The middle film of director Eugene Lourie’s unofficial giant monster trilogy, The Giant Behemoth is the cheapest of his films in this genre, and hit as the 50s creature faze began to die off. It’s a shame too. After singlehandedly starting it in 1953 with the classic Beast From 20,000 Fathoms he should never have been stuck with such a small film. While he would redeem himself with Gorgo a few years later, it’s still hard to swallow Behemoth.
A lot of Behemoth’s criticism is how familiar this film is. While it does have some things in common with Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, they’re on entirely different levels of entertainment. Lourie wanted the title monster to be invisible, but the studio wouldn’t allow it. Stuck with designing the monster and animating it via stop motion, the budget was sapped.
What the audience is left with is a 90-minute monster movie in which the monster is on-screen for 15 minutes. Within the opening moments, star Gene Evans gives us the basic information on what spawns the beast through the script. The rest of the movie hits the cliché rut of explaining everything while various attacks happen off-screen. There’s far too much banter between scientists as they try to decipher clues the audience could have easily put together themselves.
The first real appearance of the Behemoth is not the proper entrance. A stiff, immobile, and completely unconvincing puppet begins dismantling a small boat (an obvious miniature). It’s hardly a terrifying moment, and on an interesting side note, was cut from the Warner Bros. VHS release.
The other appearances of the beast are handled via stop motion animation. Willis O’Brien, the man who gave life to King Kong in the early 1930s, is credited. Reports have indicated failing health forced his role to be more passive as this was his final stop motion piece. That, along with a meager budget, means the animation is quicker and cheaper than usual.
Numerous shots are repeated, including one of the monsters foot crushing a car. As the creature moves inland, numerous shots focus on its head while a repetitive background attempts to show motion. Adding to the cheapness is the Behemoth’s “power,” the ability to shoot radioactive waves of some kind that burn anyone close by. This leads to some graphic deaths, especially for 1959, as numerous charred remains stay on screen. However, the “beams” look pasted onto the film at the last minute.
That’s not to say there’s nothing of merit. The long-necked critter does have a few shining moments. Its attack on an electrical line is spectacular. It’s the only time Behemoth feels like a monster flick. Meager destruction, sloppy editing, and blatantly obvious repeating cycles mar any other successful moments.
For fans of this quirky genre, Behemoth is an oddity worth tracking down, mostly because of the names attached to it. Beast From 20,000 Fathoms fans will enjoy the brief stop motion, and Gorgo followers get to see a semi-dry run for that classic. Anyone else would be unlikely to make it long enough to see the mildly enjoyable payoff at the end.