Some topics are too grim even for cinema to tackle head on – and let’s not forget that this is the medium that brought us The Smurfs 2 – and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki definitely fall into that category. Instead, movies tackled the horrors of the nuclear age the way any sensible person would: with MASSIVE MUTANT MONSTERS. From Japan, where the A-bomb gave birth to B-movies giddy with scaly creations that would eat you (and the town you grew up in) in a Toyko minute, to Hollywood, where if it was worth doing, it was worth doing with giant killer ants, carnage reigned for a decade. If you’d nuked the fridge during this period it probably would have sprouted legs and breathed flaming Primula. Here are ten of the hairiest, more radioactive critters that we'd like to bring back for Godzilla to tackle in the sequel to this year's film...
Movie: Them! (1954)
Even the most hardened Ant-Man devotee would wonder at the capacity for terror represented by a tiny, six-legged insect that spends most of its time ferrying bits of leaf from one place to another place very close to the first place. But nuke ‘em a little and, presto, you’ve got much bigger six-legged insects so lip-wibblingly fearful, they need their own exclamation mark. Like Godzilla, Them! ( ‘Us!’ if you’re an ant) was another product of man’s fear that nuclear testing would create a toxic landscape filled with killer beasties and outsized bugs. Unusually, these ones are susceptible to machine guns, leaving them at something of a disadvantage in the face of the US Army (motto: ‘We’ve Got Machine Guns. Ho Ho Ho’).
Movie: The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
The voracious byproduct of rubbishly-named nuclear experiment ‘Operation Experiment’, this early monster movie sees a ten-metre-tall dino awakened from its slumbers by a nuclear test in the Arctic with the kind of tummy rumble only 100 million years frozen in ice can stir up. Fancying something New York-tasting, off stomps the Rhedosaurus in the direction of the Big Apple. Carnage ensues, until, aptly, Lee Van Cleef guns it down with some radioactive weaponry. The moral? Never name your city after something edible.
Movie: The Amazing Colossal Man (1957)
Silly and strangely sad, this plutonium-powered giant is soldier Glenn Manning in Bert I. Gordon’s kooky sci-fi scarer. Like Doctor Manhattan, he gets caught, through no fault of his own, in a nuclear blast and develops superpowers as a result. Alas, his uncontrollable ability to regenerate sees him grow... and grow. Psychological collapse ensues and in a final act showdown in Vegas (because where else would a giant bald man in a nappy go?) it all ends badly wrong for him. How terrifying audiences of the time found all this would have depended on their innate dread of giant bald men wandering around in nappies. Sounds pretty scary to us.
Movie: War Of The Colossal Beast (1958)
Another outsized Bert ‘Mister B.I.G.’ Gordon joint gave ‘50s America audiences a second helping of the big man now better known as ‘Colossal Beast’. Because guess what, see? It didn’t end badly for Manning in Las Vegas. No sir. He survived to unleash more radioactive carnage. Never mind that his face has seen better days, his mind has snapped and he’s probably got nappy rash, his appetite for destruction remains unquenchable. Los Angeles and Hollywood both cop it before he finally, finally ends the Colossal Beast franchise on a power line.
Movie: Monster From Green Hell (1958)
This monster flick was an unusual atomic nightmare in not being entirely man’s fault. This time, hey, outer space is to blame! Wasps are sent into orbit – seriously – by American scientists in this exceptionally silly B-movie horror to test conditions prior to a manned shuttle launch. Dosed with cosmic radiation, they crash land in Africa and emerge huge, green and equipped with an enhanced sting not even Savlon can defeat. No-one much likes wasps, but only in the ‘50s did people think that one day you'd need grenades to tackle them.
Movie: Tarantula! (1955)
An atomic monster we’d all happily get behind / run away from, furry terror spider the tarantula makes its B-movie debut in Jack ‘Creature From The Black Lagoon’ Arnold’s nuclear parable. It's a much more spine-shivering nuclear critter than all the supersized ants and wasps in Hollywood, but still less frightening than it would have been had Universal’s think tank not made it vulnerable to napalm – although admittedly said napalm is delivered by a young Clint Eastwood. No shame in that.
Movie: Attack Of The Crab Monsters (1957)
Roger Corman’s bid to still the public’s nuclear-age anxiety had pincers, an exoskeleton and tasted delicious in a souffle. Yes, giant crabs spawned by the Bikini Atoll nuclear tests turn on a group of scientists and absorb their intelligence to create the ultimate killer seafood in his dotty black-and-white sci-fi / horror. Like many monster movies of its time, it offered a Godzilla-like warning that humanity couldn’t go around irradiating oceans without expecting at least one species to grow to enormous proportions, develop brainiac tendencies and start eating anyone with a PhD. Despite the grand promises on the poster, the ensuing events are less a “tidal wave of terror” than an eddy of edginess as the crabzillas, an increasingly smug bunch, eventually meet their Waterloo on a remote Pacific island.
Movie: Beginning Of The End (1957)
There were few insects Bert Gordon didn’t supersize and unleash on the moviegoing public in the 1950s –
just woodlice and ladybirds left out, really – but of them all, Beginning Of The End’s giant nuclear locusts took the most stopping. Unlike their thoraxy brethren, these monsters weren’t created by the fallout from a nuclear test or an atomic mishap but by a deliberate attempt by the government to use radiation to make giant fruit and solve world hunger. Unfortunately, by munching on some radioactive wheat, the flying carb-guzzlers grow huge and hungry for humans, who flee in terror. Interstellar could yet be a very loose remake.
Movie: Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster (1964)
Giant space wyrm Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster (not to be confused with Ghidorah The Explorer) is an obvious 'Zilla 2 adversary. Like Rocky and Apollo Creed, the pair have history. The multi-noggined one brought a Harryhausen-like touch of the prehistoric to the Toho universe back in the mid-'60s and, with its three dragon heads providing hitherto unwitnessed levels of multi-tasking, it could again prove a worthy adversary to Gojira. Nobody wants to fight three Martian Smaugs all at the same time.
Movie: Mothra Vs. Godzilla (1964)
Show us someone who doesn't want to see Mothra in Godzilla 2 and we'll show you a 100 per cent lambswool sweater. We'd even take an origin story – Caterpillar-ra? – if it introduced the furry kaiju into the newly-established franchise and allowed it to flap very slowly into action. For Mothra newcomers, the insect beastie was spawned not of a nuclear mishap but of divine provinence, born a god on a remote island. Like most good gods, it has the power of life and death, control over the elements and is worshipped by legions of supplicants (led by minute fairy priestesses). Unlike most gods, it's extremely vulnerable to mothballs.