With the Second World War and its after effects dominating the previous decade, the 1950’s saw a huge increase in the production of science fiction and horror films. In particular, this decade has become known for the vast amount of monster movies released. The cause of this influx may well have been twofold. With the popularity of television increasing dramatically, film studios had to fight to retain audiences. Monster movies were popular and drew in the most profits. More importantly however, these horror/sci-fi pictures were also able to effectively reflect the fears of contemporary society.
With the mid-40’s seeing the first nuclear weapon tests and the Cold War conflict dominating public psyche in the 50’s, it is perhaps unsurprising that film directors looked at the fears these events were causing as inspiration. Films such as The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), Them! (1954) and Godzilla (1954) all imagine the effects nuclear tests may have had, featuring horrific mutant super-sized creatures causing widespread destruction and death in New York, LA and Tokyo respectively. With Godzilla being made in Japan, it is also evident that these fears of the potential effects of nuclear testing were not just of concern in Western civilisation, but in fact on a much more global scale.
“It is perhaps unsurprising that film directors looked at the fears these events were causing as inspiration”
The ever-present threat of nuclear war and the destruction such a war would entail can also be seen throughout the decade in ‘alien invasion’ flicks such as The War of the Worlds (1953) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). These may attribute the destruction to extra-terrestrial causes, but still examine destruction on a scale never experienced before, even in the world wars. It is significant that the reason the Earth is marked for destruction in The Day the Earth Stood Still is the development of nuclear weapons and extra-terrestrial concern for our weapons capabilities.
The idea of otherness is also examined throughout the 50’s, with the Cold War generating fears of traitors. Between 1950 and 1956, hundreds of people were imprisoned and thousands lost their jobs due to accusations that they were communist Soviet agents. No one was entirely safe from suspicion, creating widespread paranoia. This fear of ‘outsiders hiding in plain sight’ fed perfectly into the monster movies of the day. Numerous sci-fi films featured subtler forms of invasion, perhaps most famous among them Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). This film has been linked strongly to McCarthyism, detailing aliens replacing humans with ‘pod people’ duplicates, generating mass hysteria, a similar effect to that which McCarthyism was having throughout America.
“This fear of ‘outsiders hiding in plain sight’ fed perfectly into the monster movies of the day”
Many of the monster movies from this period are considered classics and have been the subjects of remakes (2005’s War of the Worlds, 2008’s The Day the Earth Stood Still and 2014’s Godzilla). However, though these remakes met with some success, they were powered the financial drive of modern Hollywood rather than the historical tensions they were conceived under, making them a lot less effective to audiences.