Saturday, April 28, 2012


I've been pulling up some old DVD and Video Risk reviews from the cybertomb that once was Hope you enjoy. This review was from February 2001.

In the state of Arkansas, there is a diamond mind that is open to the public. Anyone can go and hunt for a treasure. Most folks walk away empty-handed and covered in dirt. Occasionally, someone walks away with a valuable gem. A trip to the video store is not unlike this. There are thousands of made for television films on video at nearly every corner outlet. Most times, the distributor will spice up the box cover to trick the public into thinking the movie in question was a theatrical release. There is a lot of worthless dreck out there. However, there are numerous gems waiting to found among the muck and mire. The following is a list of several made-for-television movies which are well worth the price of a rental. If you can't find them at your local outlet then by all means set the VCR timer if any of these ever come on the late-late show.


This 1973 comedy is one of the darkest, gut-busting comedies you'll ever see. CO-written by Joan Rivers, before her mummification, "The Girl Most Likely To..." is the story of the ugliest girl you've ever seen. Stockard Channing portrays Miriam Knight, a brilliant, witty, young college coed trapped in the body and face of Quasimodo. What would happen if this woman, who is taken advantage of by her fiance, numerous male students and town folks, and her beautiful bimbo roommate, were to suffer an automobile accident and come out of the reconstructive surgery looking as if she's ready to pose for Playboy? Murder, and lots of them.

This revenge story has so many classic comic scenes that I will not ruin the experience for you by giving away any more of the story. The script is wonderful. Ms. River's pen dripped vengeful acid all over the page. The pain behind this script is evident in every scene. This movie is the ultimate fantasy of every woman who has ever been treated like a piece of meat by folks who say they care about them.

The cast is excellent. Stockard Channing shines in her dual role, as the ugly duckling and the sultry avenging bird of prey. Ed Asner plays it straight as the detective who hunts her. The rest of the cast is a who's who of television. Jim Backus portrays a drama professor. Larry Wilcox of "Chips" plays the jock "Moose" who's little head does all the thinking for the big head. Fred Grandy plays a lecherous medical student. Warren Berlinger (you may not know the name, but you know the face) is particularly slimy as Miriam's plumber fiance. Joe Flynn has a great cameo as a befuddled doctor. Look quick for Annette O'Toole as one of Judy's dorm mates. If you liked "Heathers" or "Harold and Maude" you will love this movie. Revenge is sweet and it is also very funny.


Also from 1973, "Shirt/Skins" would make a great double feature rental with the previous movie. The plot is simple. Six buddies (Bill Bixby, MacLean Stevenson, Doug McClure, Leonard Frey, Rene Auberjonois and Robert Walden) have a weekly, three-on-three basketball game which always ends in violence. These businessmen try to play to let off steam but they end up bringing their competitive edge on the court with them. The desire to be the best leads to some major conflict. After the particularly nasty game which opens the film, the two teams come up with a contest to decide just who is the "best" (whatever that is!) Each team is to hide a basketball in plain view somewhere in the downtown area (New York, I assume). The first team to find the other's ball is the winner.

As each team tries without luck to find the other's ball, things escalate until each side resorts to dirty tricks and eventually begin to commit felonies in order to pressure the other side into surrendering. This is a black comedy which shows these macho guys for the little boys they really are. Like "The Girl Most Likely To..." there is an edge to the movie that is unexpected. The viewer is not sure how far these guys will take the game. (Kind of like the Presidential race!) It is a comedy in the same vein as "The Girl Most Likely To...," though not as bitter. Both of these movies are short and packed with humor. If you are lucky enough to find both of them at a video store, it would be a great double feature.


This 1988 film began a series of "In The Line of Duty" films (7 IN ALL) which chronicle the true stories of Federal Agents who have lost their lives while walking the thin blue line. This is one powerful, gritty and unexpectedly violent movie. This film tells the story of the hunt for two heavily armed, murderous bankrobbers (David Soul and Michael Gross) who operated in south Florida in the early 1980s. The FBI agents are led by Ronny Cox.

This is a taut, edge of your seat true crime drama. The script by Tracey Keenan Wynn is excellent. The viewer gets to know the cops who are out there putting it on the line. The insight into the two villains is very chilling, as both seem to be your average guy next door. Michael Gross is especially good. I love when someone plays against type. To see the "Family Ties" guy as a cold-blooded killer is a shock in its self. The movie ends with a fatal shoot out which is relentless. The violence is not there for titillation. The viewer gets a front row seat to the horror and carnage that the men and women of law enforcement are all to often confronted with. The scene is almost painful to watch because we have gotten to know these cops. It is all the more somber when you realize that this really happened, and there were real faces behind those which appear on the screen. This really is an excellent movie for those who like the genre.


Frank Sinatra was so cool! I just loved his movies. Contract on Cherry Street was Mr. Sinatra's small-screen movie debut. This two and one half hour film concerns a New York police squad waging war on two Mafia families. the movie raises several moral questions, mainly: are cops justified when they break the law to stop criminals? There is an argument that America could have won the Vietnam War if we would have taken on the tactics of the enemy. I think that was Colonel Kurtz's point in Apocalypse Now.

