Let’s continue our three-part look at classic sci-fi and fantasy films that prominently feature stop-motion animation.
We’re listing films from the Ray Harryhausen era (roughly 1950-1980) but excluding films from Ray Harryhausen himself.
In the first installment, we listed films through the 1950s (nine films).
In this installment, let’s list films to the end of the 1960s.
If you can handle some condescending scripting wherein all herbivore dinosaurs are automatically friendly and all carnivores are automatically evil, and if you can handle a little native boy who speaks broken English, then you can enjoy some good (if never great) fights between an apatosaurus and tyrannosaurus.
It’s the same director as The Blob. Stop-motion effects are about half the film’s appeal, with the other half being a resurrected caveman encountering the modern world for the first time.
One of the stop-motion co-creators, Wah Chang, started as a Disney animator in 1940 and later designed the dinosaurs for the Land of the Lost TV series.
GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON (1960)
Here’s another one that I don’t recommend but I include for completeness.
It’s historically interesting for being a very rare (maybe the only?) Italian peplum film that uses stop-motion rather than puppets or rubber costumes for monsters.
The dragon is actually a puppet in some scenes but stop-motion most of the time. Either way, it looks mostly like a toy. The hero, Goliath, is played by the very likeable bodybuilder Mark Forest.
JACK THE GIANT KILLER (1962)
Here’s another non-Harryhausen film directly inspired by a Harryhausen film. In this case, the inspiration was the incredible 7th Voyage of Sinbad. The same guys – Kerwin Mathews and Torin Thatcher – play the hero and the villain.
But, alas, there are no Harryhausen-animated cyclopses or skeletons here. Not only do Jack the Giant Killer’s animated serpent and dragon move jerkily, they don’t even look good as models. It’s too bad, really, because the entire rest of the movie is exciting.
Many accomplished animators were involved (including Wah Chang and Jim Danforth) but perhaps too many cooks spoiled the broth.
JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET (1962)
For about one minute starting around 35:00, a stop-motion dinosaur with one eye livens up this dreary space fantasy produced in Denmark. It looks like Barney (you know, from the toddler TV show), but at least it has some energy.
John Agar, who once made John Ford movies like Fort Apache, is the hero. The animators are Wah Chang and Jim Danforth once again, but I suspect both were pleased to go uncredited.
7 FACES OF DR. LAO (1964)
Tony Randall, before playing Felix on The Odd Couple TV show, played the cheerfully enigmatic Confucian magician Dr. Lao in this underrated George Pal production.
Lao assumes different forms to impart different lessons to the various people he meets in an Old West town. It’s probably Pal’s most imaginative film.
Randall, with some weird makeup, gets combined with stop-motion beast features when he takes different forms. At one point he conjures a fierce medusa that anticipates Harryhausen’s Medusa from Clash of the Titans.
Wah Chang and Jim Danforth, with several helpers, did the animation and effects.
MAD MONSTER PARTY? (1967)
Unlike all other movies on our list, Mad Monster Party? is stop-motion start to finish. It’s a quirky and sometimes twisted parody of classic monster films, with a stop-motion Dracula, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and more, even an Invisible Man and a Blob.
It’s an early Rankin/Bass production before the duo made Frosty the Snowman, The Hobbit, The Last Unicorn, Thundercats, and everything else.
It looks like it’s for kids, but only adults (especially adult monster movie fans) will get the references. Boris Karloff plays “Boris von Frankenstein.”
The top credited animator is Tadahito Mochinaga who also co-created Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer from the 1964 TV special.
THE EQUINOX (1967/1970)
Producer Jack H. Harris (most famous for The Blob and still alive, as I write in summer 2015, at age 96) refashioned this one in 1970, but the raw student-made 1967 version is better.
Actually both versions are good, since they both feature three amazing stop-motion sequences where the young protagonists encounter monsters from another dimension: a tentacle beast, a gorilla beast, and a red devil.
The whole film is tense, but the extended stop-motion sequences are the main draw.
Jim Danforth, the veteran animator of the group, had worked on 7 Faces of Dr. Lao. He worked with co-animator Dave (“David W.”) Allen on Flesh Gordon a few years later. Dennis Muren, the co-director, later worked on Star Wars and E.T.