Besides low budgets, cheesy special effects and overwrought acting, science fiction horror movies of the fifties were often united in theme—the unintended consequences of scientific progress. The central menace of these movies—space alien, undersea mutant or invisible force—was typically rolled out in stages. Audiences would first see the damage done by said creature, then shadowy glimpses of the beast until the film's climax, where the thing was finally presented in all its horrifying (or unintentionally hilarious) glory.
The creative forces behind the movies’ posters were not nearly as coy, depicting full-bodied fiends in vivid color, usually shown terrorizing a scantily clad starlet or the population at large. And, at times, the monsters on the one-sheets proved to be more compelling than the ones onscreen.
Here are 25 examples of such boldly theatrical artwork.
20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)
A manned space mission to Venus returns with a gelatinous glob that grows into a huge reptilian creature and threatens to destroy Rome. The story was set in Italy to please special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen, who could not afford to visit the country on his own.
The Astounding She Monster (1957)
Kidnappers commandeer a house in the country while they seek ransom for their heiress victim. That’s all very well, but things are complicated considerably when a spaceship containing a female alien in the form of a curvaceous human sex bomb (Shirley Kilpatrick) lands nearby. An extremely tight budget prevented the alien’s costume from being repaired after it ripped, which explains why Kilpatrick exits rooms by walking backwards.
Attack of the Puppet People (1958)
In a plot slightly reminiscent of The Devil-Doll (1936), a lonely puppet master invents a machine that shrinks people and creates a private society of tiny humans for his own enjoyment. It was a story so compelling that one Alfred C. Baldwin III, acting as lookout for the Watergate burglars, allegedly failed to notify them that they were about to be arrested because he was so involved in a television broadcast of this potboiler.
The Blob (1958)
Little Steven McQueen, who later became just Steve, plays a 27-year-old teenager in this saga about a small, red, viscous entity from outer space that grows as it consumes. An offshoot of the film’s cult popularity is the annual Blobfest in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, where part of the movie was filmed. The three-day event includes screenings of the film, the Running of the Blob—a reenactment of the scene where frantic moviegoers stampede out of the town’s Colonial Theater—and the original Blob from the movie on display in a five-gallon bucket.
The Brain from Planet Arous (1957)
Brains from another planet inhabit the bodies of scientist Steve March (John Agar) and bride-to-be Sally Fallon (Joyce Meadows), with Steve’s brain vying for world domination and Sally’s brain trying to stop Steve’s brain. The director of this mess is billed as Nathan Hertz, the thinly veiled pseudonym of Nathan Juran, whose embarrassment over this film prompted the name change.
Bride of the Monster (1955)
Like any decent Ed Wood production, Bride of the Monster is distinguished by a shoestring budget (Wood ran out of money after just three days of shooting), the presence of Bela Lugosi (who earned $1,000 for his performance), an obvious double for Lugosi (for scenes involving an octopus and a woman being carried down a hill), a mad doctor (who uses atomic power to create super humans) and nepotism (the son of one of the film’s biggest investors playing the male lead).
Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
In director Jack Arnold’s classic horror film, an expedition through the Amazon jungle leads to the discovery of a half-man/half-reptile who falls in love with a female member of the group. The look of the prehistoric creature, often referred to as Gill-Man, was inspired by “The Sea Monk” and “The Sea Bishop,” two 17th-century woodcuts.
The Creature Walks Among Us (1956)
The third movie in the Gill-Man trilogy, which started in 1954 with Creature from the Black Lagoon and continued in 1955 with Revenge of the Creature, differed from the other two in at least three significant ways. For one, it was not filmed in 3-D. For another, its creature breathed air and—as the title indicated—did indeed walk around on two legs. Finally, this was the only film in the series in which the creature was still alive by the closing credits.
Day the World Ended (1955)
It took director Roger Corman nine days to commit this post-apocalyptic tale to celluloid. After a nuclear war, seven survivors do what members of any good movie microcosm do—they squabble, flirt and eventually band together to fight a hideous mutant creature. Touch Connors, who later achieved fame as Mike Connors on the television show Mannix, costars.
Fiend Without a Face (1958)
A British scientist near an American military base in Canada experiments with nuclear energy and creates an invisible entity that sucks the brains and spinal cord from its victims. Director Arthur Crabtree apparently hated this assignment so much that he often refused to show up for work, leaving leading man Marshall Thompson at the helm.
The Giant Behemoth (1959)
Blacklisted screenwriter Daniel James, under the name Daniel Hyatt, joined director Eugène Lourié to coauthor the story of a dormant dinosaur coming back to life after being exposed to radioactive waste. To cut back on expenses, the filmmakers used the same footage of the monster smashing a model automobile three times.
