Forget what anybody else tells you. Halloween is the most wonderful time of the year. The fake cobwebs, the glowing pumpkins on people’s doorsteps, the costumes –– I even get nostalgic when I see cartoonish witches and ghosts on grocery store candy displays. The campiness and childlike excitement that take over this time of year make me look forward to it every October.
The only issue is: I don’t like being genuinely afraid. If you invite me to a haunted house, I’m not going. Want to see the new Exorcist? No thanks. I’m particularly wary of horror movies. I become nauseous at the sight of blood and body horror.
That’s where vintage B-movies come in. You know the ones I mean: low-budget black-and-white thrillers featuring TV-headed plaster aliens, terrible acting, not-so-special effects, puppet-monsters crushing Lego cities, and more.
As a lover of cheesiness, I find these works a delightful replacement for the psychological trauma-inducing flicks in theaters and on streaming services. Old-timey B-movies are a natural fit for Halloween-movie marathons and a great example of filmmaking for the love of escapism rather than critical acclaim. And sometimes, that’s what I’m in the mood for.
The key to B-movies is that you can’t take them (or yourself) too seriously. If you turn on Village of the Giants looking for class A acting, you’re not going to have a good time, and I would argue you’re setting yourself up for misery. But if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief and let yourself just go along for the ride, you might find your next comfort film.
So, here are some of my top picks for all you Halloweenies looking for some retro entertainment. (You can find these on Mystery Science Theater 3000, but for the proper moviegoing experience, I’d watch the originals.)
Teenagers from Outer Space
This 1959 heart-pounder is definitely weird. Even Rotten Tomatoes’ description is perfunctory and strange: “Alien teens with ray guns land on Earth to breed their lobster-like space cattle.”
The summary is confusing, and, honestly, I can’t argue with it.
The movie follows the titular aliens as they land on Earth with plans to breed, yes, giant killer lobsters. On landing, one of the teenagers shoots a pet dog, which perplexes another space teenager, Derek. (Apparently not all of these aliens are into killing things for the heck of it.)
After a dispute with his comrades, Derek goes off to seek a new life on Earth, prompting his vengeful, dog-killing crewmate to search for him. Lots of ray gun shootings –– and phony plastic skeletons –– ensue.
Science-fiction lovers and anybody willing to look past some truly wretched acting will have a good time watching this.
You thought I was joking when I mentioned TV-headed aliens? Even I couldn’t make that up! Google “B-movie poster,” and chances are this title will come up. This is a 1953 cult classic if only for the insanity of the creature. Is it a robot? Apparently. But he also has the body of a giant gorilla, so presumably the costume department was strapped for cash.
In Robot Monster, the moon alien Ro-Man is in the process of decimating Earth’s inhabitants with his death ray so Martians can take over the planet. There are only eight people left. Two are off-camera, and one is the scientist who created a serum that has immunized all eight from Ro-Man’s killer ray. The movie follows the humans’ attempts to combat the homicidal moonie and prevent the aliens from taking over Earth.
Why is this movie good? It’s not, but it’s entertaining. If nothing else, you can think of it as your own little science experiment –– seeing how much cheese you can ingest without switching channels.
This is a good pick for monster-movie lovers, sci-fi fans, and people into postapocalyptic themes.
The Beginning of the End
Ever wondered what would happen if a chemical contamination led to giant grasshoppers invading Chicago? If so, this is the choice for you. If you’re a fan of the 1960s TV series Mission Impossible, you’ll also be pleased to see Peter Graves in this, one of many horrors directed by infamous B-movie auteur and producer Bert I. Gordon.
As with many B-movies, there’s really not much to the story. Graves plays a scientist who, with the help of his research partner, uses radiation to grow giant tomatoes. But when an entire town goes missing and giant grasshoppers appear to be behind it, Graves — with the help of a beautiful journalist — must find a way to take down the mutant invaders he accidentally helped create.
I’m fond of giant creatures in black-and-white flicks. The idea is cheesy enough to make the finished product thoroughly entertaining and unintentionally funny.
Who would enjoy it? Anyone who likes monster films and creative cinematography.
Samson vs. the Vampire Women
A good time for those who loved the 1931 Dracula but wished there was more luchador combat. In this Mexican film from 1962, Samson (called “El Santo” in the original Spanish version) is a masked Mexican wrestler tapped to fight a troupe of female vampires who have repeatedly tormented and attacked a wealthy man’s daughter.
The vampire theme and corny flying bat scenes make for great Halloween viewing. There’s also practically no blood, which is a novelty in the vampire genre. Bonus points for the wild Mexican wrestling scene.
This is one of my favorites because I have sentimental memories of watching this with some college friends, but I believe anyone would appreciate this as long as they can stomach melodramatic reaction shots, brutish fight choreography, and underwhelming vampire transformation sequences.
Earth vs. the Spider
Also known as The Spider, this 1958 fright also by Bert I. Gordon features melodramatic acting and hilarious special effects which, to modern viewers, are anything but frightening. In this thriller, a teenage girl goes searching for her missing father before she and her boyfriend find themselves in the web of a massive man-eating spider.
Naturally, it isn’t long before the spider leaves its lair in search of more humans — according to the movie poster, it must eat humans, and only humans, to survive. Eventually, a science teacher and the local police force band together to combat the creature as it decimates the town.
A good choice for horror fans and non-arachnophobes.