Adapted by Edward Anhalt, this is a tough New York cop film along the lines of The French Connection. The score by Jerry Goldsmith is excellent! The cast is loaded with numerous tough-guy movie actors: Harry Guardino (excellent as a psycho cop), Martin Balsam, Michael Nouri, Henry Silva, and Johnny Barnes as the badass "Otis Washington." The sexy Verna Bloom provides the love-interest. Great location photography. A fare car chase. Plenty of action. Frank Sinatra fan or not, you'll like this movie.

There are many other great TV movies out there. Rule of thumb, if the video box says the film is not rated, then its probably a TV movie. When in doubt, carry Roger Ebert or Leonard Maltin's (even if he missed the boat with Billy Jack) book with you when dealing with a TV movie rental.


I've been pulling up some old DVD and Video Risk reviews from the cybertomb that once was Hope you enjoy. This review was from November 2000.

Tobe Hooper's 1985 sci-fi/horror movie "Lifeforce" is a gonzo mishmash of bad-acting, incredible (if slightly dated) special effects, interesting ideas and the most beautiful naked space vampire ever to walk across the screen. If you've ever finished watching a movie and asked yourself, "what were they thinking?" then you may know how I felt at the end of this ham and cheesecake classic.

An international space shuttle mission sent to study Haley's Comet discovers a gigantic space ship hidden in the cone of the comet. (I wonder if that whacked out suicide cult in San Diego saw this movie.) Upon investigation, the astronauts, led by Colonel Tom Carlson (Steve Railsback) discover a cavernous shell of a ship inhabited by several hundred dried up bat-like creatures and three naked humanoids in clear vaults. There are two men and one woman (the incredibly beautiful, naked, gorgeous, naked, sexy, naked, talented, naked Mathilda May), who are promptly taken aboard the space shuttle.

The film then jumps ahead several months and the shuttle is found orbiting earth. A rescue crew discovers the burnt out shell of a ship and the three naked beings still in their vaults. Of course, the naked folks are brought to earth to be studied. Thus begins an outrageous end of the world reign of terror as the three naked folks wake up and turn greater London into their own vampire smorgasbord.

Needless to say, the forces of good rally to try and put an end to the shape shifting energy sucking babe from space and her male-model cohorts. These vampires don't drink blood, instead they suck the lifeforce out of their victims. Two hours later, the mummified remains of their victims wake up and must then suck the life force out of the nearest person they can find. If they don't they explode and leave a mess not unlike what would happen if you aimed a leaf blower into a fire place full of ashes. This mayhem continues in geometric proportion until the entire population of the earth is at risk of becoming extinct.

This movie is so bad that it achieves a rare greatness among bad films. The acting is uniformly hammy. The forces of good are led by Colonel Carlsen (Yes he miraculously escapes the burnt out space shuttle and turns up later to help save the day!) and Colonel Colin

Caine (Peter Firth) of the OSS. Firth chews up the scenery with such bravado that it would be funny if one didn't believe he was being serious. Colonel Caine shows up after the naked space girl escapes into the general population. He walks in, shows his ID
and says, "I'm Colonel Caine, OSS" in such a way that he believes women should strip naked at the mere mention of his name and that men should commit suicide because they are not him. Firth's performance has to be seen to be believed. He marches and stomps around with an arrogance not seen since Munich in 1936. The funny thing about his performance is that his character performs no special of heroic feats to warrant his attitude. While Caine and Carlsen cavort all over the English countryside tracking space babe, Professor Hans Fallada (Frank Finlay) holds down the fort in London trying to discover what makes these unwanted visitor tick. What kind of name is Hans Fallada anyway. It sounds like a gyro sandwich I used to order at a Greek deli. Finlay showed his talent for comedy and action in Richard Lester's classic Musketeer movies of the 1970s. Here he also adds to the comic relief, but not intentionally. His character discovers the naked alien's weakness. He delivers his Chariots of the Gods style explanation to Carlsen and Caine in time for them to do battle with the space babe. His explanation includes one of the film's best ideas. In explaining the alien's weakness, he gives a possible explanation for the vampire and werewolf legends of earth. This bit is one of the needles of vision in a mostly blurry eyed haystack (How's that for mixing a metaphors!). Patrick Stewart appears in a cameo as the head of a hospital for the criminally insane. There is a scene in which the camera pans down past the hospital's sign and it actually reads, "Hospital for the Criminally Insane."

Railsback fares better than the rest of the cast. With the exceptions of "The Stunt Man" and "Helter Skelter" I have found Railsback's work to be dull. Here, he plays it straight and does his best with some of the cheesiest dialogue this side of Green Bay. It seems that the space babe has a thing for him and he is telepathically linked with her. He walks around in a fog dreaming about space babe for most of the movie. I imagine most guys would operate in such a manner were they the object of space babe's affection.

As for space babe, what can I say. She sure is naked in this movie. French Actress Mathilda May has quite a resume, and is regarded as a top actress in France. She has not done much work this side of the pond because after this movie she was typecast by American producers as the "naked" girl. Duhh! She has only one line of dialogue in this movie. She is the perfect woman! Naked, fearless, silent and naked! (This is humor guys!) Can Ms. May act? Hell if I know. I've never seen any of her French films. She sure is naked though. Director Hooper's wife Carin is credited as the costume designer; she deserved an Oscar for Ms. May's outfit!

