movie is on tons of public domain collections and isn't hard to find to watch even in the slightest. Honestly, you should have already seen it by now.
1. The Tingler
Remember how I said House On Haunted Hill was one of the best collaborations between Vincent Price and William Castle? This was the reason I worded it that way, because I honestly couldn't have out anything else in the #1 spot here. I had more fun watching this than probably any other movie from 1959, regardless of genre. Vincent Price's gleefully over-the-top performance is a highlight, the Tingler's design and reveal is hilarious and wonderful, the story unfolds in a creative and interesting way, the story is awesome (albeit ludicrous), the use of color in one scene is absolutely amazing, and I love Castle's opening address to the audience. Going down the list, there are so many things to love about this movie, which manages to be exciting, fresh, and just ridiculous enough to be funny, but never distractingly so. I wasn't bored for a single moment, and caught myself grinning from ear to ear throughout large portions of the film, giddy with laughter at how much I loved watching it. Scene after scene is filled with tension and hilarity, changing sets and focus often enough to keep things fresh, adding small plot elements to implement later on, making it all work well and overall serve up one of the most enjoyable movies of the late '50s. I honestly don't want to talk about any specific plot elements, because this is one that deserves to be gone into fresh. I haven't bought it just yet but I'll be picking it up soon, and with a price tag under $10, this will be one I'm sure I'll get more than my money's worth from. Simply put, I enjoyed the hell out of this movie.
And there's my top 10 favorite horror movies of 1959. As always, if anyone wants to mention other movies they think should be looked into, don't hesitate to post them in the comments section below. Disagree with my list? Let me know about it. I love getting feedback. I'll probably shift gears and work on a different era of horror soon (I don't want to wear myself out on '50s and '60s horror), but my next horror post will probably be fleshing out this list with a few honorable mentions. Or maybe not, we'll see.