Remember When: Scary movies of the past made your knees knock

Tom Mooney - Remember When
Tom Mooney Remember When -

Miss the old scary Halloween of your youth?

Take heart. Ask yourself what this great holiday is really all about. Is it winning the neighbors’ approval with half-mile-long strings of pumpkin lights and a giant inflatable cat?

No; of course not. It’s about getting the bejabbers scared out of you, just like when you were young.

So, get in the mood. Rent or buy a few of my favorite 1950s knee-knocker movies and relive the nights when you feared something crawly and fangy was waiting for you in the darkness halfway between the movie theater and your home.

Here are my picks for a happy and sane Halloween.

“The Thing from Another World” (1951): An isolated Air Force outpost above the Arctic Circle is terrorized by a murderous creature from a crashed flying saucer. The first UFOs had only recently been seen, and this clever film exploits the public’s fears of what lay out there. James Arness is the monster.

“Them” (1954): Another fear of the time was of what nuclear power might bring. In this case, it brings ants bulked up to the size of Sherman tanks, overrunning the countryside and finally invading the cities. I can still hear the off-camera screams of the victims.

“Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956): Yet a third 1950s fear was of communism. This flick has symbolic shadowy aliens creeping into the bodies of familiar townsfolk and turning them into agents of evil. I loved the scene of the little boy running in terror when his mom tries to embrace him.

“The War of the Worlds” (1953): Forget the remake. This is the real thing. It’s a one-sided battle as terrified humans huddle in the ruins of their cities while unstoppable alien machines on stilts hunt them down with screechy death rays.

“House of Wax” (1953): Behind the smile of a museum curator lies the real answer to his patrons’ questions about how he manages to get his wax figurines so life-like. An early 3D movie, it had audiences ducking away from hot wax that seemed to be splashing right off the screen.

“Tarantula” (1955): This is another big bug spectacular, with a huge spider escaping from a lab and wreaking havoc. Really, these things make your skin crawl. I pick this one over the other many-legged beastie epics because at least Clint Eastwood has a minor role in it.

“The Creature from the Black Lagoon” (1954): A team of scientists figures out why the local populace has been avoiding a lake in the middle of nowhere. This nice original spawned a brief franchise about a movie monster known affectionately today on online interest boards as “Gill Man.”

“Earth vs. the Flying Saucers” (1956): Special effects guru Ray Harryhausen outdoes himself as UFOs attack Washington, D.C., while science scrambles to perfect a death ray that will bring the invaders down. If you’ve ever dreamed of seeing the Capitol in ruins, this is your baby.

“It Came from Beneath the Sea” (1955): Motorists on the Golden Gate Bridge might think they’ve seen every traffic hazard. But how about a giant radioactive octopus? I’d recommend packaging this flick with “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” (1953) which has an enormous sea lizard stomping on panicked crowds. In other words, Ray Harryhausen is at it again in these two creature features.

Hey, want some real Halloween fun? Invite your buddies to watch these DVDs, and then sneak behind them with a couple of fuzzy fake tarantulas and …

Tom Mooney Remember When Mooney Remember When

Tom Mooney

Remember When

Tom Mooney is a Times Leader history columnist. Reach him at [email protected]

Tom Mooney is a Times Leader history columnist. Reach him at [email protected]