The Good Old Days

Handmade Monsters and Movies Before Computers



THESE DAYS, when entire films are shot in front of green screens and motion-capture suits are the new black, it's hard to differentiate between what's real and what isn't in Hollywood. For example: Sam Worthington doesn't actually exist.

It's been a long road to a world where krakens can be released and men can lust over blue cat-ladies, and the architects of this road are the focus of Handmade Monsters: The Masters of Practical Effects, a four-film, 35mm series at the Hollywood Theatre celebrating cinema's greatest effects wizards.

First up, there's the mother of all monkey movies, 1933's King Kong (screening Fri July 5-Sun July 7), courtesy of the originator of American special effects, Willis O'Brien. O'Brien's iconic stop-motion work on Kong single-handedly created the giant-monster genre. 

Ishirô Honda is certainly indebted to O'Brien; his 1962 film King Kong vs. Godzilla (Sat July 13) came from O'Brien's failed concept of pitting his massive monkey against some kind of killer-animal-Frankenstein. Honda subbed in his own reptile deity, and Tokyo crumbled.

No tribute to special effects would be complete without a nod to Rick Baker, and no film better showcases his skills than John Landis' 1981 flick An American Werewolf in London (Fri July 19-Mon July 22), which, 32 years down the road, still boasts the greatest, goriest, and most horrifying man-wolf transformation ever.

But the series' real highlight is a tribute to Ray Harryhausen, the Grand Poobah of special effects. Harryhausen's work on 1958's The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (Fri July 12-Sun July 14) showcases not only his technical skills, but also the boundless imagination that inspired 1,000 careers—including those of James Cameron, George Lucas, and Tim Burton.

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