Monday, September 29, 2014

MR Behemoth the Sea Monster

Following the success of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and the re-release of King Kong on the big screen, a whole "giant monsters" trend would follow suit which the best and most popular iconic representant being the Japanese Godzilla series starting in '54.

But did you know the UK also had a try at its own giant creature inspired by the local culture in the form of Behemoth, the Sea Monster?

Want more Kaiju-related reviews? Check these out!

Movie: Behemoth, the Sea Monster also known as The Giant Behemoth in the US or simply Behemoth
Directed by Eugène Lourié & Douglas Hickox
Release date 1959
Genre Science-fiction/giant monster film
Country UK

Following the success of King Kong in 1933, an entire new cinematographic genre would be launched in the Cold War-era USA and post-nuclear Japan in the wake of the 1950s all the way through the 1970s.

This renewed interest in creature features might have been partially revived by the film The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, solidified by the success of the original Gojira and the re-release of Universal's King Kong all around the same time. Call it an effect of a world finally out of the second World War or the discovery of the Atomic Age. These kind of films would spawn the entire Kaiju genre, a sub-genre of creature features.

In 1959 came out a sadly often forgotten American-British co-production, Behemoth, the Sea Monster. Also known under its pretty redundant US title, The Giant Behemoth.

This black & white feature film was launched from a pretty simple idea. Basically, a British distributor simply wanted to make their own giant monster flick. All they wanted to go after was asking for a pastiche of the 1953 The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. To do so they just decided to get the French film director/art director/designer Eugène Lourié behind The Beast to produce the film.

Louié didn't try much. He simply went ahead with the idea and re-wrote The Beast. In fact, Behemoth shares a lot of the same basic sequences and overall structure. Eugène Lourié also wrote the screenplay and ended up co-directing the film. His helped on the set was English director Douglas Hickox who was basically an assistant director and second unit director throughout most of his early career. But the final product was mostly solely directed by Eugene Lourie at the end of the day.

It's basically Beast, with a change of location, only adding a few minor additions to the formula, which would join other tropes of Kaiju films over the years such as a nuclear breath for the monster.

The story follows these American scientists as they discover the existence of a radioactive giant monster awaken in the wake of all these nuclear testings through the ocean.

The movie opens as our main protagonist is giving a speech about all this human impact on nature, when the story cuts to a small little British fishing town. A lot of fish has been turning dead on the shore. An old man is found dying on the beach, from a lethal doze of radiation. He is only able to speak a word, "behemoth" (found out to be a partial quote from the bible later on), before dying.

Our scientists decide to investigate the samples they brought back. They come up with only one possible explanation - there's apparently some kinda large underwater marine mammal that might have been contaminated by all the atomic tests, and which might have mutated and is now the cause for all the sudden increase in radiation in the nearby waters.

More victims are located on a path around the country. They get a photography of this huge footprint over the creature's possible path. They go to a paleontologist who identifies it as a supposedly dinosaur (the man-made) Paleosaurus, a long supposedly extinct aquatic Dinosaur. They creature was possibly revived or awaken by the bombs. And it might be possibly saturated in radiations, giving it a sort of "electric pulse"....

Our heroes next head up to the open Ocean to locate it before it arrives near the British coast, but it's already too late! It's already incoming over London!

The authorities try to stop it! But the creature's radiations are just killing everyone on sight! And it turns out they can't pick it on radar screens due to the high emanations of radiations!

This Behemoth destroys the harbor and then heads for the Thames River, which might have been around its original habitat many years ago.

The people are running around, the London citizens are being knocked over or worse, the soldiers really seem ineffective on the giant creature. The army wants to bomb the creature to pieces, but that might only make things worse and spread lethal radiations around the city.

The scientist guys set on injecting a huge dose of radium to kill the Behemoth.

Meanwhile the monster continues its rampage through the city. They use a sub to launch a torpedo at the creature. After a failed attempt, the Behemoth eats the dangerous concoction, killing it instantaneously.

As the creature is defeated, they head up back for air. Rising out of the Ocean. When suddenly they hear some new reports about more sightings of other monsters rising from the depths all over the shores of America now...

Behemoth is certainly far from being Eugène Lourié's giant monster film. But it could have been much, much worse. This is his second film in his "giant monster trilogy".

The film is well written enough, with decent dialogues. But also some nonsensical acting. The rest is pretty decent (besides the budget, but more on that below...). We even get a pretty decent and somewhat strong delivery from the main cast. Our main duo of scientists are played by the decent Gene Evans and André Morell, but the only real memorable character from this entire film is probably cult actor Jack MacGowran who only gets a short amount of screentime as this passionate paleontologist Dr. Sampson who seems to arbor a childlike adoration for dinosaurs. He's easily our only really captivating human protagonist in the whole film. MacGowran always plays great these type of eccentric sort of characters, with all these tics and odd mannerisms. But he sadly ends up dead only a few short minutes later.

