Throwback Thursday: A Gorgon and a Kraken Walk Into a Bar . . . and Have a Clash of the Titans

Throwback Thursday examines films from the past, “classic” films that might not be in the current cultural zeitgeist but can still be important, interesting, fun, or all of the above.

Reasons why Perseus—the hero from Greek mythology—is a dick, according to 1981’s Clash of the Titans:

  1. He expects everyone to believe that he’s heir to the throne even though he has no proof.
  2. He creeps up on a sleeping woman that he’s never met.
  3. He goes to her old boyfriend’s house, and cuts off his hand.
  4. He doesn’t care for the gifts he’s given, and constantly misplaces/destroys them.
  5. He takes a rare creature, and keeps it in captivity, expecting it to do what he says.
  6. He taunts three blind women.
  7. He leaves his girlfriend in the desert with a creepy old man.
  8. He goes to a woman’s house, kills her dog, kills her, and then cuts off her head.
  9. He finally gets around to killing his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend.
  10. He hunts and kills a rare creature that is now probably extinct.
  11. He doesn’t write a letter to his mother telling her where he is.
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Calibos always lets his mother know what he’s doing

In all seriousness, Clash of the Titans is a fantasy sword-and-sorcery epic starring Harry Hamlin as the titular Perseus who goes on a quest to win the hand (and life) of the lovely Princess Andromeda. If this were a routine fantasy film, it probably would have been relegated to the cinema dung heap. But there are a number of things that make this film stand out.

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Clash of the Titans theatrical poster

The best thing this film has going for it—including the giant Kraken—is Ray Harryhausen, the master of stop-motion animation special effects. Clash of the Titans marked his last full length film. By 1981, he definitely knew what he was doing: he integrated his effects seamlessly into the film, bringing a menagerie of characters to life. These included the Kraken, Medusa, some giant scorpions, a two-headed wolf, and even a mechanical owl.

What made Harryhausen so unique and gifted is the fluidity with which he breathed life into his characters. If you watch the scenes of Perseus confronting Calibos (the evil ex-boyfriend), for example, you get drawn in just watching his tail move back and forth. It’s hypnotic. The same can be said for Medusa and her hair. His creatures’ natural movements give them their own personalities, whether they have dialogue or not. PS If you like Clash of the Titans, be sure to check out the Sinbad films: The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974), and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977), or Jason and the Argonauts (1963), The Valley of Gwangi (1969), or really any of his films. The scripts, dialogue, and acting might not always hold up to modern aesthetics, but gosh darn it, his stop motion work definitely does.

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Perseus fighting giant scorpions

Besides the stop-motion work, Clash also features some great actors. With Harry Hamlin in the lead, we see some fun moments with Burgess Meredith as a poet who helps out Perseus. Laurence Olivier winks at the camera the entire time he plays Zeus. And did you know that Maggie Smith plays the Goddess Thetis? Even in 1981 she could play snarky with the best of them. Ursula Andress is Aphrodite and—while not given a lot of lines—(okay, she has one: “Zeus transformed himself into a glittering shower of gold, and visited her, visited her, and loved her”) she delivers it with poignancy. Okay, not really, but the delivery will stick in your brain. Neil McCarthy chews up the scenery as Calibos for all of the close-ups when he’s not a stop-motion character. Also, one of my personal favorite character actors, Pat Roach, shows up as Hephaestus. You might recognize Roach as the guy Indiana Jones killed repeatedly in the first three Indy films.

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Perseus doesn’t remember a mechanical owl from the original myth (oh well: he’s cute)

All this—and a plot that propels Perseus through the standard hero journey—make this film a winner in my book. Please note: all fidelity to Greek mythology should be checked at the door. The film is rated PG, but be warned that there are a couple of butt and breast shots, the modus operandi of PG films from the 80s until the advent of PG-13. Still, the dramatic license is all in good fun. And if the film gets you into searching the original stories, even better. You can definitely skip the 2010 remake: it doesn’t have nearly as much heart as the original.

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Laurence Olivier and his lasers approve

This film can be found on both Blu-ray and DVD. It is currently available via Netflix, but streaming offerings change frequently, so keep an eye out. Feel free to discuss further in the comments below; just keep it respectful.

If you think there’s a film Throwback Thursday should cover in the future, please let me know in the comments.

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