The special effects in Lifeforce are excellent. John Dykstra created a truly eerie alien craft. The craft returns at the end of the film in a menacing combat stance. The apocalyptic street scenes near the end of the film owe a debt of gratitude to George Romero. As the population of London becomes more vampire than non-vampire the viewer is treated to some grizzly carnage and make-up.

You may wonder by now why I am recommending this movie (other than for Ms. May's costume). I don't know, but I will try to explain. I hate sour kraut, rye bread, corned beef, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing. I cannot stand them. I hate them with a passion. However, when all of those things I hate are put together to form a Rueben sandwich I love it. I could eat a Rueben sandwich everyday and not get tired of it. So, while I like naked vampires and good special effects, that alone is not enough for me to like a movie. I hate bad acting and especially bad writing. I've written several scripts and came close to selling one. I know how hard it is to write so that you don't have any of those "because it's in the script" leaps of logic that abound in this movie. All I do know is that when all of the elements of this film were mixed together, the outcome was quite tasty. This is a "buy a six-pack with the guys and kick back and enjoy" type of movie. Lifeforce is frivolous fun. Don't examine it to closely, just sit back and enjoy this guilty pleasure. I understand that the original 116 minute British version is now available. I have not seen it yet but I understand that it includes extra mayhem and more explicit scenes of space babe.

The Wicker Man (1973)

I've been pulling up some old DVD and Video Risk reviews from the cybertomb that once was Hope you enjoy. This review was from January 2001.

I believe it was Danny Perry, in his wonderful book "Cult Movies" who said that Anthony Shaffer's "The Wicker Man" (1973) is the "best movie you've never seen." Anyway, I know someone said it, and I have to agree. Set on a quaint Scottish farming island, this supernatural, erotic film at first appears to be a straightforward missing person investigation, but all is not what it seems on the surface. "The Wicker Man" takes its own sweet time unfolding. The rewards to the patient viewer are, to quote president-elect Bush, multitudinous. I will try (short of placing a gun to your head) in my humble way to persuade you to rent this overlooked gem. If you do decide to shell out the $3.00 to rent it, please check the running time, as several cuts of this movie exist. Do not rent any version that doesn't run 102 minutes.

Edward Woodward portrays Sergeant Howie, who, after receiving an anonymous letter, travels to the remote island of Summerisle in his jurisdiction to investigate the disappearance of a young girl named Rowen. Howie is a devout Christian and a virgin saving himself for marriage who suffers the slings and arrows of ridicule from the men of his own force. His faith is the backbone of his existence. He seems extremely rigid at times, yet he is not a bore. Once on the island, Howie discovers that this otherwise normal village, is inhabited by modern day druids. Needless to say, this devout Christian has his faith put to the test. The island's inhabitants, including Rowen's parents feign ignorance as to the girl's disappearance. This lack of help by the locals forces Howie to delve into the druid religion in order to understand and solve the mystery of Rowen's disappearance. Howie begins to suspect that the missing girl has come to a foul and bloody end at the hands of these practitioners of the old ways. The more Howie learns about these pagans the further he travels along the road to discovering just what happened to the young lady.

The island's "ruler" for lack of a better word is Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee.) With the exception of his performance in "The Horror of Dracula," Lee has never been better or sexier. Lord Summerisle greets the Sgt. Howie at his gigantic country estate. Lee stands before him in a kilt, with the luscious librarian (Ingrid Pitt) and the local goddess of love and fertility, Willow (Britt Ekland) on their knees before him. The tableau is like something out of a Frank Frazeta or Boris Vallejo painting. Summerisle and the others on this island have no shame about their beliefs or lifestyle. Woodward is wonderful to watch as he is exposed to more and more on the island which is at odds with his beliefs. I especially like his reaction as he watches Lord Summerisle bring a young man who has come of age to Willow for a ritual deflowering. Talk about a fun Bar Mitzvah.

"The Wicker Man" is one of the greatest mysteries ever put on celluloid. Like "The Usual Suspects" only the shrewdest of movie-goers will unravel the mystery before the films shocking conclusion. So, as not to ruin the experience, I will delve no further into the plot.

"The Wicker Man" is so well written. Anthony Schaffer's script should have won the Oscar, but we all know that just desserts and Oscar don't always walk hand-in-hand. Schaffer provides director Robin Hardy and the multitalented cast to explore and revel in a sweetly decadent world that exists beyond the pale of normal human existence. In our puritanical society, human sexuality has been treated as something that needs to hidden. The inhabitants of this island, not only celebrate, but worship the natural urges common to all living things. Sgt. Howie is shocked when, upon visiting the islands grade school, that students are engaged in an explicit maypole dance. The island children are be taught about sex is a frank and straightforward way which would make anyone who was raised in a "sex is dirty" household extremely uncomfortable. Again, Woodward is outstanding during his confrontation over the children's curriculum with the teacher, Miss. Rose (Diane Cilento). Over and over again, the policeman's faith is put to the test of sexual temptation. The most serious test comes in the form of the sensual earth mother, Willow. As islanders make love in the moonlight under Woodward's hotel window, Ekland dances nude in the next room, pounding on the wall, inviting and tempting the forlorned policeman. All of this is pertinent to the plot. The film is very erotic, but if you want to watch it just for titillation purposes then you might as well just rent a porno flick. The film's exploration of sexuality is serious, and everything in this movie is there for a purpose.

I have enjoyed Edward Woodward's work since I first saw him in "Breaker Morant." I miss the 80s TV series "The Equalizer." This film predates both of those. Woodward is a joy to behold. He plays a character that some people might not find sympathetic. Agree with his point of view or not, Woodward's work is outstanding. He is a man thrown into a conflict that he cannot begin to fathom at first. His Sgt. Howie turns out to be a character who's strength is admirable. This is due in large part to the fact that Schaffer didn't write the character as a lunatic religious zealot, but rather as a man who has convictions and lives by them without going out of his way to alienate others.

Schaffer lets the viewer uncover the mystery along side of Sgt. Howie. Unlike Hitchcock, Schaffer does not give the viewer more information than the hero in order to build suspense. The suspense comes from not knowing what will happen, and half the fun of the movie is trying to unravel the clues as Sgt. Howie uncovers them. The clues are there, but it is not likely that the average viewer will be able to figure out the ending before the final reel unfolds. The ending is powerful and unforgettable.

"The Wicker Man" will stay with you long after you see it. It is a creepy classic that is a fun movie to show someone who hasn't seen it before. It is very erotic, so it would make a great 5th date movie. Again, if you do decide to follow my advice, please make sure you rent the 102 minute version, as there are several cut up versions out there. If you have seen an edited version on TV and were disappointed, you should be. Rent the uncut version, sit back and enjoy. Just remember, "There's flesh to touch, and flesh to burn...the Wicker Man is waiting..." for you!


I've been pulling up some old DVD and Video Risk reviews from the cybertomb that once was Hope you enjoy. This was a paper I wrote for a college class back in the day. I posted it at in November 2000. The top two picture are of me and my daughter Christy from my interview with Ray Harryhausen in Kentucky in 2004.

Before the days of computer animated dinosaurs ala "Jurassic Park" there existed a refined gentleman artist who labored long and hard to bring to life magical, mythical creatures much to the delight of young baby-boomers all over. Ray Harryhausen's work drove my imagination as a child, and fueled my love for monster and science-fiction films. I wrote the following as a research paper for a film class I took in undergraduate school. I hope you will forgive this detour from my usual reviews while I share my love of the work of a master with you.


The level of an audience's willing suspension of disbelief may depend greatly upon the production values of the play or film being presented. This is especially true of films in the science-fiction/fantasy genre. The audience must believe they are seeing the impossible if they are to enjoy the story. This is true whether the film takes place in the future, the present time, or in a galaxy far, far away. The atmosphere for these films is largely the responsibility of special effects crews and art directors. During the 1950s, the golden age of science-fiction films, one man stood head and shoulders above his peers in the field of special effects. Ray Harryhausen built his reputation as the world's premiere stop-motion animator in a series of science-fiction and fantasy films. He revolutionized the art invented by his mentor, Willis O'Brien. His innovations, coupled with other technological advances in the world of film-making, allowed the apprentice to become the master. While none of Harryhausen's films have captured the public's imagination to the extent that O'Brien's "King Kong" did, his work is clearly superior to O'Brien's. His work spawned a profitable sub-genre in the science-fiction field. His technological innovations improved the looks of animated films and brought down production costs considerably. The latter influence enabled Harryhausen to amaze and entertain audiences for nearly thirty years.

Harryhausen set his mind on becoming an animator at the age of thirteen when he saw O'Brien's "King Kong." His interest in fantasy and science-fiction lead to Harryhausen's CO-founding a short-lived science fiction magazine with two of his boyhood friends, Ray Bradbury and Forrest J. Ackerman. The three teenagers failed at their first attempt to break into the business, but all three eventually left their mark on the world of science-fiction. Harryhausen began dabbling in animation; and as a student at Los Angeles City College, be began work on a 16 mm animated short titled "Evolution of the World." Though he never completed the film, the rough footage impressed producer George Pal ("War of the Worlds," "When Worlds Collide"), and he hired Harryhausen as an animator on his "Puppetoon" children's stories. The college film also led Harryhausen to his mentor, Willis O'Brien.

