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.