Stop motion is seriously beloved in these parts. We'd happily commute to work on Ray Harryhausen’s Pegasus, given a bucket of apples and a parachute. So Tim Burton’s return to the medium with monochrome monster-athon Frankenweenie and the upcoming Harryhausen doc are all the excuse we need to pick a few of our favourite stop-mo beasties from movie history. Have a read, see what you think, and share your suggestions in the usual place.
Movie: The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad (1973)
Able to have several swordfights at the same time, all while yawning, flicking over to the Antiques Roadshow and rustling up a little something for dinner, the multi-armed Kali puts the “bad” in Sinbad. (And the “sin”, come to think of it.) In Harryhausen’s second Sinbad adventure she does battle with the seafarer after a little magical jiggery-pokery, but never mind that. When's she going to get together with Talos?
Movie: The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad (1958)
Far more scary than the giant squirrel in The 3 Worlds Of Gulliver, although arguably just as furry, Ray Harryhausen’s cyclops was modelled on the Greek god Pan - of Pan’s People fame - and Ray's own monster, lizardy-fish-beast Ymir in 1957’s 20 Million Miles To Earth. Here there are two of the one-eyed beasties, who take the opportunity to pounce on Sinbad while he and his crew figure out what the plural of ‘cyclops’ is.
Movie: Jason And The Argonauts (1963)
Mention Ray Harryhausen and the chances are this is the sequence that people remember, mostly because it remains utterly amazing. The single skeleton from 1958’s The 7th Voyage of Sinbad – OK, not the exact same one – is joined by six pals to do battle with Jason and two crew mates. The four-minute tussle took Harryhausen, working on his own, 18 weeks to animate.
Movie: Clash Of The Titans (1981)
Bloody Zeus, eh? We’re laying this subsea psychopath firmly at his door. The mighty Kraken (first and middle names: ‘Release The’) is an idea presumably cooked up by the King of the Gods on one of his bad-tempered days, what with the princess-munching and a face that even Grannie Kraken wouldn’t kiss. Harryhausen, once again, is the handmaiden of this timeless monster - with a little help from the great Jim Danforth.
Movie*: Coraline (2009)
Henry Selick’s terrifying Other Mother taps a darker, more domestic vein of stop-mo horror. On the one hand, she’s attentive, caring and delivers food to your plate BY TOY TRAIN; on the other hand, she’ll want to replace your eyeballs with buttons and will transform herself into a needle spider that’s part Shelob, part sewing kit. This, by any standards, is poor parenting. But then again, toy train dinner...
Movie: Jason And The Argonauts (1963)
Jason and his Argonauts face many perils during their journeys – the Hydra, swordwielding skeletons, harpies, dicky tummies – but the Bronze Man of Crete is comfortably the most formidable, as Jason discovers when he steals a priceless pin from his vault. Talos is also the tallest, which means he can turn whole ships into kindling, and runs the kind of zero-tolerance-to-theft policy that nowadays would score him a guest speaker slot at the Tory party conference.
Movie: RoboCop (1987)
José Padilha’s RoboCop will have to do well to match the mech magic of Paul Verhoeven’s version. The Dutchman constructed a fascistic corporate state whose bouncer – Enforcement Droid Series 209 - came with miniguns fitted as standard. It’s basically a robot with two Jesse Venturas strapped on. ‘New' Painless here is the work of Phil Tippett and Randal Dutra, while its voice was provided by exec producer Jon Davison. “Even my own mother didn’t recognise me,” Davison remembers, “and my voice isn’t altered that much”. Give her the old “You have 20 seconds to comply” line Jon; see if that rings any bells.
Movie: The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
“An armoured giant wreaking its prehistoric fury on modern man and his puny machines!” intones ‘50s Voiceover Man in the voice of someone about to run screaming down the street. Sure enough, this ancient Harryhausen beast throws itself at New York with the kind of ill-tempered aplomb that comes from being woken from a 20,000 year nap. By an A-bomb.
Movie: Wallace & Gromit In The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit (2005)
Aardman’s Were-Rabbit may be 37 per cent too fluffy to be truly terrifying – you’d never catch the Kraken nibbling on your prize-winning carrots – but it’s still a menace to the people of Lancashire, their prize vegetables and that scourge of the pesky, Gromit.
