Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Dino Horrors - The Valley of Gwangi

With the imminent release of the gleefully stupid dinosaur porn-fest known as Jurassic World I decided to dive into the weirder, more obscure selections of the sci fi sub-genre known as "Dinosaurs Run Amok". I'm calling these posts Dino Horrors (which should be sung like the chorus from the early 90s cartoon Dinosaucers).

On this first installment I would like to spotlight the Ray Harryhausen classic and Jurassic Park predecessor, The Valley of Gwangi; an old fashion movie with a crazy concept.

The Valley of Gwangi

The Valley of Gwangi owes a lot to King Kong; taking Kong's basic plot and turning it into a bizarre genre mashup. The easiest way to describe The Valley of Gwangi is "cowboys battle dinosaurs".

At the turn of the century (in Mexico), a traveling cowboy circus settles in a small town to perform their fake cowboys & Indians shtick along with their crazy horse stunts. Of course the owners of the circus are always looking for the next big draw. So when one of them hears about an ancient, cursed valley close to town they immediately set out to explore. To be fair, the group is actually looking for a once thought extinct, three toed pygmy ancestor of the modern horse. One of these tiny guys was found earlier in the film. What the cowboy-convoy actually find are child stealing Pterodactyls, an ornery Styracosaurus and the large-&-in-charge Gwangi (an Allosaurus with a bad attitude).

The two highlights of the film are the cowboys trying to lasso Gwangi into submission with bad results, and the finale where Gwangi is paraded around the center of a bull fighting ring trapped inside a cage (a'la Kong). Cut to his inevitable people eating rampage which ends with a gothic touch when our hero traps Gwangi inside a huge, old Catholic church.

Ray Harryhausen's DYNAMATION is fantastic, even on an obviously smaller budget than his sword and sandal epics. What's really impressive are the interactions between the stop motion creatures and the real actors. Cowboys ride around and lasso Gwangi in beautifully composed wide shots. Crazed men run up and stab dinosaurs before being eaten. It's pretty awesome stuff.

The film's main theme is the exploitation of these ancient creatures for the entertainment of modern audiences. That makes The Valley of Gwangi a perfect lead up to Jurassic Park. It may take the plot of King Kong, but the film foreshadows Michael Crichton's longest running idea; man's control of nature will eventually bite him in the ass.

The movie was made in 1969, but the style and pace are closer to a 50s B movie. Stick with the long set up and stilted acting because the payoff is BIG.

The End

Dino Horror logo by Christine Larsen

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