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Posted on June 11, 2015

Rewatch: Environment and Race in The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms


As part of a series of posts on the relatively neglected horror films of the 1950s, I want to begin with The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, directed by Eugène Lourié, and released in 1953 by Warner Brothers Studios. It was the first of the “monster” films that have come to define the decade—before Godzilla, before Creature from the Black Lagoon. The monster is a rhedosaurus, long buried in the ice north of the Arctic Circle and released during a routine test of an atomic bomb. It then tracks a path down to its former home, now New York City, and wreaks havoc on lower Manhattan before being taken down by a radioactive isotope shot into its neck in the midst of its rampage through Coney Island Amusement Park.

Horror films from the 1950s in general, and Beast in particular, are accruing, I think, an increasing importance in the current moment because they so directly address environmental crisis. The atomic explosion that opens Beast causes sheets of ice to cascade into the ocean. The shots of catastrophic glacial melting reminded me of a documentary I just watched, Chasing Ice, released in 2012 and documenting the effects of climate change on the glaciers in Greenland, Iceland, and Alaska: like Beast, the centerpiece of Chasing Ice was glacial ice sliding into the ocean.

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