20 Million Miles to Earth – Movie review and tribute


Part of the “Keep Watching the Skies” Blogathon from Cinematic Frontier – Click on logo at right to see more entries of 50’s sci-fi classics!


20 Million Miles to Earth

directed by Nathan H. Juranscience-fiction-movies-of-the-1950s-blogathon-04
produced by Charles Schneer
Special effects by Ray Harryhausen

William Hopper
Joan Taylor
Frank Puglia


A US rocket returning from Venus crashes near a fishing village in Italy. Before it sinks beneath the waters depths, a young boy finds a strange figure encased in a gelatinous egg. He trades it to a zoologist and the next day it hatches an amazing little creature. However, this is the 1950’s so rest assured it won’t be ‘little’ for long; it will grow to monstrous proportions. It’s a testament to the amazing work of Ray Harryhausen that the directors of his films are mostly forgotten, but his name and his work lives on. He created a unique creature for this film, part reptilian, part humanoid and part alien, taken from its natural habitat to fend for itself in a strange new world.

Stop-motion animation from Harryhausen (as well as Willis O’Brien) was not Claymation. They did not use clay. They used a metal armature with movable joints, like a skeleton. It was then covered with foam and latex rubber enabling it to hold detail and fixed markings while maintaining flexibility for lifelike movement. For mammals the artists would add hair. You couldn’t get such good detail and movement with clay. Some stop-motion animation involved clay, (Gumby) and others involved wooden puppets (Rankin Bass holiday specials). However, Ymir was made with the aforementioned20-million-miles-to-earth-pic-1 rubber layers and molds over skeletal design. Another big aspect to the magic of stop-motion monster films (one that it shares with Toho’s suitmation effects) is the building of miniature sets. You will see actors running down the street on location, then the monster chasing them on that same street. However, that same street is a miniature version in a studio for which the stop-motion filming can be conducted upon.

Ymir’s humanoid expressions manipulated by the talented and patient hands of Harryhausen, gave the creature empathy. We see shock, disappointment, anger, fear, desperation, all within the reactions of the beast; wide eyes, roars, hand and arm gestures, posture, all used to communicate without words. Because of this, most who see the film feel sad for Ymir’s demise, cringing at the sound of gun shots that bring him down. Ymir’s fight with a zoo elephant brought a special realism to the film and a sense of scale. Ray’s self-drawn storyboards choreographed a tense battle that intercut real elephant footage with his own recreation of the huge mammal.  This was perhaps the greatest creature battle since Kong fought the T. Rex some 25 years previous. Shadows of Ymir will show up in later Harryhausen 20-million-miles-to-earth-postercreatures, the body is similar to his Cyclops in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and his face is similar to the Kraken from Clash of the Titans. The wonderful long tail seems like a prerequisite for the snake-like Medusa. As with most 50s sci-fi/horror, there is a sub-plot following a budding romance concerning, Colonel Robert Calder, the only survivor from the space mission, and the zoologist’ s daughter, Marisa, played by the lovely Joan Taylor.

Charles Schneer was a good friend to Harryhausen and an advocate for his fine craft, working with him on nearly a dozen films. This was Ray’s fourth film depicting giant monsters rampaging through cities. The first was his work under his mentor, Willis O’Brien in Mighty Joe Young. Following that was Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, and It Came from Beneath the Sea. Ray and Charles Schneer would move into fantasy adventure films after this, depicting mythological figures in his Sinbad films and other tales of ancient lore.

To younger generations, stop-motion FX doesn’t seem so real. That was part of the charm for our generation. We knew there was an art involved with making these beasts come to life. These FX artists didn’t just copy motions and images from real animals and put it into the creature’s digital repertoire. They infused the model’s movements with their own personality and mannerisms. It’s like the difference between a digital photo of a human face and the Mona Lisa. The Mona Lisa isn’t perfect and that’s what makes her so. That’s what gives her soul and personality. You can sense Ray’s soul and personality through these films, the creator, the adventurer, the craftsman, and the boy with wide eyed wonder at endless possibilities.




They recently digitally colorized the film and it looks like they did a decent enough job. However, I still prefer to watch it in b&w, the way Ray made it.

Once again, be sure to check out the Keep Watching The Skies Blogathon for more 50’s movie classics!

Parlor of Horror’s ‘Creature Feature’ reviews


Model Kits – Aurora Prehistoric Scenes – Giant Bird

Aurora Giant Bird pic 2

Aurora Prehistoric Scenes

Giant Bird – Phorohacos

I bought this kit ‘new’ and complete in the box. It was originally released in the early 1970’s in the second wave of Aurora Prehistoric Scenes kits. It was never re-released so any that you may see on the market would be original Aurora product. This one cost me a bit more than others because of its new (unused) condition.

