Dare I say that this is the most famous giant-octopus movie ever made? It Came From Beneath the Sea is a vintage science-fiction thriller that sublimely makes use of legendary Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion mutants and manages to squeeze in a love story amongst the monster mayhem. The film loses some of its steam during the lengthy research segments, but it is a milestone in monster movie history and definitely worth a watch for those interested in a precursor to such films as the soon to be released Cloverfield.
Navy Captain Pete Mathews (Kenneth Tobey) is attacked during a routine submarine mission by an unknown creature that forces him to return home for investigation. Two of the world’s top scientists, Lesley Joyce (Faith Domergue) and John Carter (Donald Curtis) are brought in to examine a mass of the sea monster that was caught in the blades of the sub. After 13 days of research, it is decided that the Navy has a behemothic mutant radioactive cephalopod on their hands and after several sightings and attacks around the Pacific, Pete, Lesley and John split up to try and destroy the beast. As the military races to construct a torpedo that can penetrate the monster’s skin, it manages to crawl on land and wreak havoc on the Golden Gate Bridge and then wriggle its way through the Embarcadero.
A classic yet cheesy B-movie concoction, It Came From Beneath the Sea wastes no time cruising right into the action with Captain Mathews’ submarine being attacked by the troublesome monstrosity. But shortly after the foreboding introduction, a rather lengthy segment of time is spent watching the two lead scientists work long hours researching the hunk of skin that was recovered from the sub. It’s odd to see that in a low-budget science fiction film there’s enough time for pointless chatter and a steadily blossoming love story between Leslie and Pete. Romance somehow doesn’t mix well with the tentacled sea creature advances, and so the pacing of the film is conspicuously flawed, even though the film runs a mere 79 minutes.
Harryhausen’s gargantuan octopus is easily the best reason to watch this film, and it’s amazing that despite the classic 1955 release, the monster doesn’t lose any of its ferocity or terror because of the now all-but-extinct stop-motion animation technique that brought it to life. Several of the scenes in which the thick, slimy appendages of the beast crawl along the Golden Gate Bridge and capsize a fishing boat are almost identical to Davy Jones’ Kracken from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, which updates the pulsing suction cups with improved sound effects and more slime. But the thrills from the many interactions with humans and buildings aren’t any less intense than those witnessed in recent films that have more realistic special effects at their disposal. This proves that with talented filmmaking methods, even an archaic form of creature design can compete with modern technology when it isn’t coupled with intelligent suspense.
The dialogue at times is expectedly mediocre, and especially when Pete takes his time to woo the conveniently gorgeous female scientist, one might be prompted to roll their eyes. But the acting is still appropriate for the B-movie layout of the project, and serves as an important piece of monster movie history. The narrator who butts in occasionally to update the audience of the lapses in time approaches every event as if it was real and coaxes the viewer to assume that all of the outlandish episodes could have actually taken place. This angle is not unlike The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Blair Witch Project and now Cloverfield, which all attempt to add realism and tension to push the idea that what is happening onscreen is not far removed from truth.
– Mike Massie (www.MoviePulse.net)