Willis O'Brien invented the stop-motion animation process in the early 1900s. O'Brien made one-foot high wooden skeletons, later made of metal, and covered them with rubber skin. The animals (usually dinosaurs) were placed on scaled sets to give the illusion of immense size. where they would be filmed, one frame at a time. After each exposure, the models were moved slightly; the figures would appear to move in the finished film. Two major problems that faced O'Brien were incorporating live actors into the frame with the animated figures, and making the dinosaurs look huge in comparison with the human beings in the frame. He used a time-consuming and expensive process which utilized elaborately painted glass mattes, and rear screen projection to combine the figures. The glass matte paintings were used to give the finished product the illusion of depth. The models were place between the painted glass mattes. This made the dinosaurs look huge in comparison to the surrounding jungle. For the most part, the actors were melded into the picture through the use of rear screen projection, or the people in the picture were actually animated figures themselves. Under O'Brien, Harryhausen fine tuned his craft. The two men worked together on the 1949 film "Mighty Joe Young" for which O'Brien won his only Oscar, even though Harryhausen is reported to have animated 85% of the picture. Following "Might Joe Young" no further feature films were forthcoming so Harryhausen returned to work on George Pal's "Puppetoons." The successful 1952 reissue of "King Kong" showed the money men in Hollywood that there was a market for the animated films. This event put Harryhausen in the right place, with the right skills, and at the right time in history to become an innovative power in the movie business. The golden age of American science-fiction films was just beginning. Harryhausen was introduced to producer Hal Chester who wanted to make a movie about a sea monster, and the rest is history.


"The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms" was produced by Mutual Pictures at a budget of $210,000. The budget presented Harryhausen with some major problems. He rose to the challenge though. Harryhausen was quoted in the book "Future Tense" by John Brosnan saying that "Beast" was "the first film where I was in sole charge of the special effects. It was also the film for which I developed a simplified technique of combining animated models with live backgrounds...{because of the budget}, I couldn't afford the complicated and expensive technique of using glass paintings combined with miniature rear screen projection in the manner of "King Kong" and "Mighty Joe Young."

Harryhausen developed an in-camera traveling matte shot which cut costs and which produced an impressive image. Mutual sold the film to Warner Brothers. Warner rescored the film, added one scene and launched a massive ad campaign. "Beast" was one of the first films to use TV for widespread advertising. The campaign worked as "Beast" made five million dollars for Warner Brothers and begot a score of imitators.

"Beast" concerned a prehistoric dinosaur freed from an Arctic grave by an atomic bomb test. This was the first film in which a creature was either revived or mutated by an atomic bomb test. It was also the first film to be based on a Ray Bradbury story. The beast attempts to return to its old stomping grounds. Of course, his previous abode is not occupied by New York City. After destroying much of the city, the beast is killed with a radioactive isotope in the climatic scene in a Coney Island amusement park.

The film contains many of the characteristics of the science-fiction film. An alien invader (in this case an alien out of time) threatens the American way of life. The nature of man to play God via science leads to trouble, but the same curious nature allows man to fight off the unwanted invader.

The story may have enough plot holes big enough to drive a brontosaurus through, but as is the case in most of Harrryhausen's films, the special effects were the stars. Many critics pointed out that "Beast" had a mediocre plot, but they fail to realize that without the financial success of "Beast" it is very unlikely that Warner Brothers would have put as much effort into their follow-up film, the Oscar winning "Them!."


Part of Harryhausen's longevity is due to the fact that he was able to form a partnership with independent producer Charles Schneer. Schneer produced "It Came From Beneath the Sea" for the Clover Films Company. Schneer would produce all of Harryhausen's films except for the forgettable "Animal World" and the 1960's hit film "One Million Years B.C.." One may say that Harryhausen's talent alone would attract any number of producers, but a cursory examination of Willis O'Brien's sad career shows a continuous series of projects which never got off the drawing board due to lack of financial backing. For no other reason than his patronage which enabled millions of fans to enjoy Harryhausen's magic, Charles Schneer will have a permanent place in motion picture history.

"It Came From Beneath the Sea" also showed more of Harryhausen's inventiveness under difficult situations. The plot of "It Came From Beneath the Sea" was very similar to that of "The Beast From 20.000 Fathoms" in that an atomic test in the Pacific kills off most of the fish, causing a giant octopus to search elsewhere for food. Millions of humans know that some of the best seafood in the world is found at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco; in an ironic and humorous twist, the giant octopus goes to Fisherman's Wharf for a taste of some "landfood." The city fathers of San Francisco did not see the humor in the situation and denied Harryhausen permission to film in the city. Harryhausen overcame this denial by using stock footage and by sneaking around the city filming in secret from a place of concealment in a phony bread truck. Costs were also a major problem for the production company, so Harryhausen was forced to only give the octopus six tentacles. To allow himself more flexibility in animating the destruction of downtown San Francisco, Harryhausen also built a large tentacle to give the illusion of greater size and detail. While Harryhausen did his animation in the camera, he did resort to an optical printer in order to show foam and turbulence as the octopus broke the surface of the water. It was time consuming, but it added greatly to the realism of the scenes. Realism was important to Harryhausen. He animated the octopus at a slower rate of speed fro the underwater scenes in order to show the resistance of movement caused by the water pressure. Due to the difficulty of animating water, Harryhausen animated a dry octopus model and coated the skin with glycerin to give it a wet look. Next to "Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger" this was probably Harryhausen's worst film. This was not due to the animation, which is its one redeeming factor, but rather due to the preposterous story line and wooden acting.


Following "It Came From Beneath the Sea," Harryhausen teamed up with Willis O'Brien for a short dinosaur battle in Irwin Allen's forgettable "The Animal World" and then began work on his next solo project, "Earth Versus the Flying Saucers." After the success of George Pal's "War of the Worlds," producer Schneer realized there was money to be made in UFOs. He and Harryhausen began work on developing a script with writer Curt Sidomak.

