The film industry and movie fans lost a legend this past week with the passing of Ray Harryhausen. This early special-effects master and perfector of the stop-motion animation technique died at age 92 but his undeniable mark lives on through the incredible motion picture creations he has left us with. To honor him I thought it would be good to focus this week’s Phenomenal 5 on some of his greatest creations. I grew up watching Ray Harryhausen’s creatures and they played a big part in nurturing my love for cinema. And after seeing and appreciating so much of his body of work, it would be nuts to call this the definitive list. But I can confidently say that these 5 Ray Harryhausen creations are absolutely phenomenal.
#5 – MEDUSA (“Clash of the Titans”)
“Clash of the Titans” from 1981 was Ray Harryhausen’s final full-length film and a true fantasy classic. In it Harryhausen delivered some incredible effects sequences and some of his most memorable creatures. My personal favorite from the film is the slithering Medusa residing on a remote island at the edge of the Underworld. Perseus (Harry Hamlin) and company make their way to the island to capture the head of the half woman/half serpent. Her headful of slithering snakes and her mangled face represented some of Harryhausen’s best work. With Medusa he was able to add more expression than in most of his past monsters but he still delivered a creation that creeped me out as a kid.
#4 – TALOS – (“Jason and the Argonauts”)
It’s hard to pinpoint one film featuring the work of Ray Harryhausen that I would call my favorite but it just might be “Jason and the Argonauts” from 1963. The mythological fantasy film about Jason (Todd Armstrong) and his quest to obtain the Golden Fleece may contain Harryhausen greatest collection of creations ever confined to a single picture. One my favorites is Talos, a giant bronze titan which comes to life after some forbidden treasure is stolen. Talos is amazing and its huge scale was a first for Harryhausen. To this day I still get giddy with excitement when I see Talos stand above the mountains and sink the Argo. Pure stop-motion greatness!
#3 – THE YMIR (“20 Million Miles to Earth”)
One of Harryhausen’s greatest creatures can be found in the 1957 science fiction film “20 Million Miles to Earth. The late 50’s were a great time for sci-fi and I think this film deserves to be mentioned with the best of them mainly because of Harryhausen’s fabulous special effects work. A mysterious unhatched egg originating on Venus is found by a young Sicilian boy in the wreckage of a downed spacecraft. The egg eventually hatches and rapidly grows into a creature that terrorizes Rome. Harryhausen’s stop-motion work is stunning as he takes the creature through several different stages of size. He fights a huge elephant, climbs atop the Coliseum, and causes all sorts of mayhem. And it all works thanks to Harryhausen’s brilliance.
#2 – KALI – (“The Golden Voyage of Sinbad”)
Some of my earliest movie memories center around watching Ray Harryhausen’s creatures in the Sinbad movies as a young boy. I still adore these films which are filled with a delightful assortment of creaturely concoctions. One of the most memorable Sinbad creations for me was Kali in “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad” from 1974. The wicked magician Koura brings to life the six-armed Kali idol to stop Sinbad and his crew. Kali arms itself with six swords and a cool battle begins. Harryhausen’s stop-motion technique blends in perfectly with the live actors and real world setting and I still remember being blown away when I first saw it. Classic Harryhausen.
#1 – THE SKELETON WARRIORS (“Jason and the Argonauts”)
Harryhausen has designed some amazing creations through the years and his skills at stop-motion were sometimes mind-boggling. But even with so many incredible monsters, statues, and alien creatures there is still a clear favorite for me. The battle with the skeleton warriors in “Jason and the Argonauts” is a scene that I will never grow tired of and what Harryhausen was able to accomplish is amazing. Raised from the buried teeth of the Hydra, the skeleton warriors give Jason and his two men quite a battle. The three live actors seamlessly battle Harryhausen’s stop-motion skeletons in a sequence that took him months to finish. And after all these years it still blows me away.
So there are 5 phenomenal Ray Harryhausen creations. Obviously there are so many others that could have made the list: the giant squid from “It Came from Beneath the Sea”, the beast from “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms”, the giant primate from “Mighty Joe Young”, the cyclops from “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad”, The Kraken and Bubo the owl from “Clash of the Titans”. I could go on and on about the amazing work of this special effects genius. How about you? What are some of your favorite Ray Harryhausen creations?