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)
20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)
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)
El atud del Vampiro aka The Vampire’s Coffin (1958)
The Atomic Submarine (1959)
Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)
The Bad Seed (1956)
The Bat (1959)
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956)
Beginning of the End (1957)
Bell Book & Candle (1958)
The Black Castle (1952)
Black Cats & Broomsticks (1955)
The Black Scorpion (1957)
The Blob (1958)
Blood of Dracula (1957)
Blood of the Vampire (1958)
The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters (1954)
The Brain Eaters (1958)
Caltiki, the Immortal Monster (1959)
The Cat Girl (1957)
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)
The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
Curucu, Beast of the Amazon (1956)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
Day the World Ended (1955)
The Deadly Mantis (1957)
Diabolique (1955)
Dial M for Murder (1954)
Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)
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)
The Giant Behemoth (1959)
The Giant Claw (1957)
Godzilla (1954)
Godzilla Raids Again (1955)
Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956)
Gojira (1954)
The Haunted Strangler (1958)
Have Rocket — Will Travel (1959)
Horror of Dracula aka Dracula (1958)
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)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
The Invisible Boy (1957)
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)
Lake of the Dead (1958)
The Land Unknown (1957)
Macabre (1958)
The Magnetic Monster (1953)
Mahal (1949)
Man of a Thousand Faces (1957)
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)
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)
Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
Queen of Outer Space (1958)
The Return of Dracula (1958)
The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)
Revenge of the Creature (1955)
Rodan (1956)
Satellite in the Sky (1956)
The Screaming Skull (1958)
The She-Creature (1956)
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)
Tarantula (1955)
Teenage Caveman (1958)
Them! (1954)
The Thing from Another World (1951)
This Island Earth (1955)
The Tingler (1959)
Ugetsu (1953)
The Underwater City (1962)
El Vampiro aka The Vampire (1957)
Voodoo Woman (1957)
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961)
War of the Colossal Beast (1958)
The War of the Worlds (1953)
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)