"Earth Versus the Flying Saucers is unique in Harryhausen's career because the animation involved inanimate objects. Harryhausen was intrigued by the challenge of making a round inanimate object visually interesting. Author Bill Warren stated that Harryhausen's saucers are the best ever done. One detail in particular adds immensely to the visual excitement of the ships in flight. Harryhausen added rotating rings on the ships. The forward motion of the saucers in flight is accented by the hypnotizing spiral of the rings which results in a rewarding tease for the eyes.

There are two major destruction scenes in the film. One takes place at night as the saucers set a forest ablaze in an attempt to kill the film's hero, Dr. Russell Marvin (Hugh Marlowe). The lighting in this scene gives the saucers a truly terrifying appearance. The reflection of the fire on the saucers contrasted with the pitch black night sky results in an atmosphere which ranks among the eeriest in science fiction film. Unlike the claustrophobic setting of "Alien" in which the characters had no where to run, the characters in the fire scene are in a wide, expansive terrain, and still they are trapped like sinners fleeing the wrath of God. The scene is a major accomplishment of Harryhausen's special effects.

The second major scene of mayhem is the film's climax: an attack on Washington D.C. by the saucer fleet (Now there's an idea!) Harryhausen produced some of his best and intricate work. Instead of animating dinosaurs or mythical beasts, Harryhausen brought life (and death) to the Washington Monument, the Supreme Court Building and the Capitol Building. Dr. Marvin invents an ultrasonic gun which disrupts the saucer's power-drive and causes them to fall from the sky. Of course, the fall into the aforementioned objects. Harryhausen had to animate the destruction of the buildings brick by brick. Each brick was suspended on invisible wires as Harryhausen worked his meticulous magic.

The scene in which the Washington Monument collapses on a crowd of people was so effective that it was lifted for use in the low-budget stinker "The Giant Claw." Less anyone think that Harryhausen would be upset by this practice, they should look quickly for the destruction of L.A.'s City hall which was lifted from George Pal's "War of the Worlds" and inserted into Harryhausen's film. Borrowing scenes from other movies and using stock footage were two economical ways that Harryhausen and many other low-budget filmmakers cut production costs in the 1950s. Sometimes it worked well, and at other times you had glaring mistakes such as the battery of army cannons firing on the flying saucers as they attack Washington D.C.. The battery of cannons are obviously out in a desert of the western United States. All of that aside, Harryhausen's destruction of America's Capitol was a monumental achievement.


One critic said, "the monster is a marvel of technological achievement and is terrifyingly realistic." The monster is Harryhausen's creature from Venus: Ymir; and the film is "20 Million Miles to Earth." This was Harryhausen's last black and white film, and his last low-budget, exploitive, science-fiction film. After "20 Million Miles to Earth," Harryhausen shifted to the fantasy phase of his career. He did return to science fiction twice, but those films focused more on fantasy than science.

"20 Million Miles to Earth" was the last Harryhausen film from the golden age of science fiction films; it was also far and away his best work from this period. The film was another fear-of-science film. This time the viewer learns the horrible things that await man kind when they dare to try interplanetary travel. An egg is brought back from Venus by an American space expedition. The egg hatches and the Ymir grows until it becomes a giant.

The film's climax places the monster in Rome, where it destroys much of the city before meeting its demise. The plot is interchangeable with numerous other monster-on-the-loose movies; Harryhausen's animation lifts this one above the mundane hoard of imitators, though. This film contains a multitude of animation sequences which show the Ymir's growth from one foot high to twenty feet. They are notable not only for the excellent design of the creature, but also for the locations used. Ymir is chased from Sicily to Rome. Along the way Harryhausen shows the creature in action in such varied locations as a barn at night; under a waterfall; in the brightly lit Italian countryside; and in Rome. Harryhausen commented on the Roman scenes, "we used all the Roman ruins and monuments, including the coliseum. The creature was matted into the real scenes, (rather than model sets)."

Ymir is a lively creature, pacing through the film like a cagey boxer. Like a child with ADHD, Ymir is rarely still. Like the forest fire scene in "Earth Versus the Flying Saucers," Harryhausen matches the lighting of the diversely lit live-action scenes with uncanny accuracy. Author Bill Warren wrote that "the Ymir's first appearance, trotting on a tabletop is one of the best sequences of his films. Joan Taylor (in the background plate) enters the room and switches on the light. The light falling on the Ymir is precisely correct...and the illusion of reality is almost perfect....When you realize the animation was filmed months after the live-action footage, the accomplishment becomes astounding."

By now, Harryhausen had experimented with various methods of filming animation. On "20 Million Miles to Earth" he settled on the process he would use for the rest of his career. It involved rear-screen projection, a foreground matte, with the animated figure between them. Harryhausen dubbed this process "Dynamation" for the release of his next film, "The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad."


