Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Top 5 Horror Movies of 1958

I've already made a top 10 for 1960 and 1959 (though I will be remaking them as top 5s, since I need to change a few things up with them), so why not jump into 1958? Not as great of a year for horror, I found it hard to even find enough interesting movies to want to make more than a top 5 here anyway, but don't let that fool you: the movies on this list are pretty awesome. Not a landmark year in the history of horror cinema, but the ones that stand out really *really* stand out. So let's get this list started, my top 5 favorite horror movies of 1958. But first...

An upsetting omission
I recently wrote a short review of this movie expressing my irritation at the level of self-immolation that occurs in the last 10 minutes of the movie I Bury The Living. The lighting, cinematography, acting, pacing, and set-up of this movie are all pretty fantastic. As I said in my review that I still haven't posted yet, therefore making it totally unimportant and superfluous by writing about it here, the ending pretty much destroys everything leading up to it. This was a brilliantly mysterious and atmospheric horror movie with an intriguing supernatural edge to it, but by the end I was left feeling cheated. And that cost it a full letter grade and a spot on this list. It's still worth a watch, but the missed opportunities are plentiful here.

Fiend Without A Face
Consider this the opposite of I Bury The Living, because the first 2/3 of this movie is pretty slow and silly, and only redeems itself in the last 15 minutes where the brains attack. Don't be mistaken, this is one of the most amazing third acts in the history of '50s cinema. The use of stop motion animation (the brains scoot along like inchworms) blended with having the brains fly at people (meaning they were clearly just thrown at the actors by people off-camera) makes for some hilarious entertainment and well worth the somewhat tedious introduction. That being said, as could be summized from my statements, this is a b-movie through and through. It's not mindblowing (BUH DOOMP DOOMP TSHHHHHHHH, thank you thank you), but it is pretty damn fun. Also, it can be found on Criterion, because why not?

The Blob
Oh hey, look, another classic cheesy sci/fi b-movie from the 1950s that somehow has a Criterion release! How oddly specific. But to be totally honest, this one makes a lot more sense to me than Fiend, as it features an early Steve McQueen performance, is shot in full color (which was very rare for monster movies in the '50s), the monster itself was incredibly unique, and was good enough to spawn a very popular cult remake in the '80s -- back when remakes were occasionally pretty good. I personally prefer this version, which has a goofy charm that I can't help but to love. It's a landmark teen sci-fi/horror monster movie that still stands out almost 60 years later.

The Revenge Of Frankenstein
The second Hammer Frankenstein movie, and one of the best in the long-running series. This is the movie that established Dr. Frankenstein (or just Dr. Stein, as he goes by in this movie) as the subject of the series, separating it from the Universal movies which dispense of the good doctor after only 2 films. I am so incredibly grateful for this, as Peter Cushing's continued performances in this series is among the greatest in the history of horror, and this movie is no exception. It's worth watching just for him, but with the twisted and brilliant setup the entire movie stands out as among the stronger efforts from the studio. A worthy follow-up to the first film, and infinitely better than the third one.

The Fly
By no means a standard horror movie, this mad scientist movie is much more focused on telling an interesting and dramatic story than it is with being terrifying. But in its final moments, we are treated to a scene so disturbing it still gives me the chills when I watch it (or even think about it) to this day. Sadly, Vincent Price's performance in this film serves as little more than a bookend, as I feel the overall effect would have been much greater had he played the scientist in the movie -- though the ending might not have worked as well had this been the case. Still, this isn't a creature feature as you might expect from the title and advertising, but instead a very intelligent and emotional science fiction drama with a very great horror moment. It may not be as great as the Cronenberg remake, but they're both fantastic in their own individual ways.

Horror Of Dracula
As a huge fan of Hammer horror, Peter Cushing, and Christopher Lee, it should come as absolutely no surprise at all that this is one of my favorite horror movies of the 1950s, and the best of 1958. Not only is this a totally different approach to the story than we've seen before, it's the first time a Dracula movie has been totally covered in glorious, magical blood. The dark gothic sets and unique lighting are both landmarks of '50s and '60s British horror, and this is one of the movies that best exemplified it. Christopher Lee has a very intimidating presence as the titular Dracula, somehow managing to function as well for this movie as Bela Lugosi did himself in the '31 version. But even factoring in the beautiful and shocking (especially for the time) visuals, Lee's awesome performance, creative changes to the story, and lack of irritation brought about by Mina and John (who almost ruin the Lugosi film at times), the real upgrade here comes in the form of Peter Cushing. As much as I love Dwight Frye's Renfield and Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing in the original, I am more than willing to sacrifice them both in favor of Cushing, whose physicality and general demeanor transform Van Helsing from a relatively subdued professor into a verifiable vampire-hunting badass -- while still retaining his wit and intellectualism. This may not be quite on the level of importance as the 1931 version, but it's just as entertaining and far more complete as a horror film. This is one of the most essential movies of the 1950s in general, not just for horror.

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