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In 1951, the Saturday Evening Post published a short story entitled THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, written by the brilliant Ray Bradbury. Sometime earlier, observing the ruins of an LA-area roller-coaster, the writer was impressed by its resemblance to a dinosaur and was inspired to write a dinosaur story. It centers around a sea serpent which emerges from the ocean around a lighthouse, attracted by the eerily vibrating sound of its fog horn. Meanwhile, a film with the working title MONSTER FROM BENEATH THE SEA was in production. Hoping to cash-in on Bradbury’s reputation, the producers bought the rights to his story: Bradbury changed the title of his piece to THE FOG HORN, while the film was retitled THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS

Almost anyone who grew up during the Cold War tensions and contentions of the 50s and 60s (like me), experienced a host of doomsday science fiction films in which nature (regardless of being extant or extinct) is turned against human civilization. Fun-loving creatures which included giant ants, giant crabs, giant spiders and, naturally, giant dinosaurs all had their Saturday matinee moment of fame and infamy before being zapped in the final reel.

The film THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953) revolves around the lone survivor of and witness to the violent resurrection of a buried-in-the-ice dinosaur (affectionately known as “Beast”), thawed-out during an atomic test in the North Pole. Left in a state of shock, he’s flown in a whirl of cinematic dissolves to a NYC hospital (of all places) where he continues to shock everyone with his adventurous but incredible story. Meanwhile (and coincidentally), Manhattan just happens to be “hot” on the Beast’s itinerary and while the scientist tries to convince everyone that an angry dinosaur is on the loose, he’s cruising down the waters leading into New York.

He ultimately convinces a renowned and beloved paleontologist that the Beast truly exists, who’s even more convinced, later during an investigation, when he and his bathysphere are devoured after sighting the Beast deep below the sea. The Beast finally arrives in New York at the Fulton Fish Market (certainly their biggest catch of the millenium) and, not one to stand on formality, begins to destroy everyone and everything in sight.

Of course, by this time, most people (even New Yorkers) believe that something unusual is occurring, as the Beast rampages his way up Wall Street, treats himself to a policeman, topples a building or two here, crashes through the wall of another building there, and ends up in Coney Island (at least, a Hollywood version of it), featuring a cardboard roller-coaster where the Beast becomes holed-up for his last stand.

It’s determined that the atomic blast which resurrected the Beast is also leading to its re-interment: he’s dying as a result of radiation poisoning that is also affecting everyone that comes near him. A quickly-found radioactive isotope is quickly shot into the Beast which accelerates his “afterlife” (?!?) and he dies in a blaze of Ray Harryhausen-styled, stop-motion pathos.

As with most films of this genre, THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS does as follows: teach a harsh lesson that conventional weapons are ineffective against gigantically unconventional invaders; provide a venue for weak acting and a tired script, outweighed (in this case) by great special effects; have a deus ex machina-like weapon (or gimmick) that saves the day amidst the rubble; and lastly and charmingly allow a pair of B actors to find romance. Having said that, I LOVED IT…in both my past and present forms, as kid and old goat.

Ray Bradbury’s THE FOG HORN is a minor masterpiece of subliminal and metaphorical depth. (The story seems to pose the question, “If energy is endless and transcends our temporal moments in time and space, could life itself follow this transcendentalism?”) Whereas the THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS is pseudo-science fiction designed for entertainment, THE FOG HORN is pure science fiction designed for the intellect. Gone are the like of the North Pole, romantic interludes, New York City, stop-motion photography, radioactive isotopes and cardboard roller-coasters, etc.. These are replaced by a solitary lighthouse and a lighthouse keeper who had seen the serpent (as the dinosaur is termed here) the year before. He calculates when the serpent will return and invites a friend to witness its reappearance.

The serpent believes he hears a creature like itself in the sound of the fog horn. A love call, in fact, calling to him through the eons of time and place. He’s attracted to it three times: first, out of curiosity; then, out of love; finally, out of hate when the horn is turned off and, believing that he’s been rejected, destroys the lighthouse . The story is beautifully-written, with several underlying meanings that have virtually nothing (as far as I can see) to do with with the film it inspired. In much the same way the Ray Bradbury association happily launched the film, the film helped to make this little story deservedly famous and renowned for many of us amidst the celluloid afternoons of B movies calling to Baby Boomers everywhere: to read the fine print between and beyond the giant and lovable images.


  1. B-Mental's Avatar
    I rememeber staying up very late at night to watch this Beast from 20,000 fathoms. We waited and just before the movie began the Minneapolis station went off the air. It had been retransmitting a signal from Chicago or somewhere. That was back in the days when there were only 3 or 4 television stations to choose from. Anyways, I still have yet to see this classic of the giant. I've read a lot of Bradbury, but never came accross 'The Fog Horn'.