In 1958, Harryhausen and Schneer shifted gears and moved into the fantasy film field. They would make six fantasy films together from 1958 to 1981. Harryhausen soloed on the Aforementioned "One Million Years B.C.." Harryhausen and Schneer paid tribute to Willis O'Brien in the 1969 cowboys and dinosaurs saga "The Valley of Gwangi." Their final two science-fiction films were part of the cycle spawned by the success of Disney's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." This was a wholesome family-oriented film, with more emphasis on action and adventure than on science fiction. Other films in this cycle included "Journey to the Center of the Earth" and "Master of the World." Harryhausen's contributions to this cycle were 1961's "Mysterious Island" and 1964's "The First Men IN the Moon."

Harryhausen began making color movies with "The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad." "Mysterious Island" is aided and hurt by the use of color. The creatures are very lifelike (especially the crab!), but the matte paintings of the landscapes are obviously just that, paintings. The film also depends as much on plot and character development as it does on Harryhausen's animation, though the animation is some of the best of his career. Most notable among the scenes are the soldier's battle with the giant crab, and the attack on the castaways camp by a comical prehistoric chicken. The film also contains one of the worst sequences animated by Harryhausen: the underwater battle with a giant nautilus.

Harryhausen attempted to solve one of the last problems facing animators while working on "Mysterious Island." Strobing is the phenomenon caused by the animation process. When a live-action scene is filmed, blurring occurs due to the natural motion of the object being filmed. This blurring does not occur in animation since it is shot a frame at a time, and the subject is still. Harryhausen attempted to solve this for the giant bee sequence, with little success. Harryhausen's protege Jim Danforth claimed to have solved this problem by double exposing each frame in "When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth."

Harryhausen's last science fiction film, "The First Men IN the Moon" contains very little animation. The movie was more a labor of love than anything else. Harryhausen had always wanted to film the H.G. Wells story, but producer Schneer always nixed the idea because there was not enough animation to fill a feature length film. Harryhausen persuaded Schneer to produce the film by concocting a modern day prologue in which a United Nations space shot discovers a rotting Union Jack flag on the surface of the moon, setting off a search for the aging space explorer. The film has a lighthearted tone, as the serious scientist of the 1950s science fiction film was replaced by a bumbling, veddy, veddy English scientist (Lionel Jefferies). The only animated creature in the film is a gigantic lunar centipede. The moon is occupied by a race of Selenites which look more like children in grasshopper suits than anything else. The film may be a disappointment to Harryhausen fans, but it is an entertaining and enjoyable family film.


Harryhausen retired from film after the release of the 1981 film, "Clash of the Titans." He said he was "tired of spending year after year locked inside a dark room." The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded Harryhausen a lifetime achievement award for his contributions to the world of film in March 1992. One writer commented that it was appropriate that he was honored with a statue of a a man only 13 1/2 inches tall. An obvious reference to Harryhausen miniature models. Though Harryhausen has retire from the business, his influence is seen in the work of current model and computer animators. Those of us who give ourselves over to the magic of Harryhausen "believe" the creatures are alive, just as we pay homage to the man who breathed life into them.


Because I origonally wrote this as a research paper in college I feel obliged to include the bibliography.
Brosnan, John (1978) Future Tense. New York: St. Marten's Press.
Frank, Alan (1982). The Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Handbook. Totowa, New Jersey: Barnes and Noble Books.
Kinnard, Roy (1988). Beasts and Behemoths: Prehistoric Creatures in the Movies . London: Scarecrow Press.
Luciano, Patrick. (1987). Them or Us. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Menville, Douglas and Reginald R.. (1977) Things To Come: An Illustrated History of Science Fiction Film. New York: New York Times Books.
Perry, Danny. (1984). Omni's Screen Flights Screen Fantasies: The Future According to Science Fiction Cinema. Garden City, New York: Doubleday.
Rovin, Jeff. (1977) The Fabulous Fantasy Films. New York: A.S. Barnes and Company.
Shipman, David, (1985). A Pictorial History of Science Fiction Films. Twickingham, England: Hamlyn Publishing.
Shipman, David. (1982). The Story of Cinema. New York: St. Martin's Press.
Sobchack, Vivian Carol. (1980). The Limits of Infinity: The American Science Fiction Film 1950-75. New York: A.S. Barnes and Company.
Warren, Bill. (1982). Keep Watching the Skys: American Science Fiction movies of the Fifties-Volume 1 1950-1957. London: McFarland.
Warren, Bill. (1982). Keep Watching the Skys: American Science Fiction movies of the Fifties-Volume 2 1958-1962. London: McFarland.
Wloszczyna, Susan. (1992). "Ray Harryhausen, a man of many mini miracles." USA Today. March 30, 1992. P.9E.


I've been pulling up some old DVD and Video Risk reviews from the cybertomb that once was Hope you enjoy. This review was from January 2001.

Who is crazier, the sane man in an insane world, or the one who retreats into a world of gentle insanity in the face of holocaust? One of the quintessential art house films of the late 60s and early 70s, Philippe de Broca's King of Hearts (1966) is a tenderhearted antiwar parable which wrestles with this question. A financial failure on it's first release, King of Hearts became a favorite of art house crowds and the midnight movie circuit in 1970. In this age of bigger is better film-making, King of Hearts is a throwback to an age when deliberate pacing, character, dialogue and subtlety were more important than state of the art special effects.

