It’s 1984. I’m 13 years old, pushing 14. My father has left us, and as a way of adjusting to our new life, my mother has scraped together some of our remaining money and managed to buy our first VCR. We join the only video library in town.
From now until I leave home, aged 22, this and the late night Friday Creature Feature are going to be very warm security blankets around my burgeoning imagination. I will discover Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Dracula, the Reptile, the Swarm, 1950s black and white SF movies, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Them!….. I am going to discover my world.
Soon, real soon, after we watch our first video (and for those who must know everything, it was Fire and Ice), we find Jason and the Argonauts. Valley of the Gwangi follows. Sinbad. Clash of the Titans.
But it’s Jason and the Argonauts that sinks deepest.
The skeleton fight. It all comes back to the skeleton fight.
Jason and his crew race across open ground, fleece in hands. The pursuing forces stop. Their leader raises his hand, filled with teeth from the wyvern Jason has only moments ago killed. He dashes them to the ground. Where they land, skeletons rise, fully armed– I don’t question how they have swords and shields. 30 years later, watching it with my kids, I still don’t question. They close in open our heroes. A final, desperate battle is joined…
I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything more exciting in a film, ever. That moment, when the skeletons form up with a thump of feet, when they bend forward and step inexorably forward, blew my teenage head the fuck away! All the computer imaging in the world has never felt as real as that moment, when something 3D, impossible and undeniably real took place on the screen in front of me, and changed the way I thought about storytelling forever. You can see it in my school work, in the stories I began to tell in English assignments. I became, not just a storyteller, but a storymaker.
Ray Harryhausen died overnight. He’s been the inspiration for an entire generation of filmmakers, special effects creators, animators, and authors. I’m one of them.
Thank you, and goodbye.