My First Scary Movie

By Rich Lynch: Somewhere around 60 years ago I had the bejeezus scared out of me.  

I recently read in the newsblog that November 29th was the 60th anniversary of  the premiere of the Cold War-era sci-fi movie The Atomic Submarine.  I didn’t see it until probably a year or so later, when it was shown on one of those Saturday afternoon scary movie matinees that were popular on television stations back then.  And boy was it scary!  I was not yet a teenager and I remember that at the most intense point of the movie I had covered my face with my hand and squinted through the gap between my fingers.

Six decades later I’m trying to figure out why it seemed so frightening to me.  The plot was fairly pedestrian as B-grade sci-fi movies go – a U.S. Navy atomic submarine (which was pretty new real-world technology back then) was sent on a mission, under the Arctic ice pack, to find out why ships had gone missing in that part of the world.  It turns out that an undersea UFO was the cause, which is not much of a spoiler since the promotional poster for the movie shows a flying saucer.  Why the UFO was hanging out and destroying ships that passed by its vicinity was never explained, but it all was just a MacGuffin to get the submarine and the UFO next to each other so we could get to see the alien monster.

And a nightmare-inducing monster it was!  One-eyed, ugly, and truly evil – it killed off the redshirts of the boarding party in terrifying ways, and was planning to bring samples of humanity back to its own world to dissect in preparation of a large-scale invasion of Earth.  How in the world (literally!) could the U.S. Navy prevent that from happening?

I expect that this movie is obscure enough that probably only the scary movie aficionados have ever seen it.  But it turns out that if you want to see it, you can – it’s apparently now in public domain, and there’s a pretty good digital transfer available on YouTube.  So you know what?  I’m gonna watch it again.  I know it’s not going to be very much of a “Keep Watching the Skies!” sense-of-wonder experience, but I still want to see if I’m even remotely as scared as I was way back then.  And I’m kind of hoping that I will be.  Well, maybe just a little anyway.

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7 thoughts on “My First Scary Movie

  1. One of the first films I saw in the theater that creeped me out was THE FLY. The one with Vincent Price. I was in the front row, and very absorbed in the whole film. Gave me a few bad dreams.

    And it was not a Disney film about insects like my older brother told me.

  2. Mine was watching “When Worlds Collide” on our old black-and-white Zenith. I remember hiding behind the chair, peeking around it. And wasn’t helped by a trusted older brother who told me an asteroid was going to hit the Earth next year.

  3. I saw “The Creature From the Black Lagoon” at my local movie theatre. In 3-D. I was 8. Scared the crap out of me, and I had nightmares for weeks afterwards.

    On the other hand, saw “It Came from Outer Space” in a movie theatre when it came out, and loved it!

  4. Hey Rich, you are not alone in your felling about “Atomic Submarine”. I, too, watched this on my grandmother’s black and white Zenith tv set as an eight year old back in the mid-sixties.

    Needless to say, I haven’t seen it in DECADES but I own a VHS copy of it in my vast movie collection…

  5. I notice there’s an actor named Tom Conway listed on the poster of THE ATOMIC SUBMARINE [1959]. Tom Conway (real name Thomas Sanders) [1904 – 1967] was a British actor who migrated to Hollywood, and acted in films from the early ’40s to the mid ’60s; in this film he played Sir Ian Hunt, a scientist.. Another actor–an American–named Thomas Conway was starting his career about that time, and had to change his acting name to Tim Conway to avoid confusion. Tim Conway is much better known these days than Tom Conway.

    There was another British actor, James Stewart (1912 – 1993), who became a movie star, but there was already a James Stewart–the famous one [1908 – 1997]–so the younger one changed his name to Stewart Granger, and had a successful career in his own right.

  6. As seen on tv: The first movie that scared me was THE WIZARD OF OZ (the Witch – years later I recognized her as a comic villain). The next, far more troubling, was INVADERS FROM MARS (the idea that one’s parents could betray one).

    My mother once told me that the first movie (or perhaps one of the first) that she saw was THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA … seen through shielding fingers and over the back of the seat in front.

    A friend once said that the scariest movie he ever saw was MY FAVORITE YEAR, though he hid under the seat in embarrassment, recognizing the similarity of the family to his.

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