Beautiful Dreamer: MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (RKO 1949)


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The folks who brought you KING KONG – producer Merian C. Cooper, director Ernest Shoedsack, writer Ruth Rose, animator Willis O’Brien – returned sixteen years later to the giant ape theme with MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, a classic fantasy that can stand on its own. Though the film usually gets lumped into the horror genre, it’s more a fable than a fright fest, a beautifully made flight of fancy for children of all ages, and one of my personal favorites.

In deepest darkest Africa, little Jill Young buys a cute baby gorilla from the natives. Twelve years later, impresario Max O’Hara, along with rodeo wrangler Gregg and his crew, travel to The Dark Continent in search of exotic animal acts for a new show he’s producing, when they come face to face with the now 12 foot tall, 2,000 pound gargantua, affectionately called Joe by a grown Jill. She’s the only…

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4 Shots From 4 Films: Happy Birthday Ray Harryhausen


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking. Special Effects wizard Ray Harryhausen was born on this date in 1920. A protogee of Willis O’Brien, Harryhausen created some of the most iconic monsters in fantasy film history. Here are 4 shots celebrating the genius of Ray Harryhausen!

It Came From Beneath The Sea (Columbia 1955)

20 Million Miles to Earth (Columbia 1957)

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (Columbia 1958)

One Million Years BC (Warner Bros-Hammer 1966)

 

Creature Double Feature 2: IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA and 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (Columbia, 1955 & 1957)


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Let’s return to those thrilling days of yore before CGI and enter the wonder-filled world of Special Effects legend Ray Harryhausen! I’ve covered some of Harryhausen’s fantastic work before (ONE MILLION YEARS BC EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS THE VALLEY OF GWANGI ), and most of you regular readers know of my affection for his stop-motion wizardry. So without further ado, let’s dive right into IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA.

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An atomic submarine picks up a mysterious large object on its sonar. The sub’s hit hard, and radiation is detected in the surrounding area. The damaged sub is taken to Pearl Harbor for repairs, and a substance found on it is determined to be from a “living creature” by eminent scientist Dr. John Carter (Donald Curtis) and beautiful marine biologist Prof. Leslie Joyce (Faith Domergue ). Sub Commander Pete Matthews (Kenneth Tobey ) and Leslie immediately butt heads…

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On Willis O’Brien and THE GIANT BEHEMOTH (Allied Artists 1959)


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Willis O’Brien was the pioneer stop-motion animation wizard who fathered the immortal KING KONG . For that alone, he will be remembered as one of Hollywood’s giants. O’Brien started at the dawn of film, working for the Thomas Edison Company. He created an early dinosaur movie THE GHOST OF SLUMBER MOUNTAIN, which was cut down to eleven minutes by one Herbert Dowley, who took credit for O’Brien’s work. His crowning silent achievement was 1925’s THE LOST WORLD, an adaptation of the Arthur Conan Doyle adventure story that astounded filmgoers of the era.

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That same year, O’Brien married Hazel Collette, who bore him two sons. The O’Brien’s marriage was not a happy one, and they divorced in 1930. Hazel was mentally unstable, and diagnosed with tuberculosis the following year. Willis, whose drinking and philandering contributed to the marriage’s deterioration, remained devoted to his boys, especially young Willis Jr., who was born tubercular, and eventually lost his eyesight. After…

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Cleaning Out the DVR Pt 6: All-Star Horror Edition!


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As many of you Dear Readers know by now, classic horror has always been my favorite genre. From the Universal Monsters to Bug-Eyed Aliens to Freddie Krueger and friends (fiends?), a good scary movie is a good time! Even a bad scary movie can be fun, if I’m in the right mood. So here are six (count ’em), yes six horror films I’ve recently watched, with some great horror actors and directors at their best (and worst!):

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MIRACLES FOR SALE

(MGM 1939, D: Tod Browning)

The first great horror director, Browning teamed with Lon Chaney Sr. in the silent era to shock audiences with films like LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT and THE UNHOLY THREE. He kicked off the Golden Age of Sound Horror with DRACULA, followed by the controversial FREAKS. MIRACLES FOR SALE was his last film, and while it’s more of a locked-room mystery, it’s loaded with those bizarre Browning…

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Giant Lizards and Fur Bikinis: ONE MILLION YEARS BC (1966)


raquelJURRASIC WORLD and its CGI dinosaurs have stomped their way to box office domination this year, raking in over five hundred million dollars (and counting). The youth market just eats up those computer generated special effects. But for my money, you just can’t beat the prehistoric hijinks of Hammer Films’ 1966 ONE MILLION YEARS BC. Two reasons: Ray Harryhausen and Raquel Welch.

