Hillbillies. Haunted beach parties. Zombie carnivals. Walking slime. Dinosaur-size scorpions crawling out of a volcano. Horror movies practically invite the bizarre, but some specimens of the genre are just bizarre in themselves.
Much of what was considered nightmare fodder in the '50s and '60s has mutated into grotesque humor. While the most haunting month of the year is prime time for marathons of blood, gore, ghosts and homicidal clowns, there is something to be said for scary flicks that go so insanely overboard with fog machines or campy musical numbers that they end up unintentionally hilarious. The special effects in many of these films are as obvious as trick-or-treaters’ polyester costumes—but by some paranormal force, they still manage to be oddly mesmerizing.
Marathon these 13 so-bad-they’re-good movies overflowing with chocolate-syrup blood—they go amazingly well with popcorn and Halloween candy.
Vampire Over London (1952)
Vampires and uranium don’t usually go together (except maybe in a haunted atomic power plant), but they apparently do when a vampire wants to dominate the world with a battalion of radar-controlled robots. Also known as Old Mother Riley Meets the Vampire and My Son the Vampire, this was the last of the Old Mother Riley films that starred British comedian Arthur Lucan in drag as the washerwoman who was always getting tangled up in some sort of trouble. It focused more on characterization rather than fangs and gore so the rating verdict would allow Mother Riley’s biggest fans—kids—to see it. Iconic vamp Bela Lugosi didn’t originally have plans to star as nosferatu-meets-mad scientist Von Housen, but desperation calls from beyond the grave. It was only after his stage play of Dracula failed in England that the prospect of another movie financing his return to the states became bloody appetizing.
Monsters Crash the Pajama Party (1955)
Sleepovers in spooky old mansions are so underrated. Teenage sorority initiates think that the only lurking horror is their boyfriends sneaking up on them in party-store masks, until they find out about the resident mad scientist obsessed with transforming humans into gorillas (the blatantly obvious rubber hands and fake body hair only add to the hilarity). Talk about hazing! Creatures also seem to claw their way through the screen thanks to special effects that trick the eye into seeing in 3-D. To up the comedy ante on this slumber party that will give you insomnia, actors in monster costumes would creep around the theater and scare moviegoers into spilling their popcorn and Jujubes.
The Black Scorpion (1957)
If you think lava is the worst thing a volcano could spew, try prehistoric scorpions with claws enormous enough to crush a train. Abnormal arachnids, Lovecraftian tentacled worms and other insects several hundred times bigger than they have any right to be trample the city of San Lorenzo as if it was just trash underfoot. Monster antennae and jaws that could pulverize a human skull mean you will never look at ants the same way again (and never under a magnifying glass). Oh, and somewhere among all these six-and-eight-legged freaks is a gargantuan lizard. Any bugs look familiar? The special effects supervisor of King Kong is said to have reanimated the worm and spider.
The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966)
Homicidal gorillas, walking suits of armor, unspeakable things in your bed and—of course—phantoms are probably the last uninvited guests you’d expect to crash a '60s pool party. Which is why it’s not the best idea to bring your beach friends over for a crazy summer bash while there’s an invisible phantom in an invisible bikini swinging from the chandelier. Watch out for cameos (or is it apparitions?) by horror legends Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff somewhere in the chaos. Also known as The Girl in the Glass Bikini and Bikini Party in a Haunted House, this is part of the Beach Party series of films whose surfer boys in Hawaiian shorts and bikini-clad girls with too much hairspray aren’t exactly the type you’d imagine waking up next to an amorphous blob monster.
Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)
Just about about every slimy, hairy, eight-eyed and tentacled thing imaginable in the history of horror has attacked a movie screen at one point—including mutant leeches. Just when you thought gators were the scariest thing slinking through the Everglades, atomic radiation makes the leeches in this creature feature monstrous enough to drag unconscious swimmers to their cave and drain every last drop of blood. Radioactive crawlies were no coincidence during this era of nuclear weapon paranoia; they reflected the Red Scare’s worst nightmare fuel. Just the thought of a blood-bloated leech big enough to have its own driver’s license is also enough to keep anyone from ever wading into suspiciously murky water.
The Slime People (1963)
Slime (usually in a noxious shade of green) has always been a horror movie mainstay. Now it’s congealed into reptilian creatures that look like melted candles with eyes and teeth, which ooze out of the sewers of L.A. and flood it with an impenetrable fog. It’s thick enough to rival any mental image from an Edgar Allen Poe story. The special effects crew overdosed on fog machines to the point that you have to squint to make out anything beyond a grayish haze towards the end. This film was also so low-budget that the actors who didn’t have the luxury of rubber slime suits actually had to buy their own wardrobes. Now that’s scary.
