I grew up watching films like Valley of Gwangi and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. The standout feature of films like these were not the acting or the script but the wonderful monsters that terrorised the protagonists. These monsters were almost all created by master animator, Ray Harryhausen. There were no computers back then. It was all done by hand and the results were spectacular.
Harryhausen was born in Los Angeles in 1920. After seeing King Kong in 1933, he was inspired to create his own short films with stop-motion animation monsters. He went on to pioneer a technique called ‘dynamation’ which involved splitting foreground and background and then recombining them with the animated models to make it look like they were right there in the thick of things. After some years, he was widely regarded as a master of his craft; the films he worked on coming to be regarded as his films more than anyone else’s.
Harryhausen went on to create many memorable monsters from the late 1930s onwards that will live on forever in movie history. He was an inspiration for many of the most famous names in cinema, from George Lucas and Steven Spielberg to Edgar Wright, James Cameron and Peter Jackson. Here are my ten favourites.
10 – Giant Bees (Mysterious Island -1961)
Anyone who knows me knows how unsettled I am by flying insects. This bit is never an easy watch for me.
9 – Venusian Ymir (20 Million Miles to Earth – 1957)
Made in Italy – because Ray Harryhausen wanted to go on holiday there.
8 – Radioactive octopus (It Came from Beneath the Sea – 1955)
Budgetary constraints meant that the octopus only had six tentacles, so Harryhausen did his best to position it so that no-one would notice.
7 – Gwangi (The Valley of Gwangi – 1969)
Cowboys vs, dinosaurs! The bit where they rope him took two and a half months to complete.
6 – Rhedosaurus (The Beast from 20,000 fathoms – 1953)
This is the first film ever to feature a giant monster awakened or mutated by a nuclear blast!
5 – Medusa (Clash of the Titans – 1981)
One of my biggest fears from childhood, this slithering horror stays with you.
4 – Talos (Jason and the Argonauts – 1963)
Harryhausen managed to create a real feeling of scale in the giant Talos, although in Greek mythology he was only 8ft tall.
3 – Kali (The Golden Voyage of Sinbad – 1973)
Creepy stuff. This six-armed animated statue was another source of the occasional nightmare for me back in the day.
2 – The Cyclops (The 7th Voyage of Sinbad – 1958)
Harryhausen managed to get real emotion and feeling into this monster. For me, it’s one of the most memorable.
1 – Children of the Hydra (Jason and the Argonauts – 1963)
Jason and the Argonauts was Harryhausen’s favourite project. The skeleton scene took over four months. If you look at their shields in the scene, you can see that they are decorated with images of other Harryhausen monsters like the Ymir and an octopus. You only have to watch the scene to appreciate just how much work must have gone into it. There’s so much going on and the skeletons are beautifully animated.
So, that’s my top 10 Ray Harryhausen monsters. They remind me so much of my childhood movie experiences that it’s always nice to revisit them. The man was clearly a genius and his work stands the test of time and looks a whole lot more convincing than some of the ropey CGI we are subjected to these days.
Thanks for reading,