Ray Harryhausen (1920-2013) learned the art of stop motion animation from the master, KING KONG’s own Willis O’Brien. After assisting O’Brien on 1949’s MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, he struck out on his own, using his Dynamation process on such sci-fi/fantasy flicks as BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA, and 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD. Later films included VALLEY OF GWANGI, GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD, and his last, 1981’s CLASH OF THE TITANS.

The second reason is Raquel. Full disclosure: I had a huge crush on Raquel Welch during my adolescence. I had the iconic poster of her in her fur bikini from this movie on my bedroom wall through most of the Seventies. I also had pictures of her from TV GUIDE taped in my locker at school, which got me in hot water with my 6th grade teacher. What a prude! Oh well, it may have been my first time in trouble at school, but it certainly wasn’t the last.

But I digress. Let’s take a trip back to the dawn of time in ONE MILION YEARS BC. There’s a prehistoric tribesman named Tumak (John Richardson) who’s ousted from his people due to a sibling rivalry with brother Sakana. He wanders aimlessly into an unknown world, encountering giant lizards and spiders along the way. Tumak reaches the seashore, where he meets up with a tribe of blonde beauties led by Raquel and her fur bikini. A giant turtle attacks the girls on the beach and Raquel blows her seashell, summoning the blonde males of the tribe. They, along with Tumak, chase the turtle away with their rocks and sticks. The tribe decides to accept Tumak as one of their own.

Which is good for Raquel, because the fur-bikini clad damsel has developed a thing for Tumak. This, however, makes her blonde boyfriend Ahos very jealous. After saving a little girl from a hungry Allosaurus, , Tumak and Ahos duke it out over possession of the victory spear. Tumak gets banished yet again, but this time he’s accompanied by Raquel and her fur bikini.

Across the wasteland we go again, as the couple run into a band of unevolved ape-men, and a battle between a Triceratops and a T-Rex. Tumak and Raquel (and the bikini) are ambushed by Tumak’s old tribe, and Tumak vanquishes Sakana. But a Pterodactyl attacks and carries Raquel off, fur bikini and all! The lovers are separated as the flying terror tries to feed poor Raquel to it’s babies. Eventually, they’re reunited, just in time for a fight between the rival tribes. The battle’s just getting underway when a volcano erupts, spitting lava and causing massive earthquakes.  The villages now all destroyed, the two tribes band together and march toward an uncertain destiny.

ONE MILLION YEARS BC may be pretty goofy, but it does has some bright spots. Harryhausen’s special effects are always a joy to behold, and I’ll still take them over CGI any day of the week. John Richardson makes a sturdy leading man, even with dialogue that mostly consists of grunts and groans. There’s a scene with the lovely Martine Beswick (DR JEKYLL & SISTER HYDE) doing a sort of Jurrasic watsui that’s a highlight. Oh, and did I mention Raquel and her fur bikini…..

Jurassic Art


This weekend, Jurassic World’s opening of $511.8 million was the biggest of all time.  It was also the first time that a film has generated over $500 million in a single weekend.  People have always loved and been fascinated by dinosaurs.  If you need further proof, check out the dinosaur paintings below!

Agathaumus by Charles R. Knight

Agathaumus by Charles R. Knight

Brontosaurus by Charles R. Knight

Brontosaurus by Charles R. Knight

Leaping Laelaps by Charles R. Knight

Leaping Laelaps by Charles R. Knight

Double Death by Robert Nicholls

Double Death by Robert Nicholls

By Ray Harryhausen

By Ray Harryhausen

Dinosaur Community Policeman Helping Youngster by Martin Davey

Dinosaur Community Policeman Helping Youngster by Martin Davey

Dinosaur Fun Playing Volleyball On A Beach Vacation by Martin Davey

Dinosaur Fun Playing Volleyball On A Beach Vacation by Martin Davey

Dinosaur Mum Out Shopping With Son by Martin Davey

Dinosaur Mum Out Shopping With Son by Martin Davey

Wildlife Photographer by Bob Orsillo

Wildlife Photographer by Bob Orsillo

Scenes I Love: Jason and The Argonauts (R.I.P. Ray Harryhausen)


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Earlier today came news that one of the legends of cinema passed away at the age of 93. Ray Harryhausen has been such an influential figure to many of the filmmakers, authors and artists working today. His stop-motion work and films were the fuel that fired up the imaginations of uncounted kids. I am one of those kids and even decades since I first saw my first Harryhausen film I still consider some of his works all-time favorites. His fantastical  work will continue to fire up the imaginations of future children to come and maybe someone from those will grow up to be the next great fantasy filmmaker, author and artist.

