The 1950s creature features that spawned Monsters vs. Aliens

DreamWorks’ computer-animated spoof Monsters vs. Aliens, opening Friday, harks back to the famed sci-fi creatures that invaded America’s drive-ins in the 1950s. Fifty years ago, filmmakers had the power to transmogrify unconvincing make-up and tiny models into imaginative horrors that embodied a host of American anxieties over the atomic bomb, the Cold War, the oppressions of conformity and technology run amok. The “Aliens” of the title, particularly a tentacled jerk named Gallaxhar, don’t seem to derive from any specific UFO film, but Dreamworks’ five endearing Monsters are all based on unforgettable films of the era, some of which are true classics. Others, not so much.

Monster: The Missing Link, an amphibious man-fish (voiced by Will Arnett)

Based on: The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

Any good? Lord, yes. Directed by Jack Arnold, The Creature of the Black Lagoon is one of the great, moody monster flicks of the 1950s. An ill-fated trawler full of scientists goes up the Amazon seeking evidence of a prehistoric “gill man,” and it feels like a journey into an archetypal jungle of the human psyche. Originally released in 3-D, Creature boasts a great rubber monster costume and suspenseful underwater-stalking scenes with a bathing beauty. Monsters vs. Aliens plays up the notion of the 20,000 year-old fish man by treating “Link” like an aging, out-of-shape jock (complete with chest hair).

Sequels/Remakes: Revenge of the Creature (1955) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956). In the latter, surgeons give the gill-man lungs and a jump suit for no good reason. No remake yet, but one has been in the works for years.