For those of us hitting middle age, many of our childhood heroes are passing away every year. Horror legends such as Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Peter Cushing died either before I was born or before I truly began to appreciate their film contributions. With Christopher Lee turning 91 on May 27, each year and film released is a piece of cinematic gold that will soon be gone. Besides the great actors, a film requires writing; directing and special effects to help it become burned into our memory. And there was none bigger or better than special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen, who died today, May 7, at the age of 92.
There is no way I can do justice to a legend like Ray Harryhausen in one small article. There are those with more background that will surely do a better job than I can. What I’d like to do instead is simply take a quick look at some of his most remembered films and give a few thoughts on each.
Mighty Joe Young (1949): This classic is almost always clumped together with King Kong and Son of Kong. A truly fun film that I remember watching back in the 1970s before the days of cable television when I anxiously waited for classic horror and sci-fi flicks. Ray worked as an assistant animator on this one, considered his first major motion picture. In reality, he did most of the work.
Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956): One Saturday afternoon in the late 70s, I was glued to the TV screen watching flying saucers attach Washington DC. One of the great features in this movie was the falling bricks from destroyed buildings. A Harryhausen touch that impressed me then just as much as it does now.
20 Million Miles to Earth (1957): While the name was never referenced on screen, everyone knows this one for the creature Ymir. Ray had wanted to shoot this one in color but budgetary constraints made that impossible. However, with the advent of modern technology, Ray worked with Legend Pictures and endorsed a colorized version in 2007. While I am a purist, it truly does look amazing.
Jason and the Argonauts (1963): When I was in 5th grade, a friend gave me the Dell comic book adaptation as a gift. For the longest time, it was the oldest comic in my collection. Ironically, I had never seen the movie until at some point in the 80s. Does it get any better than the fighting skeletons? A stop-motion masterpiece!
Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977): The third and final Sinbad film from Ray. While entertaining, it isn’t necessarily the best. However, it was my first Harryhausen flick in the theaters and, therefore, was amazing. I remember watching this one with my Dad on a Saturday afternoon at the Fox Theater in Newton, KS. In fact, it’s waiting on my DVR right now after the recent airing on the Sony Channel last month.
Clash of the Titans (1981): In many ways, this is the crème-de-la-crème. The Kraken and the Medusa are two iconic Hollywood images. It was his last motion picture that he produced and what a way to go out. You can do amazing things with CGI but there’s no way they will ever match the memories I had of watching this one time and again on HBO in the 80s.
There are far too many books and movies to mention them here. Search YouTube for trailers and images, go to Amazon and start ordering them now. I have two Sinbad movies on my DVR right now in addition to the 2011 documentary, Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan. I know what I’ll be watching tonight. Rest in peace Mr. Harryhausen, the cinematic screen is a little darker today with your passing.