Aurora Giant Bird pic 4

The only problem in building, which I remember from when I was a kid, was getting the body top (back) in place. It never seemed to fit exactly right. This prompted me to use super glue to build the kit so that piece would dry in a minute and not ‘pop’ off or move to a crooked position while drying overnight.

Aurora Giant Bird pic 6

I always liked this kit because it was the same giant bird as in the Schneer/Harryhausen feature, Mysterious Island (1961). I built it as instructed with no modifications.

mysterious Island - giant bird

Be sure to check out all my other Aurora Prehistoric Scenes build-ups:

Allosaurus, Cro-magnon Man, Cro-Magnon WomanNeanderthal Man, Sabertooth Tiger,

aurora 1st wave ad


Creature Features revisited – the ’It’ Movies

it came from beneath the sea pic 3

Creature Features revisited

A look back at the golden age of sci-fi, the 1950‘s. Our subject today…

The ‘It’ Movies:

Itcamefromouterspace posterIt Came from Outer Space (1953)

Despite the fact that the creature doesn’t seem to be on the same level with special-fx for its time, this film is still a classic because of a good script and some good acting. ‘It’ is a one-eyed bulbous creature with many cottony flaps hanging from it like a jellyfish. It floats across the ground at its victims. Many times it floats toward the camera because this film was Universal’s first 3D movie. A spacecraft crashes in the Arizona desert. A young couple, Carlson and Ellen, see the crash from their cabin in an impressive scene. Convinced it is a meteorite, Carlson heads to the impact site and witnesses a craft of some kind before it is buried in the earth by a cave-in. Soon, several of the townspeople disappear. When they come back they are mindless automatons collecting various metal and electronic devices for unknown reasons. Sherriff Warren becomes suspicious and forms a posse to hunt down the intruders. Carlson descends into an abandoned mine where he makes contact with the beings. They communicate to him that they have crash landed by accident and will leave as soon as they collect enough items to rebuild the damaged ship. However, the posse has killed two aliens and it is not known how the creatures will retaliate. The film was based on a short story by Ray Bradbury called ‘The Meteor.’ It was directed by Jack Arnold (Creature From the Black Lagoon) and stars, Richard Carlson (Creature from the…) and Barbara Rush (When Worlds Collide). There are a couple of scenes where you can see the wires, especially in HD, but it still holds up as a good 50’s sci-fi/horror classic.

it-came-from-beneath-the sea posterIt Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)

This is a joint venture between Sam Katzman and Charles Schneer. It features the stop motion effects of the late, great Ray Harryhausen. Hydrogen bomb testing in the Pacific Ocean drives the Giant Octopus out of its natural habitat. As radioactivity drives away its food supplies the beast finds nutrition from other sources. Getting the taste for humans early in the film when it attacks a shipping vessel, it then heads to the populous areas on the US west coast. It attacks San Francisco in a dramatic scene on The Golden Gate Bridge. There is the classic 1950’s love triangle mingled into this film between Navy Officer, Pete Mathews, Professor Carter and marine biologist, Leslie Joyce but it is somewhat underdeveloped. In the end the two men have to work together to detonate a hand delivered torpedo deep within the brain of the Giant Octopus in a tense underwater scenario. Stars Kenneth Tobey (The Thing from Another World), Donald Curtis (Earth vs. The Flying Saucers) and Faith Doumergue (This Island Earth). The dvd features wonderful special features which include Harryhausen talking about budget restraints making it only possible for him to animate six tentacles on the beast, instead of eight. He also talks about the San Francisco mayor’s reluctance to have the Golden Gate Bridge seen in the film being destroyed. This forced the film to scrap several shots that were to be taken on the bridge itself.

It-The-Terror-from-Beyond-Space-posterIt, The Terror from Beyond Space (1958)

I love that this film starts with a narrator telling us it is the future, 1973, and man has landed on Mars. A spaceship is sent to rescue a previous mission that has gone bad. They find one survivor, Col. Carruthers, and inform him that he is suspected of murdering the rest of his crew. He insists that it wasn’t him; that it was some alien life form, but the crew argue that no life has been found on the planet. He is confined to his cabin for the four month journey home but the crew soon realize they have made a mistake. The humanoid creature enters the ship before take off.  Now it hunts and kills the crew members one at a time as it makes its way though each locked level of the ship. It seems indestructible until a dangerous and sketchy plan to destroy it is devised. There are only a few crewmembers left and at their last level, with no where else to run. The similarities to the plot of Riddley Scott’s Alien are notable. The scaly reptilian creature design was very good. There are some fantastic set designs and the director’s use of shadow and light creates much of the tension and suspense. You are rooting for the crew members to defeat this ugly creature but ‘It’ keeps coming like an unstoppable terror. Directed by Edward L. Cahn, who also did She-Creature, which wasn’t quite as good.


Past Creature Feature Posts:

There Be Giants! 

Giant Robots

Giant Bugs!