We tend to think of giant monster flicks as a thing of the past. Even Japan has seemed to quiet down on Kaiju features for the most part. But recent features like Cloverfield, Godzilla, Pacific Rim and the upcoming Godzilla: Resurgence and Kong: Skull Island suggest that this type of film long thought forgotten is coming back in a big way.
People are falling in love with ferocious, roaring, giant monsters all over again. Because of that, I thought it would be interesting to go back and look at some of the earliest entries into this sub-genre. B-Movies of the ‘50s and ‘60s—even dating back to the ‘30s—that defined monsters for an entire generation of moviegoers.
Some of the biggest monsters of this era are still around today. We not only have Godzilla and King Kong on the screen again, we’re watching them prepare for another big screen rematch.
Many of the classic giant monster features were B-Movies, even at the time. Now, a good portion of them are looked back on as classics. But how do they hold up compared to their modern counterparts, which thrive—often primarily—on special effects? Let’s find out.
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms
Made around the same time as the original Gojira—which would be re-released in the US as Godzilla: King of the Monsters—Beast has a lot in common with its more famous contemporary. It’s also about a creature created by atomic testing who rampages through a metropolitan city, in this case New York.
There were a ton of features in the 1950s about everyday creatures being mutated by radiation. This one focuses on giant ants. And as this type of movie at this time period, it’s one of the best. Yes, of course, it’s campy. But you can feel the absolutely genuine paranoia of the time all over this and I think that makes it an important representative of its time period.
Clash of the Titans
Even this one got remade recently. And that got followed by an even worse sequel. But the original Clash, featuring outstanding Harryhausen stop-motion effects—which also goes for other entries on this list—is a campy, delightful adventure. If Star Wars created the modern blockbuster event picture, this is the precursor to big, dumb fun spectacle movies. It’s a big heroic action vehicle from a time before those were coming out every weekend.
While I tend to prefer the remake, The Blob was a favorite of mine as a kid. It’s so different from the other monster movies of the era because in this one, the monster is basically a formless entity. It has no real shape. There’s something Lovecraftian about that. Even though it’s basically Jell-O, it’s scarier than you think.
Q: The Winged Serpent
Larry Cohen’s Q is the latest entry on this list. By the time it came out, movies like this weren’t being made anymore. That’s part of what I love about it. Even at 34 years old, Q is a relic to films that were even older. It’s also a smart, interesting, funny, fun feature with a dash of social commentary that Cohen could never go without.
Retitled for US audiences as Godzilla: King of the Monsters and re-edited to feature American actor Raymond Burr, Gojira is a classic. People who gave Cloverfield crap for being found footage and criticized the Godzilla reboot for feeling too grounded and realistic should really revisit the one that started it all. This was as close as we’d come to found footage in 1954. This movie was designed to feel like newsreel footage. It tries to feel like it might actually be happening, so a “realistic” approach to Godzilla might not be a bad thing because that’s what the original tried to do.
Even after over 80 years, King Kong is the gold standard of oversized monsters. At the time this movie was released, it was truly the 8th wonder of the world. People had never seen anything like this before. They were still getting used to hearing the actors talk in films, watching the crew get picked off by dinosaurs, watching a giant ape fall from the top of the Empire State Building… it took audiences on an adventure the likes of which they had never experienced.