Monster Kid Online Magazine #7

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DINOSAURUS! (1960) is not high up on most stop-motion fans' list, but it's a favorite of mine for personal reasons. I saw it at the drive-in on a double bill with KING KONG VS. GODZILLA when I was eight years old. I wasn't looking at the quality of the animation, I was just into the story of two dinosaurs and a caveman coming back to life on a small tourist island. A kid makes friends with the Brontosaurus, the caveman has some funny encounters with modern inventions and becomes the hero of the story and it all ends with a "king of the hill" match between the T-Rex and a steam shovel. What's not to like for an eight-year-old?

The effects were handled by Project Unlimited, one of the first independent special effects houses in Hollywood, formed by Tim Baar, Wah Chang and Gene Warren. They provided stop-motion animation for many productions of that time including the films of George Pal and the TV show THE OUTER LIMITS.

Their animation here is just so-so, obviously done quickly. Puppet versions of the dinosaurs are used in many close-ups. They didn't match the models very well, but they did have quite a range of head and arm movement. Stop-motion shots of the models from DINOSAURUS! also showed up in the TWILIGHT ZONE episode, "The Odyssey of Flight 33". For years it was assumed they were outtakes from DINOSAURUS! but recent interviews revealed that they were filmed especially for the TZ episode.

The stop-motion models were by Marcel Delgado who made the dinosaurs for THE LOST WORLD and KING KONG and was now a prop and model maker for Project Unlimited. Supposedly he intended to add a final layer of skin to the models with a more finished texture, but didn't have time. The producers thought they looked good enough and used them as they were. Knowing that, they do have sort of a naked look to them.

George Pal's THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM (1961) had a comical segment with a knight and his knave (Terry-Thomas and Buddy Hackett) trying to slay a stop-motion dragon animated by the Project Unlimited team, which now included a very young Jim Danforth. The dragon did have lots of character and expression, but the light-hearted sequence was limited to a small cave so there wasn't a lot of action. The animation was okay for this children's story and may remind you of the animation you see in those Rankin-Bass holiday specials and, of course, Pal's own Puppetoons.

It's almost a crime to mention Edward Small's JACK THE GIANT KILLER (1962) in the same issue with Ray Harryhausen. The movie is a blatant, and vastly inferior, rip-off of THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD. What's worse, Schneer and Harryhausen had pitched the idea of 7TH VOYAGE to Small with a full presentation of designs and explanations of how the effects could be done on a low budget. Small passed, but after 7TH VOYAGE was produced and became a big hit, he decided to use it as a blueprint for his own movie. He hired Kerwin Mathews and Torin Thatcher to repeat their roles as the hero and the evil magician and even hired Nathan Juran to direct.

The similarities are endless. Except for the number of eyes, the Cyclops was copied almost completely in JACK. Another giant was also similar to the Cyclops, but instead of one eye, he had two heads, like the Roc in 7TH VOYAGE. He even fights a reptilian creature at the end of the film just as Cyclops #2 had fought Sokurah's dragon. And while Sinbad had a genie, JACK has a magical leprechaun in a bottle.

Of course, the one thing JACK didn't have was Ray Harryhausen. Once again, Project Unlimited was hired for the stop-motion effects with Jim Danforth supervising the animation. Danforth was still perfecting his craft and, though there are inspired moments, the work doesn't hold a candle to Harryhausen's. The quality of the models was pretty poor overall, too. The humanoid characters looked rubbery and the tentacled lizard and the dog-faced winged dragon were both kind of goofy-looking.

Despite its shortcomings, JACK THE GIANT KILLER is fun to watch as juvenile entertainment. It has more of a fairy tale quality than the Harryhausen fantasies and apparently did okay as a kiddie movie. It has to be mentioned that if you ever get a chance, you've got to see the musical version of the movie that was concocted for a re-release. No additional footage was shot, but songs were added and crammed into the mouths of the characters by repeating footage over and over and manipulating the pace of dialogue using various editing tricks. The end product was dumbfounding.

THE OUTER LIMITS: The Zanti Misfits (1963) was one of the more memorable episodes of the series, especially if you were a young kid when you first saw it. The swarm of foot-long ant-like creatures with human faces was like something out of a nightmare. The animated creatures, combined with the music and sound effects made for some pretty intense prime time TV viewing for the early '60s.

Project Unlimited had their work cut out for them on this one. The stop-motion effects were probably some of the most time-consuming and expensive effects ever done for the series.

