Horror films took a short leave of absence during the 1940s mainly because the world and the USA were experiencing their own very real horrors with World War Two. Scary movies were still being churned out successfully by Universal, who were making Monster Movies in the style that first appeared in the 1930s. ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘The Mummy’ franchises were still doing well along with an updated version of ‘The Werewolf.’
Val Newton was doing some exciting things over at RKO with ‘The Cat People,’ and Zombie films—yes, zombies— but towards the end of the decade, only ‘Abbott and Costello Meets Frankenstein’ made money. ‘Abbott and Costello Meets Frankenstein’ was sort of the swan song for the old group of lovable Monsters. (The film itself is an excellent blend of humor and thrills featuring ‘Frankenstein,’ ‘The Wolfman’, and ‘Dracula’). Like ‘Blazing Saddles;’ which killed off the Westerns in a later decade, ACMF, sort of killed off the earthly monster group.
In 1947, a little-known place called Roswell, in New Mexico suddenly hit the headlines and caught the nation’s attention with flying saucers and dead aliens.
The general populace was becoming aware of another horror, not from our planet but from space. Its time was ripe. We realized we lived in an age of jet propulsion, with aircraft that could actually fly faster than sound. One war was over and another one could start at any minute: the Cold War. In many ways the Cold War was the ultimate terror. There was a bomb that could level major cities and rockets that could deliver them. The ever-growing threat of International Communism had us thinking about an invasion that would change our lives forever. UFO’s became the unconscious focus of this fear. People worried that hostile beings from outer space might try to invade us.
Hollywood, always looking into ways to make money, was acutely aware of this new anxiety. Moviemakers turned their attention to another genre that had been around for some time, called Science Fiction. Some of the early films in this category are George Méliès ‘A Trip To The Moon’ (France 1902) and Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’ ( Germany 1927) to name two. Hollywood dabbled in it with ‘Things To Come’, ‘Transatlantic Tunnel’ and of course, the popular Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers Serials. The latter were done on shoestring budgets and were aimed primarily at children. Cartoons of emerging superheroes like Superman and Batman were popular, but nothing was done seriously or with a big budget.
Then in 1950, the very first flying saucer movie ever released was called ‘The Flying Saucer.’ It was in black & white, independently made, and didn’t have an single alien in it. In the movie, the flying saucer was Russian-made. The plot dealt with Soviet spies—combining two fears in one film—fear of UFOs and fear of Communists. Audiences were fascinated to see for the first time what a flying saucer looked like.
Soon the moviegoing public would witness a movie made by a top studio and produced by Howard Hawks, a well known Hollywood director. Like nothing anybody ever saw before, it made Hollywood history. The movie combined horror and science fiction and was so well done, it still stands up today, over 60 years later. It was based on a 1937 short novel called ‘Who Goes There.’ The film
version was called simply, THE THING
Next month: the 1950s and the Golden Age of the Science Fiction film.