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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Tuesday Top 10: Favorite Ray Harryhausen Creations

Can I admit something? There are nights I go to sleep sounder knowing that Ray Harryhausen is still out there somewhere. That such a titanic legend of the movies, and of genre entertainment in general, is still with us. The great Harryhausen turned 90 today, and to commemorate the birthday of the screen's most revered special effects man, this week I'm looking back at his greatest works.

The efforts of Ray Harryhausen brought me great joy as a child, and they still do. For example, back in the days before VCRs, I became so entranced by a showing of Jason & The Argonauts on TV that I checked the TV Guide (remember that?) to see what day and time it was, my naive six-year-old brain assuming the network would be showing it again each year, like they did with The Wizard of Oz. So that gives you an idea of how deeply I fell in love with the magic of Ray Harryhausen.

And so, this week for the Tuesday Top 10, I reached back through all my favorite Harryhausen flicks to come up with the specific stop-motion creations of his that thrilled me the most. Happy Birthday to Mr. Harryhausen, and thanks in particular for giving us the following...

10. The Kraken
Clash of the Titans (1981)

Why does the ultimate weapon of the gods rank so low? Well, between you and me, the infamous Kraken has never been at the top of my list because, as impressive as it is, the Greek mythology buff in me was always put off by how it looked nothing like the Kraken as traditionally described. In hindsight, since the Kraken is actually a giant squid, I suspect the change was made so the creature wouldn't too closely resemble the next entry in my list, one of Harryhausen's earlier triumphs...

9. Giant Octopus
It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)
Harryhausen famously created an octopus with only six arms for the sake of manageability, but given the finished product, I can forgive him. The monstrous cephalopod that attacks San Francisco in Robert Gordon's classic giant-monster-run-amok movie is a sight to behold, made even more foreboding by the fact that we only see a bit of it here, and a bit of it there. As a proud Italian-American and sci-fi fan, I can honestly say this movie comes to mind anytime I'm enjoying a little polpo salad...

8. Flying Saucers
Earth vs. The Flying Saucers (1956)

At least up until Independence Day, this might have been the most iconic alien invasion ever put to celluloid, and the thanks for that is due pretty much entirely to Harryhausen. With all due respect to B-director extraordinaire Fred F. Sears and the mighty Clover Productions, it's Harryhausen's unforgettable fleet of spacecraft that everyone remembers to this day. What also makes this particular effort stand out is it's one of the only times that Harryhausen animated something other than living creatures.

7. Rhedosaurus
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

This particular monstrosity was the one that put Harryhausen on the map as the go-to man in stop-motion animation. And it's a matter of public record that there basically would've been no Godzilla without the influence of Harryhausen's work here, crafting a dinosaur that wreaks havoc in New York City. The final standoff in Coney Island is something to see--hell, every time this thing is on screen it's something to see. Quite literally the granddaddy of all movie dinos.

6. Kali
The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974)
Technically it's not actually the Indian goddess of death, but rather a wooden idol come to life, but that took nothing away from how much this demonic creature freaked me out. Sinbad and his men face a few different beasties in this, my second favorite Sinbad movie, but the six-armed Kali was definitely the one that most stuck with me.

5. Ymir
20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)

One of Harryhausen's most creative creations, the Ymir was a Venusian alien that crash-lands in Italy and grows bigger and bigger as the movie progresses. Today the Ymir is practically synonymous with Ray Harryhausen effects, as was proven when a statuette of the creature was packaged with a recent special edition DVD box set of Harryhausen films (which, with any luck, will be mine before too long...)

4. Medusa
Clash of the Titans (1981)

As if the original Harryhausen masterpiece wasn't enough, the Medusa was made even more wondrous in comparison to the ridiculous CGI failure of the recent Clash of the Titans remake. Harryhausen's brilliance came in taking a well-known creature of myth and making it his own--the snake body and bow and arrow, for example, were his concepts. And the manner in which he pulls off her famous mane of vipers is breathtaking, proving once again that the heart and soul he put into his work could outshine anything spewed forth from a computer.

3. Cyclops
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

Speaking of classic monsters of myth, here's another one brought vibrantly to life by the master. This was the first time his work would be shown off in a full color feature, and we couldn't possibly have asked for a cooler creature to show off with than this nightmarish behemoth. There have been many Harryhausen creations that impressively embodied the man's artistry, but this may very well be the one for which he's best known.