George Pal's 7 FACES OF DR. LAO (1964) is a whimsical fantasy movie with some nicely imaginative make-ups and effects. Nothing in Dr. Lao's circus is exactly what it seems. He displays the Loch Ness Monster in a fish bowl, explaining that the pressure of the water keeps him compressed in size and looking like an ordinary pollywog. When it is accidentally released by a couple of ne'er-do-wells, the monster regains his full size and gnarly form in a pretty cool, but brief, stop motion scene. Jim Danforth was nominated for an Academy Award for his work on the movie.

EQUINOX (1970), made in the late 1960s by a group of ambitious, mostly non-professional, film makers, was a Lovecraftian story with weird creatures from another dimension. It still looks like a glorified home movie, but the stop-motion scenes are pretty remarkable considering the circumstances. Jim Danforth, David Allen and future Academy Award winner Dennis Muren provided the effects.

If there was ever a stop-motion film of the '60s and '70s to rival the quality of Harryhausen, it was WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH (1970). This movie follows the same pattern as Harryhausen's ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. with tribes of early man struggling to survive the dangers of living in a world somehow also populated by dinosaurs. It's even complete with a super-sexy blonde cave girl played this time by PLAYBOY Playmate of the year Victoria Vetri.


The stop-motion was by Jim Danforth, assisted by David Allen. Danforth really comes into his own with this picture. The scene of the mama dinosaur bonding with Vetri after mistaking the cave girl for one of her hatchlings is extremely well done, funny and even touching. Danforth was again nominated for an Academy Award for his work.

The movie also has beautiful matte paintings and art direction. And the dinosaur models are some of the best to ever grace the screen, adding a lot to the believability of the creatures. The curvy cave women in their micro bikinis might have sold more tickets among typical young male moviegoers than the effects did, but for stop-motion fans, the dinosaurs animation was the most beautiful thing in the picture.

FLESH GORDON (1972), the X-rated send-up of Flash Gordon serials, had several stop-motion sequences by Danforth, David Allen, Dennis Muren, Doug Beswick, and others, the most amusing of which was the great god "Porno" who lumbered around muttering lines of wry dialogue. The film also contained a neat sword fight between Flesh and a stop-motion Beetleman.


LASERBLAST (1978) was a low-budget drive-in movie about a teenager who finds an alien weapon that turns him into a monster. It featured a few scenes with some interesting, sort of turtle-like aliens, nicely animated by David Allen.


In PLANET OF THE DINOSAURS (1978) a group of refugees from a disco crash on a planet exactly like Earth a few million years ago. It was another shoe-string budget production, but was very ambitious in the effects department and boasted some admirable stop-motion by Doug Beswick, James Aupperle and others. The dinosaur skins have a rather unique scaly pattern to them that looks pretty cool. In a nod to Harryhausen, a small version of the Rhedosaurus from THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS makes an appearance but is quickly chomped to death by a T-Rex.

THE DAY TIME ENDED (1980) seems to have been a pretty obscure movie until it came out on home video. It's another ultra low-budget film although it features some known stars like Jim Davis, Dorothy Malone and Chris Mitchum. But most interesting was the stop-motion by David Allen and future Academy Award winner Randy Cook.


CAVEMAN (1981) starring Ringo Starr was a pretty lame prehistoric comedy, but it had the benefit of some well-animated dinosaurs courtesy of an effects crew that included Jim Danforth, David Allen and Randy Cook. The creatures even gave some of the funniest performances in the movie.

Last but not least is Q, THE WINGED SERPENT (1982). In this quirky Larry Cohen movie, Michael Moriarty gives a great performance as a two-bit crook who stumbles upon the nest of the flying creature that is terrorizing New York. The story takes many twists and turns and has a certain cynicism typical of most movies of the '70s and early '80s, but in some ways it's a good old-fashioned monster movie.

The battle between the police and the serpent, actually filmed from the air outside the Chrysler Building, is incredible and adds a sense of reality you don't get in most movies today.

The creature was designed by Randy Cook and animated by Cook and David Allen.

With the computer-generated effects of today's movies, we'll probably never see traditional stop-motion creatures in a major production again. As good as digital effects can be, there's a distinct sense of loss for something that we found so fascinating to watch, knowing that it was the work of few talented individuals breathing life into inanimate models one frame at a time.

And as a bonus, here's a Bit of work by David Allen that's fondly remembered by stop-motion fans. It's the Volkswagen commercial from the '70s based on the original KING KONG.

Cover | Contents | Harryhausen | Filming 7th Voyage of Sinbad | Bama | The Cyclops
3-D Thrills | Dietz's Dungeon | Monster Scenes kits | Stop-Motion Mania | Reviews

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