Director's cut / Ray Harryhausen was never the same again after he saw King Kong

Fantasy films have always attracted me the most. I remember seeing things like Metropolis and The Lost World at a very early age, back in the silent days, because my parents were avid cinema-goers. It was the imagination that goes into fantasy films that really drew me to cinema in the first place. And then, in 1933, when I was 13, I saw King Kong. And I haven't been the same since. It was the greatest excursion into fantasy I had ever seen, and it just struck a chord in me - that was when I knew I wanted to pursue that as a career.

It fascinated me because you knew it wasn't just a man in a costume. So many gorilla pictures at that time just had men in gorilla suits carrying women off into the jungle. But this was a whole new technique and you couldn't understand how it was done. That mystique was part of the charm, and I tried to carry that over into my own films. There's something about stop-motion that's ideal for fantasy - it has an other-worldly look; it's like a dream.

The scenes that made the strongest impression when I saw King Kong for the first time were the one where Kong is shaking the men off the log, and of course the fight with the dinosaur, and the battle on top of the Empire State Building. That last scene is incredibly moving and really rather sad. And Max Steiner's music was half the film really. His score does what music is supposed to do - it enlarges the images on screen.

I've actually seen the film several hundred times now and I always see something new in it. There are certain technical effects which, inevitably, can't match what computers can come up with now, but you must push yourself back into the 1930s. The structure of the script, the sheer love of cinema emanating from the picture, is missing from so many films today.

That's why I love to go back to the past; it's so much more romantic compared to the gore and violence that you get in modern films. And I think everybody needs a hero. Hero worship was a dirty word in the 1960s for some reason. Kong is a strange hero, of course, a very tragic figure. And I find it wonderful that his name has gone down in history alongside Greta Garbo or Clark Gable - after all, he was just this little model with rabbit fur glued on it.

n Ray Harryhausen's 'One Million Years BC', 'Clash of the Titans' and 'The Valley of Gwangi' are out now on Warner Home Video's Beyond Vision label; pounds 9.99 each

Interview by Ryan Gilbey

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