Set at the end of W.W.I, the Germans have abandoned a small French town just ahead of the advancing British troops. A spy gets word to the British that the town is mined, and set to explode when the British arrive. The towns people leave town just behind the Germans. The British send the mild-mannered Charles Plumpick (Alan Bates) ahead on a reconnaissance mission. Plumpick arrives to find the town inhabited only by a handful of Germans and the residents of a mental hospital. Through a series of events, Plumpick is hailed as the long lost King by the residents of the asylum. The rest of the movie concerns Plumpick's attempts to discover and disarm the explosives, while finding himself drawn into the simple, magic world his subjects.

Due to a bump on the head, Plumpick is unconscious when the inmates of the asylum escape the hospital and assume roles in the town. The inmates all seem to suffer from the same illness. They are all childlike and delusional. Some critics have pointed out that this uniformity of illness was unrealistic. Well, Duh! This is a parable about the horrors of war, not One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest! This nitpicking criticism tells me that the critic missed the point of the whole movie. Writer Maurice Bessy and Director de Broca have definite views concerning the idiocy of war. The various inmates spout the director's views when confronted by Plumpick as he searches for the hidden explosives. At times these childlike euphemisms are hard to take. I loved this movie when I first saw it in the early 70s. Maybe I've become more jaded with the passage of time, but after viewing the film tonight, I found many of the things that appealed to me then to be overly quaint. I still recommend this video for several reasons.

There is a sweet humor to the film. This movie elicits warm smiles and a few laughs. It is not a gut-busting comedy. The inmates are lovable, and there are several standout comic performances. Michel Serrault (best known for La Cage Aux Folles) is consistently amusing as a flamboyant hairdresser, with a crush on the arch Bishop Daisy (Julien Guiomar). Micheline Presle eludes an earthy sexuality as the redheaded Madame Hyacinth. Pierre Brasseur as General Geranium and Jean-Claude Braily as the duke of clubs also turn in nice comic performances. The standout among the inmates is the young Genevieve Bujold as the woman-child Columbine.

I remember sitting in the dark at the old Guild Theater in Memphis, and falling in love with Columbine as I saw King of Hearts the first time. Bujold plays Bates love interest. The world of love and death are mysteries to her. The magical butterflies that accompany first love flutter through Bujold's performance. She is a joy to behold. Her character appears to never have been marred by the pain of heartbreak. The scene in which she sings as part of a choir of prostitutes during the "Kings" coronation is a standout. Columbine is so overcome with joy of the sight of her love that she loses her voice, however she continues to sing with her eyes. Bujold captures the magic that multitudes have tried to put into words for centuries with one look in this scene. It is pure magic. I also especially liked the scene between Bates and Bujold as they came within three minutes of death. As I mentioned before, writer Bessy and director de Broca delivers the "message" of the movie through the eyes and mouths of the inmates. Columbine's reply when Plumpick cries in despair that they only have three minutes to live: "Yes, but what a wonderful three minutes" comes across as believable. This is mainly due to the chemistry between the two actors.

Bates is quite good as the bemused and bewildered Plumpick. Plumpick is a communications officer mistakenly sent into the town because Colonel MacBibenbrook (Adolfo Celi) thinks he is a munitions expert. Plumpick slowly comes to realize that the inmates of the asylum are right, and that it is those who are waging war who are insane. All of the British soldiers are portrayed as good-natured buffoons ala Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson. I liked the scenes involving the three British soldiers sent into the town after Plumpick to check up on him. These scenes have a nice Monty Python quality to them. They are silly, but not to the point of breaking the mood off the rest of the movie. The Germans, led by Colonel Helmut von Krack (Daniel Boulanger) too are stereotypically cut from the mold of Colonel Klink. There is a short gag involving Corporal Adolph Hitler that brings a laugh. Only Plumpick and the inmates seem to have any sense.

I don't know if writer Bessy is a Veegen, but I found it ironic that the most of the "good-guys" were named for flowers (vegetarians) and the "bad-guys" such as Lieutenant Hamburger were named for meats (carnivore). Bates' character's name, Plumpick seems to imply a carnivore (Plump) who is trying to decide if he wants to become a vegetarian (Pick.) Director de Broca makes it very clear that the carnivores are destroying the world. (I'm probably reading way to much into this. Blame Dr. Mary Battle who taught me to look for symbolism during my freshman English classes at Memphis State!)

This movie was made at the height of the turbulent 60s. Vietnam played on TV every night. Civil unrest was the norm. King of Hearts found its cult following in this atmosphere. To most American audiences, the film's power is somewhat abated by the relatively peaceful times. When I first saw it, the war in Vietnam was a very real thing. The images of small children being shot to pieces in the hamlet of My Lai by American soldiers were fresh on the minds of all above the age of accountability, King of Hearts became a whimsical wish of how things should be.

King of Hearts is not for all tastes. It is deliberately paced. Some may consider the circus atmosphere of many of the scenes to be to arty. Some may be just to jaded to like it. I honestly don't know how I would react to it if I had seen it for the first time as a 42 year-old parent of three, had I not loved this movie as a youth. I point these things out because just because I like a movie doesn't mean you will.