2. The Skeleton Army
Jason & The Argonauts (1963)

It was very tough not making this my number one, as the sight of this ghoulish battalion of undead warriors is something I will always cherish as a lover of film in general. In fact, talk to any died-in-the-wool Harryhausen fanatic, and it won't be very long before this incredible scene is brought up. The interaction between the human characters and stop-motion figures is particular outstanding, and there's no doubt this climatic combat was the most deftly staged of all Harryhausen effects sequences.

1. Talos
Jason & The Argonauts (1963)

Yes, Jason & The Argonauts is my favorite Harryhausen picture, and so it gets the top two spots on my list. As much as I adore the skeletons, Talos will always be the one creation that best represents the talent of Ray Harryhausen for me, personally. That initial viewing of this movie all those years ago was highlighted most of all for tiny B-Sol by the emergence of this terrifying, towering bronze killing machine. The movement, the design, the sound effects--it all added up to pure movie magic. And that's what the body of work of Ray Harryhausen is all about.


stonerphonic said...

have to agree B-Sol, i couldn't have NOT had the skeleton army as my number 1. there's something about the whole fleshless movement, and the entire stop motion pure self indulgence that makes films like these the timeless pieces of artwork that they truly are.

damn... i wish i was an argonaut....

B-Sol said...

It's an incredible scene with amazing interaction. In some shots, the humans are stop-motion as well--but in others, it's the actual actors superimposed alongside the effects. Fantastic stuff.

James Gracey said...

Wonderful post, Brian. You've got me feeling all nostalgic now. Harryhausen's creations had so much life, character and personality - SO much more than can be said about today's CGI infested SFX ;o)

Strange Kid said...

Excellent countdown of Harryhausen masterpieces, B.

Medusa and the Skeleton Army are personal favorites!

lazlo azavaar said...

What, no love for the Harpies?

Pax Romano said...

those damn skeletons scared the bejesus out of me when I was a kid.

John W. Morehead said...

I love Harryhausen and have been a fan since childhood. I like your list of favorite creatures, but would have to move the cyclops and Medusa to the front of the line, although I'm not sure which I'd choose as number one. Thanks for including the flying saucers from Earth vs. the Flying Saucers as these are surely one of his best creatures even though they are ostensibly "inanimate" objects. Belated happy birthday, Ray.

Monster Scholar said...

Claymation how I love thee!

Lee Russell said...

Good post. For me it has to be a toss up between Medusa and Kali. It's hard to really pick favourites with his work though, I find.

SFF said...

That's a terrific tribute to Ray. A very enjoyable entry.

In many ways, my list would look quite similar. Still, I would have to include the tiger and the cyclops from Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger.

I actually intended to write a little tribute with a review of the 7th Voyage Of Sinbad, but the idea has been placed on the back burner as my son laughed at the effects. He has certainly appreciated many of my classics, but for some reason the stop motion animation simply didn't win him over. Great site. All the Best.

deadlydolls said...

As a kid, I was quite terrified of the giant scorpions in Clash. They don't have the same poetry as Medusa or adorableness as the Kraken, but they left such a strong impression on my little noggin.

Lisa K. said...

There really is something about these stop-motion effects that is exceptionally creepy. Looking at these...what a blast from the past!

B-Sol said...

Glad everyone is enjoying this, and also interesting to see how everyone has their own personal favorites. Emily, the scorpions from Clash are definitely up there, good call. Sci-Fi, it's very depressing to hear of your son's reaction to 7th Voyage! Oh well, can't win em all...

And for the record, nothing against Claymation animators, but Harryhausen--contrary to popular belief--did not work in that medium. His creations were puppets and models, not clay sculptures.

Bill Dan Courtney said...


Thanks for this great post on a guy who I have only done oen post on so far. Inexcusable. I always liked Ymir and that is the film I reviewed in a short post way back. I always though the creature was the good guy. Even a vegetarian it seems. Remember the scene in the barn where it is only trying to eat grain? Then this a-hole military hot head who is always 60's style advances on the leading lady starts prodding ti with some sort of pole. It does kill the elephant but not for food.

I will certainly get around to more posts on guys like Harryhausen and Vincent Price.


B-Sol said...

More posts on Harryhausen and Price will truly make the world a better place. I fully endorse it.

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