The Giant Claw (1957)
A big bird from outer space terrorizes humanity, but a few key players were in the dark about what the creature actually looked like. One was star Jeff Morrow, who finally saw the monster at the film’s premiere. Derisive laughter from the audience prompted Morrow to slink out of the theater before the movie ended. Poster artists were also not privy to what the monster looked like and envisioned a giant hawk instead of the crude-looking turkey/vulture creation that ended up in the picture.
Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956)
The famed lizard-like creature made its debut in Gojira, an acclaimed 1954 Japanese movie that was retooled as Godzilla, King of the Monsters for U.S. audiences two years later. For the stateside version, production company Jewell Enterprises added the character of American journalist Steve Martin, played by Raymond Burr. Editor Terry Morse was chosen to direct Burr on the six-day Hollywood studio shoot to better guarantee continuity with the Japanese original.
I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958)
Male space aliens arrive on Earth and take the place of male earthlings and embark on staggeringly emotionless relationships with female earthlings. Bill (Tom Tryon) and Marge (Gloria Talbott) is one such couple, with Marge finally starting to put two and two together after an oddly distant Bill fails again and again and again to make her pregnant.
Invisible Invaders (1959)
The invaders of the title have been dwelling on the moon for about 20,000 years and just recently decide to move to Earth and start wiping those who fail to submit to their lunar overlords. One of the male leads was played by Philip Tonge, an English character actor who died on January 28, 1959—only four months before the film’s release.
It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)
A giant octopus finds its usual food source compromised due to radioactive fallout from hydrogen bomb tests, so it naturally heads to San Francisco in search of dietary substitutes. Audiences never saw all eight of the octopus’s tentacles because there were only six—a cost-saving devise enacted by the film’s special effects expert Ray Harryhausen.
It Came from Outer Space (1953)
John Putnam (Richard Carlson) and Ellen Fields (Barbara Rush) witness the crash of an alien spaceship and, shortly thereafter, begin to notice the townspeople in their hometown of Sand Rock, Arizona, acting strangely. Not surprisingly, John and Ellen suspect a correlation. For Universal’s first feature release in 3-D, the studio’s makeup department submitted two different ideas for the look of the monster. The rejected design surfaced two years later as the alien in This Island Earth (1955).
Monster from Green Hell (1957)
The story is familiar—only the monster is different. This time it’s a wasp exposed to radiation during an experimental orbit around the Earth. The insect mutates and grows while certain members of the local population meet a mysteriously gruesome death. Coincidence…or something more? Footage of a safari attack from Stanley and Livingstone (1939) was recycled for this film, which would explain why actor Jim Davis in Monster from Green Hell is dressed similarly to Spencer Tracy in Stanley and Livingstone.
Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954)
This underwater adventure about an aggressive one-eyed sea monster was the first film ever produced by B-movie king Roger Corman. Principal photography was completed in only eight days. It would be the first of hundreds of short shooting schedules for the producer.
Night of the Blood Beast (1958)
An astronaut, killed when his rocket crashes, comes back to life and finds that his body is gestating a disturbing number of alien embryos. Ross Sturling, playing the stowaway alien that survives the crash, would don the same makeup and costume later that same year for Teenage Cave Man (1958).
Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
Arguably the most famous bad movie ever made, Plan 9 from Outer Space was originally called Grave Robbers from Outer Space, a title that allegedly offended the film’s Baptist backers so much that director Ed Wood renamed it. This would be Bela Lugosi’s final film.
Return of the Fly (1959)
Phillipe Delambre (Brett Halsey) continues his father’s experiments with teleportation and ends up half-man/half-fly. Vincent Price liked the script for this sequel to The Fly (1958) so much that he signed on right away, only to have the studio cut costs and eliminate much of what Price liked about the story.
Revenge of the Creature (1955)
It’s the Creature from the Black Lagoon all over again in Revenge of the Creature, the second film in the Gill-Man trilogy. For this sequel, the Creature is captured and held at Florida’s Marineland until he escapes to pursue a bewitching lass. Clint Eastwood makes his movie debut here as a lab technician horsing around with a mouse and a monkey.
Clint Eastwood shows up in yet another sci-fi horror, this time in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role of a jet squadron leader whose mission is to wipe out the enormous spider terrorizing the Arizona desert. The spider in the film was a real tarantula maneuvering across miniature sets. Off-camera air jets were used to ensure the arachnid was headed in the proper direction.
X: the Unknown (1956)
Oscar-winning actor Dean Jagger headlines the gripping tale of radioactive mud, or at least mud-like creatures, taking over a small Scottish village. Joseph Losey, director of such well-received films as The Servant (1963) and The Go-Between (1971), shot for a few days before illness forced him to relinquish his duties to Leslie Norman.