Day 210: Flash Of The Titans

Hmm, get the feeling I’m promising more than I can deliver with that headline, unless a flash of my naked shin will do…

July 29 main

Loch Ness may have its monster, but Chew Valley Lake near Bristol has a Kraken. And it’s not quite so camera shy. Plus it likes my Green Flash trainers (okay, I know they look blue but… see day 19).

Okay, I had a little help from the late great Ray Harryhausen’s take on the mythical Greek sea monster. The stop motion maestro was one of my heroes when I was growing up. Admittedly, I was an odd child. My heroes were supposed to be poodle-permed footballers and implausibly muscled action heroes. Instead, I was worshipping filmmakers like Harryhausen and Hitchcock. The fact they never made a movie together is one of cinema’s great losses, I reckon. Imagine what The Birds would have looked like if Harryhausen’s two-headed Roc had menaced Tippi Hedren in that attic.

Pegasus-Clash-Of-The-TitansI have to admit grudgingly that Clash Of The Titans isn’t one of may favourite Harryahausen films, even though it features some  of his best animated sequences: the Medusa scene, the capture of Pegasus, the Calibos fight. On the other hand, the two-headed dog Dioskilos is a bit rubbish, and some of the matte work is embarrassingly poor, not helped by the fact that often the background plates seem to have been shot on a completely different grade of film to the foregrounds. It’s a film I want to love, as it’s Harryhausen’s last (and it does have Medusa) but it’s all a bit of a mish-mash lacking the simple charm of Jason And The Argonauts or The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad.

So, for no better reason than I love Harryhausen films – and this is my blog, so if I can’t be self-indulgent here, where can I? – here are my Top 10 Favourite Harryhausen creatures.

 10) The Minoton

Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger

10 Minoton

I doubt the Minoton would make many people’s fave Harryhausen monsters lists, but sometimes we can like things for intensely personal or bizarre reasons. I liked the Minoton because I’m a Taurus. I’m not into astrology in any big way, but when I was a little kid, I thought it was cool that there was a monster in a film that looked like my star sign. In fact, he was clearly based on the Minotaur and not Taurus, and it’s a shame that we never saw Harryhausen’s take on the Theseus in the Labyrinth myth.

He actually does very little in the film, being little more than a glorified gondolier. He also has a rubbish death. I once interviewed Ray and told him that as a kid I was waiting for the big climatic fight between Sinbad and the Minoton and was severely disappointed when he was instead crushed by a rock while trying to break into a pyramid. Ray actually admitted that he may have missed an opportunity there.

But the Minoton’s sheer visual presence – like a bullish, slightly short Talos – remains impressive, and I like him, and this is my Top 10.

9) Harpies

Jason And The Argonauts

9 Harpies

Harryhausen was always great as reptilian flying creatures (the Homonicus in Golden Voyage, the Pteranodon in Gwangi) but the Harpies in Argonauts are just brilliant. The ooze evil, as they torment the blind prophet Phinneas (Patrick Troughton) and they have those great little character twitches and ticks that Harryhausen was so good at injecting into his creatures.

8) The Figurehead

The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad

8 figurehead

The ship’s figurehead that comes to life in Golden Voyage is basically just a wooden variation on the bronze giant Talos from Argonauts. But I love Talos, so slightly less brilliant imitations still get me excited. Plus, seeing the wooden maiden carry on fighting while she has axes and arrows sticking out of her is a really effective image.

7) The Rhedosaur

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms

7 Beast 20000

The prehistoric star of Harryhausen’s first movie in charge of FX is a reptilian King Kong (a theme Harryhausen would return to a number of times); you actually feel more empathy for the re-awoken monster who mistakes a fog horn for a mating call (poor guy) than you do for any of the human characters.

6) The Allosaurus

One Million Years BC

6 One Million Years BC Ray Harryhausen Allosaur Attack

Common wisdom would place Gwangi in this Top 10, and I have to admit the the lassoing sequence in The Valley Of Gwangi is one of Ray’s masterpieces. But as a character, I’ve always found Gwangi a little bland; he’s another of Ray’s reptilian Kong substitutes, but a strangely unsympathetic one, more the brooding teen than the noble beast. The Allosaurus  in One Million Years BC, though, is a wonderfully vicious little brute. This guy isn’t misunderstood; he’s pure evil on two clawed feet. He also has one of Ray’s best ever swishing tails.

5) The Ymir

Twenty Million Miles To Earth

5 Ymir -20-million-miles

This time it’s an alien Kong substitute! The Ymir has an unfair advantage over some of the other creatures as we first see him as a cute little baby reptile alien before he grows into an elephant-wrestling giant. After you’ve seen newborn Ymir wiping his eyes with his ickle claws, it’s impossible not to be on his side for the rest of the film.

4) The Skeletons

Jason And The Argonauts

4 Jason-and-the-Argonauts-skeletons

Best skeleton sequence in cinema history. CG has never and will never better this. Still awesome today. And each skeleton genuinely seems to have a personality all its own. Genius.

3) Kali

The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad

3 Golden-Voyage-of-Sinbad-Ray-Harryhausen-Kali-Fight

The Kali sequence is superb in its entirety, but the stone goddess rates so highly on my list for one particular reason: the way the swords appear magically in her six hands, one by one. It’s a brilliant WTF moment years before WTF moments were even created.

2) Medusa

Clash Of The Titans

2 Medusa

Great creature design and superb animation (both of which you expect from Harryhausen) coupled with moody lighting and suspenseful direction (both of which you rarely expect from the hacks who directed his films); everything comes together to create a breathtaking sequence that the CG remake spectacularly failed to match.

1) Talos

Jason And The Argonauts

1 talos-in-jason-and-the-argonauts

Was there ever any doubt who’d be number one? The bronze giant with the Achilles heel and the Colossus Of Rhodes ambitions is a lumbering, creaking movie behemoth.

See you tomorrow.

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