The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964)
A carnival of screams, moans and feathered headdresses danced onto the first monster musical to terrorize the big screen long before Rocky Horror would do the Time Warp. Songs like “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” and “Shook out of Shape” are performed by sequined showgirls in zombie makeup as the undead shamble onstage. Just add hypnosis, a hunchback and a vat of acid for more thrills than a horror coaster. The second longest title in the horror genre was constantly being dismembered and just wouldn’t die, being revamped and re-released under increasingly bizarre headlines such as Diabolical Dr. Voodoo and The Teenage Psycho Meets Bloody Mary, though the ghost of Bloody Mary remains to be seen.
The Horror of Party Beach (1964)
You know your beach party will drown when it starts off with radioactive sludge and ends up being swarmed by everything that mutated underwater. You only figure a slumber party will be safer until your guests end up being vampiric man-fish whose dismembered limbs keep crawling unless you happen to have monstrous amounts of metallic sodium on hand. The Horror of Party Beach was considered so shocking at the time that moviegoers were not actually allowed in unless they signed a “fright release” form so the theater wouldn’t be liable for any terror-related deaths once the party was over. Not the first time this happened. At least all the blood was chocolate syrup.
The Beach Girls and the Monster
Cryptozoology takes a horrifying turn when an anthropomorphic subspecies of the mythical carnivorous “fantigua fish” starts eating surfers for breakfast. It looks something like the result of Swamp Thing having his DNA merged with sea kelp and an unraveling mummy. Those bikini girls shaking their hips as if they’re completely oblivious to what is emerges from the waves at night are actual dancers from Sunset Boulevard’s famous (and sometimes infamous) Whiskey-a-Go-Go club. And that puppet singing in a kazoo voice while everyone makes out around a beach bonfire? It’s Kingsley the Lion, created by children’s TV personality Walker Edmiston, who also starred in the movie and sculpted the thing from the deep. Creepy.
Carry On Screaming! (1966)
Arguably the most bizarre of the farcical British Carry On films, this Edwardian-era parody of the iconic Hammer horror movies of the time is crawling with snakes, incompetent police, an electrically charged mad scientist, mannequins of questionable origin, a Peeping Tom, and monsters that have a habit of losing fingers and clearly don’t know how to use a door. Hammer isn’t the only victim. This lab experiment in horror comedy also bubbles over with a cauldron of miscellaneous jabs at thrillers like House of Wax and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The names alone (think Frankenstein-esque creatures called Oddbod and plug-in Dr. Watt) are borderline ridiculous. You might die laughing.
Something Weird (1967)
“Weird” is understatement for this psychedelic horror trip where everybody (or at least an eccentric government official) is kung-fu fighting. Witches flash looks that kill by shooting fire from their eyeballs and appear at least a hundred years younger than they really are. Even non-magical people who black out after an accident can wake up with incredible psychic powers—but it ESP or LSD? What exactly causes extra-sensory perception in this case might be more narcotic than paranormal. Directed by “Godfather of Gore” Herschell Gordon Lewis, who birthed the splatter subgenre in the early '60s, Something Weird is one of his exploitation films meant to intoxicate audiences with twisted, violent lust.
Hillbillys in a Haunted House (1967)
Hillbillies, rocket fuel, a roomful of skeletons and a gorilla in the basement (what is it with '60s horror films and gorilla suits?) go together about as You would think the last thing anyone would want to do in a haunted house would be to break out in spontaneous guitar music, but that’s exactly what a ragtag band of rednecks does after their car runs out of gas and they decide to spend the night in a mansion that’s supposedly been abandoned by everyone but its ghosts. And the gorilla. And some sketchy international men of mystery who are desperate for an elusive rocket fuel formula. For some reason, you can’t look away.
The Astro-Zombies (1968)
Sci-fi and horror merge their genetic material into something from outer space when a murderous ex-astronomer pieces together mutilated bodies into an army of unearthly killing machines. While the machete-wielding zombies have faces like alien-ized luchadore masks, the brain transplant scenes are still something you shouldn’t watch right after eating. Director Ted V. Mikels’ outlandish movie has been critizicized as unnecessarily crude, which is the reception you got in the sixties if you took up three entire minutes with a go-go-dancing routine. Then again, this is a guy with a handlebar mustache and a boar’s tooth necklace who lived with his personal strippers in a place designed to look like a haunted mansion.