Our story about Sci Fi vs. Syfy naturally made me daydream about my favorite science-fiction flicks — notably the breathless, paranoid classics of the '50s.
The Red Scare machine was running at full tilt, and pop culture obligingly furnished fantastic metaphors for commie menace and nuclear peril: rampaging irradiated critters, ruthless interstellar armadas and unfeeling enemies-in-disguise. But strip away the misguided political subtext and you'll find some delirious entertainment; watching just a few frames of any of the creature features listed below sends me tumbling back to my movie-mad adolescence.
The following all deserve to slither into your Netflix queue.
"Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (1956): When you view this taut, beautifully made thriller about alien pods that turn into emotionless copies of small-town Californians, you'll grok why it's been remade so many times. But even the best subsequent version (Philip Kaufman's 1978 iteration) can't touch Don Siegel's elegant original. The ending will haunt you.
"It Came From Outer Space" (1953): Based on a Ray Bradbury story, this nightmarish tale (in terrifying 3D!) begins with a fiery earthbound object smashing a hole into the Arizona desert. Soon the aliens aboard the disabled craft have infiltrated the local citizenry. The audience does eventually get a good look at the rubbery, one-eyed "xenomorphs," but the creepiest moments come beforehand, like when the, ahem, alienated townsfolk are given away by their glowing eyes.
"Them!" (1954): Atomic tests in the New Mexico outback unleash a plague of giant, murderous ants. The effects are impressive and the acting above average, but the best thing about this queen of all mutant-insect features is the way it ratchets up the tension, not revealing the formidable formic foe for a good 30 minutes. Well, that and the fiery showdown in an L.A. storm drain.
"Earth vs. the Flying Saucers" (1956): That title tells you everything you need to know about this deliciously square alien-attack pic — except this: Ray Harryhausen's painstaking stop-motion visual effects are among the most glorious spectacles ever photographed in black-and-white. The guy even animated the debris falling from the sky, setting each fragment in the frame with the patience and precision of a classical sculptor.
"The Incredible Shrinking Man" (1957): Atomic mutation with a twist. Movie palaces were already lousy with towering bugs and other A-bomb behemoths, so the savvy producers of this smart little production went another way with it — exposed to radiation, the titular character is so radically reduced in stature that spiders and housecats become his nemeses. The oversized props are lovely and the story's drift eerily existential.
Now where did I put those 3D glasses?