The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953)


“New York is like a city besieged.”

I couldn’t let a series of giant monster movies go by without discussing the great Ray Harryhausen.  Even today he is considered to be the master of stop-motion animation.  He studied under Willis O’Brian, who handled the special effects for “King Kong”, and began his career in earnest by handling the effects for “Mighty Joe Young” (1949).  Harryhausen went on to create such memorable creatures as the skeletons from “Jason and the Argonauts”, Ymir from “20 Million Miles to Earth”, and the Kraken from “Clash of the Titans” (1983).  He also created the title creature from “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms”.

The movie begins with a scientific expedition in the arctic.  A nuclear bomb is set off, and a group of scientists set off to study the radioactive fallout.  One of the scientists, Tom Nesbitt, stumbles across a large dinosaur-like creature released by the blast as he is checking his station.  He is injured in his escape, and his sighting is dismissed as a hallucination.  A meeting with paleontologist Thurgood Elson almost convinces Nesbitt that he imagined the creature, however, a series of sunken ships and sea monster sightings north of Canada gives him second thoughts.  After working with Elson’s assistant, Lee Hunter, Nesbitt proves to the paleontologist that the monster is a 100 million year old dinosaur called a “Rhedosaurus”.  Unfortunately, it is too late, as the Rhedosaurus appears off the coast of Maine and destroys a lighthouse.

Dr. Elson is killed while trying to observe the monster in a diving bell, and the creature makes landfall in New York City.  It goes on a rampage, destroying buildings and eating citizens.  The military attempts to kill the creature with conventional firearms, however, the monster’s blood is found to hold a prehistoric disease, removing the option of using heavy artillery.  Nesbitt devises a bullet filled with radioactive isotope will kill the monster.  A sharpshooter is enlisted just as the Rhedosaurus attacks Cony Island.  Nesbitt and the sharpshooter ride up the roller coaster and the shot is taken.  The bullet connects and the Rhedosaurus dies as the coaster collapses and burns around it.


“The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” was the first giant monster movie to feature a creature spawned in some way from radiation.  This would become a staple of the 50’s, with a parade of giant insects and other creatures mutated by radiation, not the least of which was a certain lizard from Japan.  The Rhedosaurus comes off as much more cold and impersonal than Kong.  While Kong had a variety of expressions and moods, this monster seems to be driven by little more than instinct, which would again be a staple of Godzilla.

While “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” can seem cliche’, it pioneered many of the staples of the giant monster genre, such as the scenes of fleeing civilians, the destruction of a major city, and the presence of radioactivity in the monster’s origin.


This movie was based on the Ray Bradbury short short story “The Fog Horn”.

The Rhedosaurus has a cameo appearance in “Planet of Dinosaurs” (1977).



~ by Chris on April 9, 2014.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: