The time of the spooks is upon us! Happy almost-Halloween to my fellow classic fanatics. Halloween on TMP means Horror Half-Week, a four-day celebration of eerie films from the early to mid-20th century. Today we’ve got a monster flick — The Giant Behemoth (1959)! Yesterday’s review: The Walking Dead (1936)
American marine biologist Steve Karnes (Gene Evans) is visiting London to speak at a conference on the use of atomic weapons and their impact on the oceans. He warns that if atomic weapons are used, a biological chain reaction will occur, with disastrous after-effects.
His ideas are brushed off by most of the audience, many of whom refuse to worry because atomic tests have only been carried out in remote locations. But soon after, fisherman Tom Trefethen (Henry Vidon) is found nearly dead, covered in burns after a day spent fishing with his daughter (Leigh Madison). With his last words, Tom warns that he was attacked by an enormous creature in the sea.
After the funeral, the beach is found to be covered in thousands of dead fish. When Steve learns that all fishing in Cornwall has been stopped due to the mystery of the “behemoth” and the dead fish, he decides to investigate, with the help of physicist Professor Bickford (Andre Morell).
The men head to Cornwall, but is it already too late? Has Steve’s prediction of radioactive sea creatures and mass destruction come true?
“And the Lord said: ‘Behold, now, the behemoth!'”
The Giant Behemoth, also known as Behemoth, the Sea Monster, was directed by Eugene Lourie and Douglas Hickox. The film was scripted by Lourie and Daniel James, from a story by Robert Abel and Alan J. Adler.
A fantastic sense of tension and danger is built from the beginning of The Giant Behemoth. The message of the film is very transparent: your usual anti-atomic mid-century tale of fear, danger, and destruction.
The story is very effectively told in that not only is the monster radioactive thanks to human experimentation, but just about every idea people have to destroy the monster would only cause greater damage as well. Weapons are useless against the beast, as it simply emits “bleep-bloop” sounds and waves of radioactivity when shot, spreading the radioactivity further, harming more of the environment and many more people, for years to come.
“A million radioactive particles blown into every corner of London?! Why, the whole city would be poisoned for God knows how many years!”
Much of the film is dedicated to the science behind the monster, the investigation to discover what exactly caused the tragedies in Cornwall, and the method by which to destroy the beast, but there’s a fair bit of action packed into the second half as well. In one scene, a helicopter explodes! I guess that’s what they get for flying too close to the s…on of the Loch Ness monster. (Badum-tsk! Bad joke alert!)
The film’s stop-motion animation was supervised by Willis O’Brien of King Kong fame, much of the hands-on work carried out by O’Brien’s assistant, Pete Peterson. Expectations are high with these talents involved, though much to the disappointment of both O’Brien and director Lourie, budget constraints kept O’Brien from overseeing all of the film’s special effects (according to TCM). Both were reportedly unhappy with the end result, but I still thought it was very cool to watch, the stop-motion incorporated very effectively into scenes of London as seen above.
Another positive: the score. This music would seem a tad overbearing in any other type of film, but works in this story of a radioactive sea giant heading to London to destroy all humanity. The story isn’t subtle, so why should the music be? It adds greatly to the film’s atmosphere.
The Giant Behemoth is a pure slice of sci-fi monster fun. I’d even go so far as to consider it a new favorite. It avoids corn more successfully than you’d expect for a film that’s basically called The Giant Giant, if you strip the word “behemoth” of its biblical connotation (which is mentioned several times in the film). I thoroughly enjoyed it from the first moment to the last.