There are so many scenes created by Harryhausen that it would be difficult to choose one for the latest “Scenes I Love”, but I will go with the scene I love best from the very first Harryhausen film I ever saw. I speak of the now classic “Skeleton Fight” sequence which provides the climactic scene for Jason and The Argonauts.

R.I.P. Ray Harryhausen.

Quickie Review: Jason and the Argonauts (dir. by Don Chaffey)


While I have been buying and collecting dvds for some ten years now (collection around 2500-3000 titles) I have seen those purchases dwindle and wane to almost just a few a year now. I blame the convenience of Netflix and my resurgence in gaming with my Xbox 360 as the main cause for my slacking off in the dvd collecting. While  I still see myself collecting dvds and, most likely, moving onto blue-rays, I have seen why people love their Netflix accounts so much. Last night I was able to combine my love for my Netflix and my Xbox 360 and feed my need to always be watching a film. Using Netflix Instant I was able to watch streaming over my Xbox 360 one of the classic fantasy films ever made.

The film I speak of is the 1963 classic fantasy meets Greek mythology simply called Jason and the Argonauts. It is one of those films which has stood the test of time. I know of no film lover who hasn’t seen this at least once. It’s beloved and admired by millions of people of different generations for its simplicity and for the work of one man whose name overshadows everyone on the film from the director to the actors. This was the film which established for eternity the genius and imaginative creative of special effects guru Ray Harryhausen.

Jason and the Argonauts takes one of the more popular Greek myths about a son looking to re-take his father’s kingdom from a usurper but in the process goes through a journey that pits him against monsters, betrayers and the Gods themselves. The titular character and his crew must travel to the fabled island of Colchis at the edge of the world to find the legendary Golden Fleece purported to have magical properties of healing and even to grant peace throughout the land. I say that’s a piece of item worth fighting off a giant bronze warrior statue, screeching harpies, tempermental seaside cliffs and up to a many-headed hydra and skeleton warriors spawned from it’s teeth.

The acting is typical of most fantasy films of the 60’s and that’s they’re all bombastic, full of vigor and turns even the most simple dialogue into pronouncements of epic deeds to be done. Todd Armstrong leads a cast of British actors including such luminaries of their era like Nigel Green, Nancy Kovack, Honor Blackman and Douglas Wilmer. While the acting may seem quaint by today’s standards I still believe it’s what gives the film it’s timeless energy and quality. It makes the film flow like an epic poem that gave birth to it’s source material to begin with.

But what really makes this film stand out years after years and decade after decade since it’s release is the stop-motion animation effects created by the king of stop-motion effects himself, Ray Harryhausen. To say that the quieter moments where characters interact with each other almost feel like fillers to move the story along until it reaches one of several action sequences featuring Harryhausen’s work. It doesn’t diminish the work done by the actors or the efficient direction by filmmaker Don Chaffey. It just means that Harryhausen’s stop-motion work were so impressive that the audience just wants to see what new magic he has up next.

The climactic fight between Jason and his men versus skeleton warriors born from the teeth of a slain hydra (a stop-motion sequence which was in itself quite impressive) still goes down as one of the most impressive feats of filmmaking married with special effects today. There’s something to be admired about a four and a half minute action sequence where Harryhausen spent 4 months of meticulous frame-by-frame work to make the skeletal opponents come to life. There’s a reason why so many special effects magicians since then have pointed to this scene as one of their favorites and one reason why they got into the FX work to begin with.

Jason and the Argonauts may not have the technical wizardry of today’s fantasy epics and films with their million-dollar budgets spent on CGI-effects. It may not have the seriousness that today’s fantasy films have taken to heart (losing some of the fun, innocence of what makes fantasy films so great). What it does have is great storytelling which harkens back to a more innocent, hopeful and simple time. It also has the finest work of one of film history’s master magicians in Ray Harryhausen and that, in the end, is what makes this film of the the greatest of its kind and one every kid should be introduced to.