Welcome to the Drive-In! Each month in this series will explore and celebrate the golden era of B-movie horror goodness that was the Drive-in movie. Although some still exist today it’s, unfortunately, one of those fading American experiences and today’s generation are really missing out on this important piece of cinematic history. But fear not! Here at Nightmare on Film Street…we got you covered.
So grab your concessions, hang your speaker in the window and prepare yourselves for…..
The Creature With The Atom Brain (1955)
Atomic Creatures? Radio-controlled people drones? A bit of both actually.
From the mind of Director Edward L. Cahn comes this science-fiction horror flick that was the bottom half of a double bill in 1955 and stars Richard Denning and Angela Stevens. The film’s premise is simple enough which is perfect since the film only clocks in at just over an hour. Mob boss Frank Buchanan enlists the help of an ex-Nazi scientist, Wilhelm Steigg, to enact his revenge against those who had wronged him. Utilizing atomic radio equipment they reanimate the dead and turn them into lumbering killers who only obey one master; Buchanan.
Right from the opening scene, you get a good idea as to what these creatures are capable of. Lifting a man over his head and snapping his back, it’s only seen in the silhouette on the wall which admittedly is a nice touch. And he’s possibly bulletproof to boot. It isn’t long until, but only after some science-y jargon scenes, they deduce just what is going on and how they are going about controlling these atomic zombies. Radioactive chemicals in their blood enable them to control via atomic radio waves all of their bodily functions. What’s hilarious is that they’re able to see what their puppet is seeing essentially through a television set. Buchanan can also speak through them with a microphone to let the victims know just why they’re meeting their doom.
“[…] a fun, quick film emblematic of the era in which it was created and represents the spirit of the drive-in movie well.”
It’s very 50’s, in good ways and some not so great. The escalating news coverage is comical and so are the disasters that are sweeping the area in the form of public transportation accidents and the like. Parts seemed like those corny PSA-type documentaries that would be right at home being spoofed on MSTK3000 but the effect is delivered. As with a lot of these films during this era, the peak at “family life” comes with all the misogynistic stereotypes you’d expect but it’s still shocking to see sometimes on film. Nothing that takes away from the campy fun of the movie but definitely worth noting.
The film wraps up neatly enough, with a final battle against a horde of atomically controlled zombies that look like a mosh pit at a hardcore show, the machines are destroyed and the little girl even gets a new doll! Director Cahn would go on to do several more B horror films, most notably Invisible Invaders (1959), and It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958) that inspired Alien (1979) twenty years later. All in all it’s a fun, quick film emblematic of the era in which it was created and represents the spirit of the drive-in movie well.
It Came From Beneath The Sea (1955)
A nuclear submarine is attacked by a giant creature while out in the Pacific Ocean that turns out to have been disturbed by Hydrogen bomb testing is how this one opens, and if it sounds familiar, it’s because it’s almost the same premise as a film that debuted the previous year; Godzilla (1954). Which originally was conceived to feature a giant Cephalopod instead of the now-iconic mega-lizard so how fitting!
This film is a great example of campy, B-movie goodness. With such a simple premise this film indulges in all the tentacle mayhem one could want as the creature terrorizes the city of San Francisco and the surrounding areas. The special effects in this one were incredible when it initially released but hold up over the years as some of the best from the era. And there’s good reason for this. The effects were done by the legendary special effects guru Ray Harryhausen. Unfortunately due to the cost of said effects it led to some interesting cost-cutting techniques. The octopus was literally cut by 25 percent, meaning he lost 2 of his 8 tentacles, leaving the film only showing 6. The creature still whoops some serious ass however, at one point taking down parts of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. Just stunning.
“[…] a good balance of documentary-like newsreel footage and over-the-top monster mayhem […]”
It Came From Beneath The Sea is a good balance of documentary-like newsreel footage and over-the-top monster mayhem, and although the acting is nothing to write home about, isn’t bad enough to take anything away from the appreciation of it. It’s definitely one of the more recognizable entries into this genre of film and is still worth watching for nostalgic purposes all these years later. Director Robert Gordon did a great job with it but it didn’t too him any favors as he really wouldn’t go on after this to do anything of note.
Actress Faith Domergue (This Island Earth) would go on to appear in many other science fiction and horror movies over the next few decades outside of that the movie certainly didn’t launch many careers or break the box-office. Many of these double bill features were arguably not of the best quality. Originally the concept of the double-bill was to package a B-movie with a higher tier movie but by the 1950’s that idea had all but been abandoned. They were now grouped together, this one specifically with the above film, The Creature With The Atom Brain, and just made for a good time at the drive-in.
While definitely not grabbing any Academy Awards films like this one and the others that’ll be covered in this series are memorable for many other reasons that are just as valid. From nostalgic love to historical appreciation they deserve to be celebrated and live on in the hearts and minds of horror fans as a snapshot of what the era looked like from a horror lens. Giant creature films live on today so peering back into their origins can give new insight into what makes them a long-lasting trope. The ocean is a horrifying place and It Came From Beneath The Sea is a good reminder of why!
“From nostalgic love to historical appreciation [these films] deserve to be celebrated and live on in the hearts and minds of horror fans…”
What are your favorite late-night drive-in movies? Let us know what makes you nostalgic for classic monster mayhem over on the Twitter and drop by our Horror Movie Fiend Club Facebook group for more retro recommendations. See ya next month, Fiends!