Behemoth the Sea Monster (1959)
For many years Behemoth the Sea Monster (or The Giant Behemoth in the USA) was a tantalising mystery to me. It was rarely mentioned in the available reference works when I first became interested in horror and science fiction films - even when it did get a mention, next no details were given other than the fact that it was a UK set monster movie. Stills were non-existent (it was years before I located a book with a single still of the monster) and, unlike its contemporary British monster movie, Gorgo, it never turned up on TV. Yet it intrigued me, not least because of the involvement of King Kong's Willis O'Brien in creating the stop motion title monster. In recent years a US trailer and some clips of the monster rampaging through London have turned up on You Tube, but never the full movie. However, thanks to Talking Pictures TV - fast becoming the essential free-to-air resource for all lovers of low-budget and obscure British movies - I was finally able to see the complete film when it recently aired .
Unfortunately, Behemoth proved to be only an average monster movie, it's main interest lying in the fact that it represents the last time one of O'Brien's monsters would be seen on film (although most of the animation was done by his assistant). Indeed, bearing in mind the film's low budget and the even tinier amount of money O'Brien had to work with, Behemoth himself, (or herself, it's never made clear), is surprisingly smoothly animated and a lot of the model work isn't at all bad. Sadly, however, Behemoth is too generic a looking movie monster: a quadraped giant dinosaur with no distinguishing physical features (although he/she is 'electric' like an eel and highly radioactive). Consequently, it has no real character, like, say, Godzilla, or King Kong, with whom an audience can feel some degree of empathy. Moreover, the creature has no real motivation for its attacks, other than a vaguely explained desire to return to its ancient spawning grounds - where modern London now stands - to die. As a result, its rampage through London seems aimless and quite lacking in any tension - other than the Woolwich ferry and London Bridge, no historic landmarks are damaged or destroyed and no main characters imperiled.
Not that the audience would have cared much if any main characters had been threatened by Behemoth, as they all consist of middle-aged generic scientists. Even the usually excellent Andre Morrell, Professor Quatermass himself, can't make anything of his role. But the film does have its good points. In particular, the long build up to the creature's first appearance, with dead and radioactive fish being washed up by the thousand on the Cornish coast, with a local fisherman being fried to death by Behemoth's radioactivity are quite tense and well handled. (Although, frustratingly, another fisherman who assists the scientists in their initial investigation, along with his girlfriend, the deceased fisherman's daughter, seem to be being built up as protagonists the audience can identify with, before both abruptly vanishing when the action moves to London). The attack on the Woolwich ferry is also quite effectively staged.
The film's biggest problem is co-director Eugene Lourie's determination to turn Behemoth into a virtual remake of his previous US monster movie hit, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. Whole scenes feel like restagings of portions of the earlier film, but with less verve - even at the climax, with the earlier movie's radioactive bullet replaced by a radioactive torpedo for a less exciting and effective denouement. This second hand feel, along the generic feel of the monster, means that Lourie's second attempt to remake Beast in the UK, Gorgo, feels like a better film, despite having a, frankly, lousy man-in-a suit monster and less accomplished special effects. In Gorgo at least large parts of London are destroyed by the monster, which is given motivation for its attacks (it is trying to rescue its captured baby), although, like Behemoth, it lacks truly likeable lead characters, (other than a boy, who is imperiled by the monter's rampage). All of which (along with the fact that it was shot in colour) is why Gorgo has been ever-present on British TV since the sixties, whereas Behemoth has sunk into obscurity.
Labels: Forgotten Films