Cinema lost a living legend today with the passing of Ray Harryhausen, the maestro of stop-motion special effects. Inspired as a teenager by King Kong, Harryhausen spent his career creating monsters drawn from myth and pseudo-science that took hold of the popular imagination. If anything, Harryhausen’s work looks even better now that we’re so firmly in the digital-effects era — we can better appreciate the artistry that went into creating his gorgeously terrifying creatures. Here’s a quick rundown of my ten favorite Harryhausen beasties.
10. Talos from Jason and the Argonauts
The striking thing about several of the creatures on this list is how much emotion Harryhausen fit into their faces — the way the monsters actually seem to be “acting.” And then there’s Talos, the living statue, who pretty much defined the “emotionless killing machine” look until The Terminator came along.
9. The Kraken in Clash of the Titans
8. (and 8.5) The fighting dinosaurs in The Valley of Gwangi
Not the master’s first dinosaur fight — but almost certainly his finest — this showdown between the curiously lovable titular Allosaur and a Styracosaurus (say that five times fast!) is also weirdly disturbing with all that chunky bright-red blood.
7. Kali in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad
6. The Snake Woman from The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad
Not all of Harryhausen’s creations were gigantic homicidal maniacs. The Snake-Lady in Sinbad is a oddly sensual — and her dance is one of Harryhausen’s great subtle effects.
5. (and 5.5) Centaur vs. Griffin in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad
To repeat: Centaur vs. Griffin.
4. The Beast from The Beast From 20,0000 Fathoms
What’s a fathom, you ask? SHUT UP. The titular unfrozen dino in this black-and-white monster mash is outright horrifying.
3. Medusa from Clash of the Titans
Yep, another Snake Lady. But the Gorgon sister in the original 1981 Titans combines the slinky body of the Sinbad lady with those terrifyingly real-looking eyes. (Not to mention the hair.) There’s a funny quality to many of the great Harryhausen productions: Because the actual human actors tended to be playing relatively boring protagonists, you inevitably found yourself rooting for the monsters. That’s certainly true in this showdown between Gorgon and Hamlin:
2. The Cyclops from The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad
Wouldn’t you happily watch a whole spinoff about a day in the life of Cyclops? Perhaps Cooking With Cyclops? Look at this poor guy fumbling around after the loss of an eye. He’s the tragic hero of his own life.
1. The Skeletons from Jason and the Argonauts
Now this is how you film a climactic fight sequence!
What are your favorite Harryhausen creations, movie fans? The harpies in Jason? The dinosaurs in One Million Years BC? Raquel Welch in One Million Years BC?
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