The Master of Monsters

Ray Harryhausen, the King of Dynamation, died today. There isn’t a lot I can add to the stirring tributes that are even now percolating. I loved his monsters as a kid, and I still love them today. The cyclopean centaur, the griffon, Talos, the skeleton warriors, the kraken, Calibos and his giant vulture, Ymir, and, of course, my favorite–Gwangi. 

I watch The Valley of Gwangi at least twice a year. It has everything I want in a movie–cowboys, circuses, gypsies, elephants and dinosaurs. It’s a weird western, and a monster movie, and a romance and it has been a favorite of mine since I first saw it way back in the dim mists of childhood. The fight between the circus elephant and Gwangi (a Harryhausen staple) still raises a lump in my throat, as does Gwangi’s final stand in the burning cathedral.

Harryhausen gave his monsters a certain grace, for all that they were stop-motion puppets. They moved smoothly, thanks to his guiding hand and cinematic trickery, rising, hunting, fighting and dying with a life that even the greatest CGI nightmare as yet lacks. They had a roughness of presence that made them stand out on the screen, and his touch was invariably and ever-recognizably stamped upon his brute creations, like Frankenstein or Moreau.

The mark of the master upon his monsters.



  1. Remember watching The Valley of Gwangu, Jason and the Argonauts, and other films featuring his work on VHS when I was a kid. Still amazing to see…

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