(1959)2Bruce EderThe production history of Behemoth, The Sea Monster (better known in America as The Giant Behemoth) is, in some ways, more interesting than the movie itself -- though the film does have many enjoyable elements. Watching the final cut of the movie, it's easy to admire the work of animator Willis O'Brien and his associate Pete Peterson, and what they achieved in terms of dinosaur effects on a perilously low budget (a fact of which we are reminded by the ferry-boat sinking sequence, done by different animators, who clearly lacked O'Brien's and Peterson's skills). And the acting and directing are first-rate for a property such as this, with excellent central performances by Gene Evans and Andre Morell. Moreover, aspects of this story are especially grisly -- watching victims get fried (flashed to negative on the film and the burned down where they stand), or wandering through the streets stricken, their skin melted from lethal radiation doses, was pretty chilling for a science fiction film in 1959. But originally, Behemoth, The Sea Monster was to have been a more challenging and subtle horror/sci-fi effort, more along the lines of Hammer Films' Quatermass movies and that same studio's X The Unknown. For starters, the original story by Allen Adler was set in New York, and the mystery started on that side of the Atlantic and in the Hudson River, before the setting (and most of the production) was transposed to England. But the monster was also to have been a disembodied radioactive force, almost impossible to see and to track, except by its victims. It was only decided relatively late in production that the movie would have to show an on-screen monster, and that the monster would be a dinosaur. Thus, what had started out as a fairly novel idea for a science fiction film ended up as very much a descendant of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953) (which, ironically enough, was also directed by Eugene Lourie), as well as Godzilla, King Of The Monsters, something never really intended by its writers. Willis O'Brien was called in to deliver the monster on a pitifully small budget (about $5000 by some accounts), under a sub-contract from Jack Rabin, which gave the renowned special effects wizard behind King Kong some last moments of glory in a career going back to silent days. It's still worth seeing, but it would be equally interesting to see the original idea explored in modern terms and effects. (Note: In the US VHS tape release by Warner Home Video, the producers accidentally used the censored UK edition of the movie, which left out the attack on the ferry boat).
A perennial of the "Shock Theatre" TV circuit of the 1950s, The British The Giant Behemoth owes a great deal to the earlier American sci-fier The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. A Cornish fisherman is found covered with what looks like radiation burns. Before he dies, the fisherman utters the word "behemoth," citing a monster alluded to in the Bible. It isn't long before England is besieged by a dinosaur-like monstrosity, evidently the by-product of atomic fallout. Only a high-powered torpedo stands between the Giant Behemoth and the helpless British citizenry. The film's stop-motion animation is pretty good, considering the tight budget; all the title character lacks is the distinctive personality of a King Kong, Godzilla or Gorgo.