Friday, March 8, 2019

The Giant Behemoth

The Giant Behemoth (aka Behemoth, the Sea Monster)
Eugène Lourié

Dr. Steve Karnes (Gene Evens) explains to a gathering of scientists in London, that marine life is experiencing unknown and dangerous changes from atomic bomb radiation. He’s proven right when a fisherman in Cornwall is found badly burned and utters the word ‘Behemoth’ before dying. Soon enough something big and highly radioactive is heading towards the Thames to die and it is going to take a lot of people with it. Karnes needs to figure out a way to kill the Behemoth without bombs or else it could spread lethal radiation all over London.

The director, Eugène Lourié was also the writer of Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953). Behemoth is virtually a carbon copy right down to exact situations and characters. Lourié is also the director of the British giant monster film, Gorgo (1961) and you can see the parallels to that story as well. Lourié either really liked giant monsters or he really had a beef with London for some reason. The stop-motion animation is serviceable enough to not negatively impact the story, but it lacks Beast from 20,000 Fathom’s craftsmanship courtesy of Ray Harryhausen. Behemoth also runs a scant 71 minutes and saves most of its monster action for the end.

"Phew, is it hot in here or is it just my radiation ravaged body?"
The most surprising thing about The Giant Behemoth is that it is quite brutal by 1958 monster movie standards, dogs die, children die, old men slowly succumb to painful radiation burns, and wacky side characters find their helicopters exploding. Along with the expected property destruction, whole crowds of people are wiped out by radiation pulses. For all it’s cloning of Beast from 20,000 FathomsThe Giant Behemoth manages to up the ante in the graphic violence department. It lacks a really iconic scene like Beast’s cop getting chomped but it makes up for that by sheer volume.

The beginning and closing of The Giant Behemoth are more promising and interesting than the main action of the film. The opening is a monologue from Dr. Karnes about the uncontrollable effects of radiation on life. It’s plotted out in a step by step manner that leads us from the realistic to the fantastic and it is a chilling journey. The original concept of The Giant Behemoth was to be a massive radioactive blob, and you can see the seeds of that idea planted in this opening. (A British giant radioactive blob movie had already appeared in the form of X: The Unknown (1956) from Hammer Studios just a couple of years prior.) The Giant Behemoth also closes on an apocalyptic note that keeps it from going out with a whimper.

"Giant Behemoth" just seems redundant.
The Giant Behemoth isn’t a bad film, it is just one that looks much worse by cloning a great film. It retains a mean-spiritedness that is refreshing in the occasionally sanitized horror of the 1950s, but it remains a minor entry at best. It does have a few sparks of interest here and there but they are few and far between. If you really like giant monster movies, I think you will be find enough to enjoy it.

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