Most of the film was filmed in Great Britain, of course (and they were even able to shot a few scenes in London itself). But all the stop motion model work was actually done in the US, in Los Angeles (hence the UK/US co-production).

The film was plagued by lots budget constraints. Meaning there's a couple of recycled shots here and there.

Lourié absolutely wanted King Kong creator Willis O'Brien for the film, a master of special effects at time, but he was obligatory contracted to use Jack Rabin instead. He tried to get some animation  done by his studio but had to do so without any additional budget for him. O'Brien's assistant Pete Peterson did a few scenes for the end of the feature film.

The real problem is... The Behemoth is never as detailed or realistic as the Beast. He simply looks... cheap.

Compared to other similar giant monster films at the time, they don't try to show much of the monster (mostly due to the limited budget). It takes about 50 minutes to finally get a first glimpse at the creature. Avoiding showing the titular monster for the entire first act for a reason.

The monster is then rendered via both a stop-motion creature and a puppet. The stop motion is of course miles better than the puppet used through most of the film. Stop motion puppetry was able to make a giant gorilla look real in the 1930s, by the mid-50s the techniques had been greatly improved, but they were also a lot more expensive than, say, a rubber suit.

There's also a few all too rare well made underwater shorts. If only they would have been able to get more of these...

Like Godzilla, this Behemoth is also radioactive.

It gives this film some well needed counter balance to all the silliness revolving around the monster. We get to see a lot of people dying from the impact of the creature. People are shown to suffer horrific radiation burns from it. It's radiation spree killing both civilians and military alike (this was before the giant monster started being aimed at children over the later decades).

Behemoth starts also establishing a few cues that would become staples of the genre. Like in Beast and the later Godzilla, fishermen are always the first to catch on the coming terror from the depths of the sea. We also get another familiar scene from Beast, in which our heroes contact a specialist and try to locate the creature's description amongst a few sketches of dinosaur (our very fictive creature is easy to spot amongst those).

The film feels like a partial remake of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. There's also a few nods to other earlier creature features. The Behemoth ends up crashing the same bridge a brontosaur did in similar fashion in The Lost World (which would later be again reprised in Gorgo).

Behemoth was actually the last film to use stop-motion for its main monster (due to the heavy costs involved at the time and the better available techniques making their way into cinema).

Unlike its American counterparts, this giant monster flick end on a very strange darker note. Our team is not allowed to mourn as they get the news of all these events possibly starting all over again (but due to the budget restrains, it's too bad, it didn't allow the audience one last impressive shot of said events in motion...).

The film was pretty well-scored by Edwin Astley. If fitting, his music was a bit forgettable in this film.

The real problem is the extremely low budget from the UK studios, which didn't allow for much....

Overall, this giant monster film might not be the best there ever was. But it's pretty decent. If anything, it feels like it's just missing a little "something".

The idea was certainly interesting, such as this Loch Ness Monster-inspired giant monster. 

The film is certainly not as effective or simply as good as The Beast. It feels a bit too slow-paced compared to it, much simpler and just seems like a basic copy-paste job from the earlier film. Everything goes according to plan, as planned. Our scientists go through the motions without being much involved. It just shows how more effective and competent England would be at handling a giant monster attack (compared to the US or Japan!). How ironic coming from a French film director! But it also feels pretty boring and all too uninspired.

It's really average, not as fun, original or great as the earlier Beast was.

Perhaps the script just lacked enough funding or budget to allow it to better take off. They seemed to try something way too ambitious in this aquatic creature and it only really gets to play on screen during a few short naval scenes, the complicated monster design didn't help. They could only really afford big closeup shots of the monsters' puppet and only a few wider shots of stop-motion for a couple of key shots near the end of the film...

When it's all said and done, Behemoth feels and looks like a remake Beast from 20,000 Fathoms with less money. Only Check It Out if you're a fan of the director or the genre.

Eugène Lourié's first film was a much more impressive entry in the genre. The later Godzilla would come and change things forever, partially due to Ishirô Honda's own fascination with The Beast. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms becoming the Japanese director's favorite film, he wanted to put his own unique spin on the same basic formula. In turn Eugène Lourié became amazed by Japan's answer, the original Gojira. And trying to recapture the same visuals, it would inspire him to ditch stop-motion puppetry and venture into this unique mix of costumes and miniature as well, which resulted in his follow-up film, Gorgo.

I give it:
2 / 3 Gojiras!

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