The Great Sea Serpent

Worth adding to the Giant Monster List is James Williamson’s The Great Sea Serpent (UK-1904). Information on this very early silent short is hard to find, but the Silent Era website offers the following synopsis, suggesting that the sea serpent in question is actually a fake — something small unknowingly seen close-up.

Synopsis: [From a W. Butcher & Sons catalog of Williamson films]: Mr. MacDoodle, in true nautical attire, goes for a trip on a steamer and is “had” by his friends with the aid of a centipede and his telescope, when the harmless insect becomes a monster of the deep.

The status of this film is listed as “unknown”.

The Internet Movie Database lists a second Williamson film called The Real Sea Serpents (1905). However, the only other listings of this film that I can find source the IMDB, so perhaps it represents an entry error. More research is required!

Meanwhile you can read the British Film Institute’s biography of Wiilliamson here, though it doesn’t mention either of the above films.

A False Monster

There’s a story by Edgar Allen Poe (“The Sphinx”) that uses a similar idea as that suggested by the synopsis of The Great Sea Serpent above. In this story the narrator, sitting by an open window, spies a gigantic monster scaling a distant cliff:

Uplifting my eyes from the page, they fell upon the naked face of the hill, and upon an object — upon some living monster of hideous conformation, which very rapidly made its way from the summit to the bottom, disappearing finally in the dense forest below.

The huge monster is described thus:

Estimating the size of the creature by comparison with the diameter of the large trees near which it passed — the few giants of the forest which had escaped the fury of the land-slide — I concluded it to be far larger than any ship of the line in existence. I say ship of the line, because the shape of the monster suggested the idea — the hull of one of our seventy-four might convey a very tolerable conception of the general outline. The mouth of the animal was situated at the extremity of a proboscis some sixty or seventy feet in length, and about as thick as the body of an ordinary elephant. Near the root of this trunk was an immense quantity of black shaggy hair — more than could have been supplied by the coats of a score of buffaloes; and projecting from this hair downwardly and laterally, sprang two gleaming tusks not unlike those of the wild boar, but of infinitely greater dimensions. Extending forward, parallel with the proboscis, and on each side of it, was a gigantic staff, thirty or forty feet in length, formed seemingly of pure crystal and in shape a perfect prism, — it reflected in the most gorgeous manner the rays of the declining sun. The trunk was fashioned like a wedge with the apex to the earth. From it there were outspread two pairs of wings — each wing nearly one hundred yards in length — one pair being placed above the other, and all thickly covered with metal scales; each scale apparently some ten or twelve feet in diameter. I observed that the upper and lower tiers of wings were connected by a strong chain. But the chief peculiarity of this horrible thing was the representation of a Death’s Head, which covered nearly the whole surface of its breast, and which was as accurately traced in glaring white, upon the dark ground of the body, as if it had been there carefully designed by an artist. While I regarded the terrific animal, and more especially the appearance on its breast, with a feeling of horror and awe — with a sentiment of forthcoming evil, which I found it impossible to quell by any effort of the reason, I perceived the huge jaws at the extremity of the proboscis suddenly expand themselves, and from them there proceeded a sound so loud and so expressive of woe, that it struck upon my nerves like a knell and as the monster disappeared at the foot of the hill, I fell at once, fainting, to the floor.

An excellent giant monster indeed! But it turns out to be a Death’s Head moth on a spider’s web a fraction of an inch from his eye, mistakenly perceived as monstrous through a trick of optical distortion. Ironically, of course, the technique is used in giant monster films as an alternative to stop-motion photography and CGI when ordinary reptiles, spiders and insects are made to appear gigantic through optical trickery — problems of perspective and focus notwithstanding!

You can read the full story here.

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