The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms Review
Preceding Gojira by a year, “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms” might have influenced that film in a major way. Here’s the basic premise: A prehistoric creature goes on a rampage in a country’s largest city after being freed (by atomic testing) from being encased in ice for millenia. Yep. That’s Godzilla.
“Beast” also directly influenced many great genre directors like Joe Dante and any number of monster mayhem films (like Them!). This came from the era when the greatest sci-fi and horror flicks were socially conscious morality tales reflecting on the fears at the time over atomic power, destroying ourselves, war, communists, etc…
It’s fun to see actors turn up that went on to bigger things after this, like Lee Van Cleef (The Good, The Bad And The Ugly) and James Best (best known for his role as the bumbling Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane on the Dukes of Hazzard). Everyone knows that the real star, though, is Ray Harryhausen and his stop motion FX.
To say the rhedosurus (the “Beast” of the title) has more personality than the actors in the film isn’t a knock on them so much as praise for Harryhausen. I am always amazed at the movements and quirks that he instilled in his animated creations. They just don’t attack as much as react to their surroundings.
There are some outstanding sequences throughout the film. There was some actual atomic bomb footage that’s worked in. While atomic explosions have a geniune feeling of terror to them, they’re also pretty darn impressive. Whenever I see film of one, my mind always goes to Jim Carrey doing an impression of James Stewart witnessing an atomic explosion, but I digress.
The film’s antagonist star is the “Beast”, of course. I enjoy monster caused destruction as much as anyone. While the first nocturnal assault by the “Beast” (on the ship) is impressive; the real winner is the ‘lighthouse scene’. When the creature crawls ashore having swam from the Arctic and batters the lighthouse into a pile of rubble I am 4 years old again. This is the work of a true genius. The whole arrangement is atmospheric, brutal for an old monster flick (for those poor lighthouse workers) and for me is a work of art unto itself.
My favorite scene, though is probably where that one lone cop mistakenly thinks that he can stop the Beast with his revolver. Harryhausen obviously studied how real reptiles eat. It’s especially evident there. A wonderful film and still one of the best giant monster rampage flicks out there. It may not carry the weight and tone of more ‘serious’ sci fi from the 50s like The Thing (1951) and The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951), but this one is much more fun.