Friday, June 21, 2013

It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) Review

It Came from Beneath the Sea poster
Director: Robert Gordon
Stars: Kenneth Tobey, Faith Domergue, Ian Keith
Genre: Giant Monster, Science Fiction, Horror

After the success the Giant Monster genre had with films like The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Them!, and of course Godzilla overseas, Hollywood was interested in capitalizing on the success. It Came from Beneath the Sea was one such attempt. 

The plot follows the formula of the previous films in the genre: giant sea monster (in this case an octopus) is unleashed due to nuclear testing after lying dormant for a very long period of time and then terrorizes various people while a combination of scientists and military try and work out a way to stop it. You know how it goes. 

The screenplay was co-written by George Worthing Yates, whom is somewhat of a king when it comes to 50s sci-fi scripts. Yates crafted the stories of films such as Them!, Conquest of Space, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, The Amazing Colossal Man, War of the Colossal Beast, Attack of the Puppet People, Earth vs. the Spider, Frankenstein 1970, Space Master X-7, Tormented, and King Kong vs. Godzilla; to only name a few. So, anyone who is a fan of low-budget 50s/early 60s sci-fi should no doubt run into much of his filmography at some point or another. That's not to say he's a great screenwriter who crafts deep stories; no, after all these sort of movies never were known to have rich plots. But his contribution to the genre and time period should be noted and appreciated, no matter how bad of a writer he was. 

It was directed by Robert Gordon, whom you probably never heard of, and neither have I. This was really his only effort that remains remembered today (and I use the word remembered loosely). I think it's safe to say he wasn't exactly a talented director (either that or he had an extremely incompetent editor). This film feels so stitched together. The cuts and transitions never feel smooth and along with poor continuity the entire film feels very unnatural, and it constantly reminds you that your watching a movie. It's perhaps the worst continuity I've ever witnessed in a film. 

Faith Domergue in It Came from Beneath the Sea

The acting is very poor as well, which only adds to the films unnatural and artificial feel. Super stud Kenneth Tobey and the alluring Faith Domergue (whom you may recognize from This Island Earth) definitely disappointed me here. Most of the time the actors seem very wooden and uninterested. 

The main appeal of this film is easily the special effects done by the masterful Ray Harryhausen. This was his first film after the wonderful Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. His work here is just as good if not better, unfortunately the film itself isn't. This is still fairly early in Harryhausen's career, so I wouldn't say that he had quite mastered his craft yet, but exceptional work nonetheless. Unfortunately we don't get to see it very often in the film. There's only a view brief scenes where we get to see his work, and they are by far the only scenes worth seeing. The giant octopus sinking a ship or attacking the Golden Gate bridge are perhaps the film's only highlights. I understand the film was on a very limited budget (in fact, due to the low budget it would have cost too much to animate all 8 of the octopus' arms, so they instead opted to give it only 6, which led Harryhausen to nickname it "sixtopus") but it would have been nice to see more of the monster and the special effects, being as the rest of the film is fairly slow and boring. 

It Came from Beneath the Sea Octopus sinks ship

And while the special effects themselves are very well done, I felt they weren't implemented very well. This is of course not entirely the fault of Harryhausen but more the fault of the director. Gordon never brings everything together good enough. The effects are good but they never blend naturally with everything else. Instead of having the effects act as a natural extension of the film's other scenes they feel as if they're completely on their own, separate from the rest of the film. A decent director is able to take what is good (in this case the effects) and implement well to make it even better, and to take that which is bad (in this case the acting) and do his best to disguise it and make it work better. Unfortunately Robert Gordon failed to do that. 

It Came from Beneath the Sea Octopus attacks clock tower

It's a film that truly represents its era--one of low budgets and shameless rip-offs. It's only worth watching for fans of science fiction from the 1950s or those who are interested in Ray Harryhausen's work. Otherwise I'd steer clear of this one. Poor direction, underused effects, a dull story, and a forgettable monster. 

2/5 stars

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