Monday, June 27, 2016

Summer Matinee

by Arnie Fenner

Above: Frank McCarthy's painting for The Valley of Gwangi movie poster,
which I had shared in a previous post but it's too nice not to look at again.

Going to a monster movie double-feature at the local independent indoor theater because it was air conditioned  (I frequented the Aztec, the Dickenson, and the Tivoli) or the drive-in used to be a summer ritual. Classics or crud didn't matter much as long as there were monsters and special effects involved. Now there are a lot fewer independent theaters (and they almost never include two movies for the price of a ticket) or drive-ins and most of the double-features at those are devoted to current action/disaster/superhero films. Which is okay: there is still plenty of eye candy. Everything goes in cycles and it's only a matter of time before there's another Godzilla or Kong or something stomping across the screen.

For many of my generation, one of the things we used to really look forward to—and which helped inspire many of us to become artists of one sort or another—was any movie Ray Harryhausen [1920-2013] provided stop motion visual effects for. Whether featuring flying saucers, dragons, skeletal warriors, or dinosaurs, we could always count on Ray to deliver. If some of the effects work seems clunky or dated today, well, it was all state-of-the-art way back when. His movies not only nurtured our sense of wonder, but also influenced much of the visual effects work created by others that has followed.

Ray Harryhausen casts a long influential shadow and I've written about him here on MC in the past, but what prompted today's post was my accidentally stumbling across a 2009 short documentary devoted to Ray's film The Valley of Gwangi [1969], which was based on an unrealized project with his mentor, King Kong animator Willis O'Brien. It's a nice peek behind the curtain and features interviews with Harryhausen so...what's not to like? Enjoy.


  1. All his marvellous creations were rocket fuel for my imagination all through my childhood (not sure it,s completely over…).

  2. I LOVED Harryhausen's movies, which were such a huge influence on me that I followed in his footsteps and became a stop-motion animator. Ray's movies were such a unique and magic event in those days, but now, well, special effects are not special anymore. Modern visual effects are so commonplace and oversaturated in movies and television, it is difficult for todays audience to appreciate how great Harryhausen was. Most of the younger animators I work with don't even know about the man.