The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms is a film that’s flown under the radar since just this side of about forever. Recently though it was brought to my attention. I was so interested that I got my hands on a copy post-haste and watched it. I really glad I did as it’s a fantastic movie. I’ve been a fan of Ray Harryhausen for a long while, so my opinion here is kind of biased. Directed Eugene Lourie, based on the short story by Ray Bradbury, and released in 1953 a year before Godzilla, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms holds the distinction of being the first creature being freed/created by a nuclear explosion.
Physicist Thomas Nesbitt (Paul Christian) heads a test of a nuclear bomb in the Arctic Circle. After the bomb successfully detonates Nesbitt witnesses the beast roaming nearby, as he succumbs to the cold. After being rescued Nesbitt is sent back to New York, where he’s thought crazy. He takes his story to paleontologist Dr. Thurgood Elson (Cecil Kellaway) and his beautiful assistant Lee Hunter (Paula Raymond) with his story. Elson is skeptical while Hunter is sympathetic, So Hunter and Nesbitt join forces hunting down proof of the monster though finding a survivor a ship destroyed by the beast. Elson convinces the military of the creatures existence but dies at the beasts hands shortly after while in a diving bell. The beast eventually reaches Manhattan and causes massive damage leading up to the fiery conclusion.
I love stop motion animation and this film is full of it. Over the course of the film, we get to see some great work with everything from the destruction of the lighthouse by the beast on being fantastic. Which was the basis for the short story the film is based on The Fog Horn. Harryhousen’s first solo project and in my opinion on of his best. If you like stop motion and monster on the loose films you just might love this one.
The acting on the other hand, I couldnt really get into. Something about Nesbitt got under my skin and I just didn’t like his character. Elson isn’t better, changing his mind with very little evidence after his first meeting with Nesbitt. But Hunter did stand out and I found her character very entertaining. All three actors Christain, Kellaway and Raymond do good jobs, so my dislike of the characters has nothing to do with their performance.
The dread works great as you know going into the film that the beast wrecks Manhattan, so the whole film you are just waiting for it come. It does take it a while for the beast to get there, but once it does it’s a great ride. So in that regard that is a strong element of suspense as well.
Final thoughts, a would easily consider this a classic and a must see for fans of the Kaiju sub genre. The film still holds up very well in my opinion. I can think of a number of much more recent films that have aged far less gracefully. My only real gripe was the musical score was somewhat lacking with no moment standing out, so The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms gets a respectable 8/10.