The Atomic Age (1950-1964)

When World War II ended, it seemed the collective mood had lifted and audiences no longer wanted to be scared. There were virtually no horror movies released in 1947-1949, although Abbott & Costello met Frankenstein in 1948. With its success, once frightening monsters now took supporting roles in slapstick comedies. Horror output remained low during the first part of the 1950s; however, beginning mid-decade, the number grew each year resulting in the most horror movies yet by 1959.

Two possible explanations for the horror explosion could be the lifting of the horror ban in Britain, as well as a major shift in the popular consciousness of American moviegoers. While the actual horrors of World War II had ended, there soon rose something more unnerving: the threat of another war. While the United States had to deal with the trauma of dropping the bomb, it also lived under the fear of a future apocalypse. As the Cold War began, a new monster was spawned and it was more human than ever before. These monsters were mad scientists, the extreme representations of the men who created the atom bomb and facilitated the Holocaust.

The horror movies of the 1950s reflected society’s mistrust of science and technology. During this decade, the iconic monsters of previous decades had all but vanished. The new monsters were not only the mad scientists, but the mutations resulting from their experiments and from science run amok. There were giant beasts from beneath the sea, giant ants, giant tarantulas, giant crabs, giant preying mantises and more. The pinnacle of this era came from Japan in a movie released in the United States in 1956: Godzilla, King of the Monsters.

In 1947, the first flying saucer was spotted in the skies, soon followed by the incident at Roswell. So, in the 1950s, many of our monsters also came from outer space. Most of the horror/sci-fi movies were pessimistic, but even when the aliens were friendly, they were misunderstood and the stories ended on a dark note. In the pinnacle of this era, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), the aliens became us and we could not distinguish them from humans.

Meanwhile, in England, Hammer Films was enjoying the success of an alien movie of their own, The Quatermass Xperiment (1955). Two years later, Hammer produced The Curse of Frankenstein, which would kickstart a series of movies revisiting the iconic monsters of the past and presenting them for the first time in gory and glorious color. Interestingly enough, the original Universal Monsters experienced resurgence as their movies were broadcast on television for a new generation. This would have been the greatest time to be a horror fan. You could have watched the classics on TV and seen the new breed at the drive-in. It was the sweet spot in history for the “Monster Kid.”

Speaking of drive-ins, they must also be credited for the proliferation of horror movies in the late 1950s. At this time, the primary audience for horror was teenagers. With quantity doesn’t necessarily come quality, and it’s quite evident in these “B movies” (of which American International Pictures was king) as story and production values were sacrificed purely for action and thrills.

Boris Karloff maintained steady employment during the Atomic Age, but Bela Lugosi’s career did not share the same fate. Joining them as future members of the horror hall of fame were Vincent Price (House of Wax, 1953) and Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee (The Curse of Frankenstein, 1957).

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Below is a list of movies featured on this blog or mentioned on one of our social media channels.  We will update it regularly.

