Two looks at Medusa

I'm delighted that the Edinburgh Filmhouse is running a season this and next month celebrating the work of the great special effects artist Ray Harryhausen, who died earlier this year.

Jason and the Argonauts, Clash of the Titans, Sinbad and others will be showing from 13 July to 11 August.

Harryhausen's powerful stop-motion animation sequences did much to spark my life-long fascination with the imaginative worlds of ancient Greece and Arabia. I looked at some of them again the other day and was struck by just how effective they remain, even when compared with the fantasy sequences of contemporary movies, created with infinitely more sophisticated resources than Harryhausen had at his disposal.

Compare, for example, Harryhausen's Medusa scene from the 1981 Clash of the Titans with that of the 2010 remake:

Medusa, Clash of the Titans, 1981
Medusa, Clash of the Titans, 2010

The former is a scary slow-burner, capturing something of the terror evoked by Greek myth. It's still one of my favourite movie sequences. The latter is a straightforward chase scene, about as disturbing as a trip to the laundry.

All of Harryhausen's best animations have that same quality of eerieness. The extraordinary skeleton fight in Jason of the Argonauts is rightly celebrated, but I always remember, whenever I'm passing a large statue in a quiet park, the scene in that movie when Talos, the guardian of Crete, is stirred into life:

The awakening of Talos, Jason and the Argonauts, 1963

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