1950s horror mirrors today and this movie doesn’t help
There are some similarities between the horror movie industry of the 1950s and today, mostly because both periods are stagnant and full of horror sequels. Universal released a whole mess of second-rate sequels in the 50s, such as Return of the Creature and Return of the Fly. There were some gems, yes, such as The Blob (1958) and Horror of Dracula (1958), but those were from Paramount and Hammer respectively, not Universal. Instead of having all the stars and all the market, Universal was now competing, and their downslide was obvious. The Thing That Couldn’t Die (1958) is especially embarrassing.
Why is every monster called a “Thing”? There’s The Thing from Another World (1951), a movie John Carpenter loves more than his own kids. But then there’s The Thing That Couldn’t Die (1958), Things (1989), The Thing With Two Heads (1972), and all The Thing remakes. And don’t even get me started on all the horror movies with the word “It” in the title.
The Thing That Couldn’t Die is a very stupid movie and probably one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. It begins with a woman named Jessica trying to find water with a forked stick like in the old days, something I thought was just a myth or a joke. Jessica can’t do it though cause “people are doubting her”. She must be a witch or something. Jessica can’t take much criticism, and she wishes all her friends were dead, accidentally hurting one of them. Talk about a brat.
Jessica is about the stupidest and most shallow character I’ve ever seen in movies. She curses people out for not believing in her witchy powers. Carolyn Kearney plays Jessica and she’s really bad. She delivers her lines like a block of wood. Anyway, Jessica proves she is a witch by finding her friend’s watch, which was stolen by a rat. A rat. Who hauled off a gold watch.
Jessica directs her friends to dig up a 16th century box, which was once owned by Sir Francis Drake. Everybody thinks it contains gold or jewelry, but it only contains a decapitated head. It blinks and smiles in an evil way, using mind control and other tricks on people. I didn’t turn off the movie at this point, and I’m not sure why.
Universal tried to save money by recycling music and sets from other movies. The music from The Creature from the Black Lagoon is reused throughout the movie. The opening music is reused from The Land Unknown, a Universal movie from the previous year. Universal accomplished their goal and made this piece of crap movie for only 120,000 dollars. It shows.
Apparently Sir Francis Drake and his crew decapitated some wacko named Gideon because of his even more wacko mystical crimes. He begins to mind control everyone in order to find his body. After his mind control buddies unite Gideon’s head and body, he gets up and dances a polka. Someone shows him a cross and Gideon disintigrates. The End. Finally.
All in all, this is a really, really bad movie. It doesn’t have any good characters and maybe the worst plot I’ve ever seen. It was panned on Svengoolie and Mystery Science Theatre 3000 for good reason. The purpose of this review is to point out the many low quality movies Universal had to offer in comparison to their competition. Now that I think about it, The Thing that Couldn’t Die probably made a profit considering its low-budget, which is a testament to Universal’s budget constraints.
The 1950s horror
Probably the most memorable horror movie from the 1950s is either The Fly or The Thing. Both are pretty good films in my opinion and have everything that The Thing That Couldn’t Die is missing. The characters are decent and have good motivations. The plot is fairly unique and is decently paced. Vincent Price had memorable outings in the 1950s and was a great actor.
Godzilla came out in 1954 and there were even more monster movies put out in the 50s. Many of them were more traditional monster movies like Them! in 1954. This bug movie is remembered as the father of bug movies. It is Kevin Bacon’s favorite movie. He later made his own bug movie called Tremors (1990).
Hammer films produced the Quartermass Xperiment (1955) and X the Unknown (1956) on very, very low-budgets. They turned Quartermass into a series of movies, but developed other horror movies that were much more successful.
Universal had their own low-budget double-features and re-released Frankenstein and Dracula to partner up with these new entries. They never intended the second feature to be any good, that’s why it was produced on a shoe-string budget. They continued this crappy low-budget strategy and produced movies like The Monster on The Campus (1958). They also churned out horror sequels like water.
The decline of the B-Movie and the double-feature was mostly due to court rulings restricting distribution monopolies. More gimmicks and better style developed as a result. William Castle and Roger Corman proved this, while Hammer tried something else, turning up the gore in their movies. The growth of television also hurt the movie industry and people could see the same crappy westerns on TV they were getting from the theater.
American International Pictures also tried their hand at gore and drive-in specials. Many of them like Bucket of Blood (1959) also followed the low-budget traditions established by other studios. AIP produced more low-budget double-features for the drive-in than anybody, although not one of them is as even modestly memorable. I think these types of films influenced the exploitation genre, as AIP turned up the gore and nudity to draw more attention.
20th Century Fox was another big studio that was losing money by 1956. Their biggest star was Dean Martin in the 50s, but the they sunk a lot of cash into Cleopatra (1963), and let Elizabeth Taylor fleece them for a lot of money. They did have a lot of successes though like The King and I and Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959). They distributed The Fly in 1958 and had other small horror successes. They were trying to survive the changing age like everyone else.