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)
The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953)
20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)
Abbott & Costello Go to Mars (1953)
Abbott & Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1953)
Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
Abbott & Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)
Abbott & Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (1949)
Abbott & Costello Meet The Mummy (1955)
The Abominable Snowman (1957)
The Alligator People (1959)
The Amazing Colossal Man (1957)
The Amazing Mr. X (1948)
The Angry Red Planet (1959)
El atud del Vampiro aka The Vampire’s Coffin (1958)
The Atomic Submarine (1959)
Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)
Attack of the Giant Leeches (1958)
Attack of the Puppet People (1958)
The Bad Seed (1956)
The Bat (1959)
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
Beast from Haunted Cave (1959)
The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956)
The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)
Beginning of the End (1957)
Bell Book & Candle (1958)
The Black Castle (1952)
Black Cats & Broomsticks (1955)
The Black Scorpion (1957)
The Black Sleep (1956)
The Blob (1958)
Blood of Dracula (1957)
Blood of the Vampire (1958)
A Blueprint for Murder (1953)
The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters (1954)
The Boy & the Pirates (1960)
The Brain (1962)
The Brain Eaters (1958)
A Bucket of Blood (1959)
Caltiki, the Immortal Monster (1959)
The Cat Girl (1957)
Children of the Damned (1964)
Comin’ Round the Mountain (1951)
Conquistador de la Luna (1960)
Corridors of Blood (1958)
Cosmic Monsters aka The Strange World of Planet X (1958)
The Creation of the Humanoids (1962)
Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
The Creature Walks Among Us (1956)
The Creeping Unknown aka The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)
Cult of the Cobra (1955)
The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
Curse of the Demon (1957)
Curucu, Beast of the Amazon (1956)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
The Day the Sky Exploded (1958)
Day the World Ended (1955)
The Deadly Mantis (1957)
Diabolique (1955)
Dial M for Murder (1954)
Donovan’s Brain (1953)
Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)
Eegah (1962)
Enemy from Space aka Quatermass 2 (1957)
Fiend Without a Face (1958)
First Man Into Space (1959)
Five (1951)
The Fly (1958)
Forbidden Planet (1956)
Four Sided Triangle (1953)
Frankenstein 1970 (1958)
From Hell It Came (1957)
The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow (1959)
The Giant Behemoth (1959)
The Giant Claw (1957)
The Giant Gila Monster (1958)
Godzilla (1954)
Godzilla Raids Again (1955)
Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956)
Gog (1954)
Gojira (1954)
Gorilla at Large (1954)
The H-Man (1959)
The Haunted Strangler (1958)
Have Rocket — Will Travel (1959)
Horror of Dracula aka Dracula (1958)
Horrors of the Black Museum (1959)
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
House of Wax (1953)
House on Haunted Hill (1958)
How to Make a Monster (1958)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1956)
I Bury the Living (1958)
I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957)
I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957)
The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)
Indestructible Man (1956)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
The Invisible Boy (1957)
Invisible Invaders (1959)
It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)
It Came from Outer Space (1953)
It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958)
Jason & the Argonauts (1963)
The Killer Shrews (1959)
Killers from Space (1954)
King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)
Lake of the Dead (1958)
The Land Unknown (1957)
The Leech Woman (1960)
Macabre (1958)
The Mad Magician (1954)
The Magnetic Monster (1953)
Mahal (1949)
The Man from Planet X (1951)
Man in the Attic (1953)
Man of a Thousand Faces (1957)
The Manster (1959)
Master Minds (1949)
The Maze (1953)
Mighty Joe Young (1949)
The Mole People (1956)
The Monolith Monsters (1957)
The Monster That Challenged the World (1957)
The Mummy (1959)
The Neanderthal Man (1953)
Night of the Blood Beast (1958)
The Night of the Hunter (1955)
On the Beach (1959)
Panic in Year Zero! (1951)
The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues (1955)
Phantom of the Rue Morgue (1954)
The Phantom Planet (1961)
Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
Queen of Outer Space (1958)
Red Planet Mars (1952)
The Return of Dracula (1958)
The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)
Revenge of the Creature (1955)
Riders to the Stars (1954)
Robot Monster (1983)
Rodan (1956)
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
Satellite in the Sky (1956)
The Screaming Skull (1958)
Seven Days to Noon (1950)
The She-Creature (1956)
She Demons (1958)
The Snorkel (1958)
The Son of Dr. Jekyll (1951)
Spaceways (1953)
The Spider aka Earth vs. The Spider (1958)
Spook Chasers (1957)
The Strange Door (1951)
The Stranglers of Bombay (1959)
Swamp Women (1956)
Tarantula (1955)
Teenage Caveman (1958)
Teenagers from Outer Space (1959)
Teenage Zombies (1959)
Them! (1954)
The Thing from Another World (1951)
The Thing That Couldn’t Die (1958)
This Island Earth (1955)
The Tingler (1959)
The Twonky (1953)
Ugetsu (1953)
The Underwater City (1962)
The Vampire (1957)
El Vampiro aka The Vampire (1957)
Village of the Damned (1960)
Voodoo Island (1957)
Voodoo Woman (1957)
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961)
War of the Colossal Beast (1958)
The War of the Worlds (1953)
Warning from Space (1956)
The Wasp Woman (1959)
When Worlds Collide (1951)
The White Reindeer (1952)
The World, the Flesh & the Devil (1959)
World Without End (1956)
X the Unknown (1956)

See also:

The Blob (1988)
Tales of Tomorrow: Frankenstein (1952)