Honoring Ray Harryhausen (1920-2013) – Our Five Favorite Harryhausen Creations

I was fortunate enough to grow up around classic movie lovers, and since I was a child I was given a very hefty education in classic movies of all kinds. From Drama, to Science Fiction, I was able to understand the wonders of the classic films while also enjoying the modern cinema to boot. I loved the special effects spectacles, but I could also appreciate films like “Jason and the Argonauts” or “The Valley of Gwangi.” During my childhood, Ray Harryhausen’s works of art and amazing special effects astonished me. While they were low tech considering it was a new time for film, Harryhausen’s creations had a light and a life to them that computers and CGI animators could not duplicate. They had a spark within them, and within every motion, and I appreciated them with every film that Harryhausen left his signature on. Years later, I’m still a fanatic for Ray Harryhausen’s incredible work.

His was art, and is still some of the most breath taking works of imagination I’ve ever seen. I can be bored by something like “Avatar,” but sit me down to watch “Twenty Millions Miles to Earth,” and I’m grinning wide and savoring every moment the tragic Ymir is on screen fighting for its life. My appetite for Harryhausen’s little monsters, and the life they took on film is insatiable, and I can never really learn enough about the man and the myth. Ray Harryhausen lived a long life filled with a truly incredible career. And though stop motion is mostly a dead art form today, Harryhausen still managed to remain relevant and important for many decades. Harryhausen leaves a large hole in the film world, and we’ll sorely miss what he had to offer. Thank you Mr. Harryhauen for setting my imagination ablaze, and helping me appreciate all forms of filmmaking. Your work is timeless. Rest in Peace, sir.

Here are Five of our absolute Favorite Ray Harryhausen creations.

Clash of the Titans (1981)

The build up to “Clash of the Titans” is the Kraken and the menace it can inflict on Greece should it arise from its watery depths. In the finale, Perseus is forced to confront the gigantic Kraken and Harryhausen delivers a wonderful and immense monster to end all monsters that arises to wreak havoc.

Perseus is able to defeat it with the help of Medusa’s severed head, but the Kraken leaves its impression. Especially when it turns to stone and breaks apart piece by piece like a horrific mountain. Donning many arms, and a beak like face, the gilled gargantuan monster is a foe to be reckoned with, and a last hurrah for Harryhausen.

Twenty Million Miles to Earth (1957)

The Ymir is one of the numerous misunderstood beings of the Harryhausen-verse that becomes an unfortunate victim of its environment. While the Ymir is at first docile, it soon becomes an enraged and bitter beast that grows larger and larger in size from its sulfer appetite, as it wreaks havoc along Rome. Having unfortunate run-ins with angry humans, and vicious local animals, the Ymir goes from an alien stalwart to a massive monster, that has basically decided it hates everything about our planet.

And who can blame it when it has a run in with a farmer’s dog, and an angry elephant that the Ymir pummels in to submission? The Ymir is a definitely powerful beast that makes it impossible for locals to defeat it, and in the end it’s merely just a lost traveller brought to its death by violent locals. The Ymir is one of the most impressive of the Harryhausen creations with a fluid motion and incredible design, and it’s an iconic part of the man’s career.

Mighty Joe Young
Mighty Joe Young (1949)

Mighty Joe Young showed the proof in the pudding that Ray Harryhausen really was influenced by “King Kong” and the amazing work of Willis O’Brien by helping to craft one of the most underrated fantasy films of all time. A descendent of “King Kong” fame, Mighty Joe Young is a very large gorilla that becomes the spectacle for novelty acts and soon enough is the talk of the town thanks to his willingnes to protect his masters and perform on cue.

Much like Kong, he’s shipped from Africa to the states to become a novelty act, and is immediately misunderstood when he decides to act upon his animal instincts. Deep down Joe Young is just a good heart who wants to be liked, and Harryhausen (with supervision by O’Brien) creates a living, breathing, and incredible creature that proved even the underdogs can win the hearts of audiences. The big gorilla’s rescue of a burning orphanage and his saving of helpless children really is one of the banner moments in fantasy cinema, and Joe shows his true colors when choosing to sacrifice his life. Joe Young is the unsung hero of the Harryhausen-verse.

Skeleton Army
Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

Often imitated but never quite perfected, the Skeleton Army in 1963’s “Jason and the Argonauts” is one of the most dazzling and horrific images ever created by Ray Harryhausen. Relying on ace choreography, Harryhausen crafts his demonic army built from the Hydra’s teeth with immense skill and dazzling style, offering a foe that’s undead, and almost impossible to kill.

What’s worse is they’re just as deadly as Jason’s army, thus they’re able to defeat most of Jason’s own soldiers. Barely making it out alive, Jason brings down the skeleton army from the Hydra, but the memory of that fateful fight remains in many fan’s minds being recreated and mimicked for many years in film, music, and television. There’s never been a more harrowing depiction in fantasy.

Clash of the Titans (1981)

Medusa was always described as the Gorgon whose looks could turn any man in to stone. Once a beautiful woman, she was cursed and driven in to her dark caves, where–with her serpentine walk, and serpent hair–could turn any man who looked in to her eyes in to pure stone. Medusa’s arrival to 1981’s “Clash of the Titans” is one of the banner moments in an otherwise great fantasy film, where Ray Harryhausen crafts the serpent woman while also maintaining her mystique. Sure, her face is mostly shown, but her eyes is what primarily creates her ability to be evil and defeat any foe, and Harryhausen draws attention away from the still impressive stop motion animation to show Medusa’s deadly stare.

One steady look can destroy a man. Maybe from the only things that keep a semblance of her beauty, or perhaps from her grotesque appearance that shocks literally anyone daring to gaze at her. Medusa is a crafty monster who dominates her dark caves, and strides among her defeated foes that stand in perpetual horror. For what was considered a dying artform at a time where “Star Wars” dominated the theaters, Harryhausen’s work is still magnificent. Medusa was never more menacing.