Throwback Creature Features: The best monster movies of 1954


The year 1954 saw the release of several iconic titles we’re still talking about over six decades later.

Rear Window, White Christmas, A Star Is Born,  Animal Farm; these titles — all from different genres — are several examples of why 1954 is an indelible year in cinematic history, but some of the more memorable accomplishments of the year, came from one genre in particular: the horror genre. Science fiction, of course, is predominantly what they’re known as, but the pictures listed below were arguably terrifying upon initial release.

Gojira (Godzilla)

It’s hard to believe a franchise with a record-breaking 30+ films (and counting) under its belt, was not initially well-received. Many have seen the Americanized version of Godzilla, which cuts out a lot of the anti-nuclear stance; substituting specific themes with changed dialogue and adding a protagonist. It seemed almost done in shame, as the original version is darker, moodier and indescribably tragic. It came nearly a decade after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and was directed by Ishiro Honda; a filmmaker whose earlier work included documentaries and war features, which adds to the film’s realism.

The titular Kaiju was not always the hero or restorer of balance, but a terrifying metaphor. While it’s arguable that Godzilla is a relatable character in this movie, as he existed prior to the bombing and was woken up and strengthened by the impact of it, he’s still creepily kept in the shadows and not shown for at least 28 minutes into the movie. The memorable sound of a leather glove covered in pine resin, rubbing a double bass and slowed down is still one of the most legendary monster roars ever on screen.

Gojira courtesy of Toho Co 1954

Even his death cry at the end of the original is more traumatizing than what’s used in the Americanized picture. Outside of its enduring pop-culture iconography, what makes Godzilla stand out from most other monsters of its era is an ability to stun an audience. It remains one of the most meaningful and significant monster movies of all time and is not to be taken lightly.


For people who have myrmecophobia, or, really, a phobia of insects in general, this film is a nightmare waiting to happen. It’s yet another monster movie that builds upon a universal fear of nuclear weapons. Ants that have been exposed to radiation are discovered in a desert setting and, surprise, surprise, there’s not one but two queen ants on the loose.

Typically associated with these kinds of movies is a B-rate cast of mediocre talent. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth here. Them! stars James Whitmore, James Arness and Edmund Gwenn. Even Leonard Nimoy can be found in this movie. If you’re into westerns or older Disney movies, you’d also know who Joan Weldon is.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Pacing has always been hit or miss with these types of films, but what Them! lacks in subtlety it more than makes up for with its pacing. Interesting fact: Them! was nominated for an Oscar for special effects the following year at the 27th Academy Awards, but it lost to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Creature from the Black Lagoon

Debating which of the classic Universal monsters has the creepiest yet most sympathetic arc, is certainly nothing that hasn’t been done time and time again. However, Creature from the Black Lagoon has one of the more fascinating behind-the-scenes stories. It not only was shot in 3-D, but it featured a lot more underwater work than any other motion picture at the time. As we’re one day closer to February’s Women of Horror month-long celebration, it’s also noteworthy that Milicent Patrick greatly contributed to the look of the Gill-man.

Milicent Patrick. Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Unfortunately, despite having an exceptional career as an actress, an animator and a makeup effects artist and costume designer, she’s not nearly given the credit she deserves.

Whilst on a promotional tour for the film, the head of the makeup department, George Hamilton Westmore, (also known as Bud Westmore) jealously threw a tantrum that lead to her dismissal. As she was promoting the film and the Gill-Man character, despite being called “The beauty that created the beast”, she didn’t take all of the credit as George Hamilton Westmore tried to.

More from 1428 Elm

Creature from the Black Lagoon not only delivers on the promise of escapism, it also offers its viewers the opportunity to debate whether or not scientists goes too far. The “Gill-Man” isn’t necessarily the bad guy; these scientists go on an expedition of an Amazonian river, in pursuit of fossils. Just as humans are afraid of him, throwing things at him and coming at him with all sorts of weapons, he does what anyone would do on their home turf — fight back.

At the same time you cheer for Julie Adams’s and Richard Carlson’s characters, Richard Denning’s character Mark will surely have you rolling your eyes. He wanted to chase after the “Gill-Man.” I believe he was mostly in it for financial gain, rather than exploring new worlds and different types of creatures. Unable to communicate his feelings, the “Gill-Man” keeps trying to kidnap Kay and bring her to his grotto home. The scientists have invaded his territory, littered and possibly poisoned his water and likely threatened his food supply.

Everything about Creature from the Black Lagoon, its sequels and it’s behind-the-scenes story, is enthralling, whether you’re a casual moviegoer or a full-blown cinephile. A remake has been planned since the 1980s, often changing creative directions and talent associated.

The year 1954 featured a few other horror/monster/science fiction releases, but none successfully master the art of film making or storytelling quite like these do. How many movies from 1954 have you seen and enjoy?

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Fan of monster movies of yesteryear? Any classics or personal favorites we missed? Let the other crazy creatures know what you think in the comment section below.