Movie: Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Hardly organic but still a bloody great monster in our book, this Hoth-bothering quadruped is the missing link between Harryhausen and the CGI era ahead. Phil Tippett’s pioneering use of ‘go motion’ gives the All-Terrain Armored Transports a realistic blur as they stomp relentlessly across the icesheet. Should you ever find yourself in one, the on-board sat nav responds to two commands: “Find nearest Rebel base” and “blast the shit out of it”.
Movie: King Kong (1933)
We’d like to include King Kong here, we really would, but he’s too lovely and heroic to qualify for monster status. Willis O’Brien’s monsters needed to be remorseless and toothy like the allosaurus in The Valley Of Gwangi (1969) or this ruddy great tyrannosaurus.
Movie*: The Crater Lake Monster (1977)
The film isn’t much cop – it’s been dubbed “one of the worst giant monster flicks of all time” in a genre that, lest we forget, also boasts Mansquito – but Dave Allen and Phil Tippett’s terrific stop-motion work busts it out of the B-movie dungeon and carries it at least as far as the nearest B-movie elevator. In this scene, the monster gets jiggy with a logging truck.
Movie*: Ghostbusters (1984)
They had a funny idea of what made a good pet back in Sumeria in 6000 BC. The twin canines, better known as the Gatekeeper and the Keymaster, are very much not of the tail-waggling, bum-sniffing variety of dog. In fact, they are much more like to usher in an apocalypse than fetch your stick. Randall William Cook, a stop-mo guru whose puppets stalk John Carpenter’s The Thing and who animated the slug-devil-beast in The Gate (1987), did the model work.
Movie*: Clash Of The Titans (1981)
This justly famous Harryhausen sequence (‘Snakes On A Brain’?) is a perfect union of mood and monster. This Medusa is 100 times more terrifying than the CGI version of the remake would turn out to be, and as she slithers menacingly around her lair hunting out Perseus, ol’ snake bangs cranks the tension to unbearable levels. Avert your eyes now.
Movie: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
The evil lurking at Halloween Town’s fringes is inspired by jazzman (and Blues Brothers veteran) Cab Calloway. We don’t think Cab used to have a torture chamber filled with skeletons, mind you. Nor was he made of worms and bugs and sack-cloth like this fella. On the upside, Oogie does make a good, and rather easy, pattern to carve for a Halloween pumpkin.
Movie: Piranha (1978)
More fun than ferocious, this weeny Tippett beastie is a throwaway touch during Piranha’s scene-setting. The US military – them again! – have concocted a bonkers scheme to create hybrid killer fish to gnaw the Vietcong, but there are even more interesting creatures to be found in their lab. Like this adorable bonzai dinosaur-type thing.
Movie*: Corpse Bride (2005)
The real hero of Tim Burton’s ghoulish romance wasn’t its Bronte-esque heroine. Oh no. Take a bow lowly Maggot, a creature hitherto more likely to be found in your apple than your local cinema, and creepy-crawly, Peter Lorre-homaging brethren to Frankenweenie’s Mummy Hamster. Even though he lives in the Corpse Bride's skull, he's still strangely loveable.
Movie*: Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
Bit of a cheat this one but, as the ditty goes, they’re “equally mean”, so how do you pick just one? The villains of Wes Anderson’s first adventure in stop-motion, this troika of tillers are English grotesques crafted by stop-motion puppeteers MacKinnon & Saunders in Manchester and brought to life by animators at London’s 3 Mills Studios. They’re English villains in every sense.
Movie*: It Came From Beneath The Sea (1955)
The moral here is that atomic tests should not be conducted over the ocean; or, for that matter, land. Or anywhere else where there are might be irradiated animals who’ll eat a city for breakfast and pick bits of the place out of their teeth with a skyscraper. In this case, the byproduct is 200ft of angry seafood. Whoops.
Movie: Howard The Duck (1986)
Another go-motion critter, Phil Tippett’s alien Dark Overlord is an impressively gruesome villain to our beaky protagonist. In fact, given the choice we’d probably take Team Overlord over Team Howard, except before you can say “Is there anything else on?”, Howard has blasted him with a neutron disintegrator. Can’t help thinking the angry spacelord has travelled a long way to end up vaporised by a duck.