After the death of the non-avian dinosaurs some of the remaining descendants tried to re-claim their former glory and put mammals back in their place. These of course were the terror birds or Phorusrhacidae which carried on the legacy of Tyrannosaurus and its kin between 62-2 million years ago. Ultimately they wouldn’t make it but during their reign as apex predators they must have been impressive and terrifying to behold. Some of them were 9’ tall and one species in particular Kelenken guillermoi had an 18” skull, the largest skull of any known bird. For some reason this group of animals is largely neglected in the toy world. Like other Cenezoic animals they’re often overshadowed by the dinosaurs that preceded them. And that’s unfortunate, especially because terror birds were dinosaurs and just as frightening as any Velociraptor.
In 1961 one species of terror bird would make its big screen debut in the movie “Mysterious Island” featuring amazing stop motion effects by the legendary Ray Harryhausen. The bird featured was Phorusrhacos, an animal that could reach 8’ in height and weigh 220 lbs. Needless to say, it was depicted as an enemy to the main protagonists but the scene it features in is one of the most iconic for that film. Like many other prehistoric creatures created by Ray Harryhausen the Phorusrhacos was largely inspired by the artwork of Charles R. Knight. You may have heard of him. But what does this movie beastie have to do with a toy review? Well it just so happens that the model we’re reviewing today is not only a prehistoric animal figurine but also a piece of movie memorabilia. The Phorusrhacos we’re reviewing is not so much a model of the animal as it is a model of a movie character. Produced in 2001 by X-plus it is actually one of many figures produced by the company depicting a Ray Harryhausen creation. So how do we review this thing? Do we compare it to the actual animal or to the movie depiction? Well, we’re going to try to do both.
Comparing it to the actual Phorusrhacos is difficult to do; there just is not a lot of accessible material about this particular genus. It would be far more practical to compare it to terror birds in general. Ray Harryhausen was a master of his craft, I don’t think I have what it takes to critique his creations and since the movie was produced in 1961 any inaccuracies wouldn’t be worth bringing up. Tail dragging dinosaurs were still in vogue at this time. Still, his terror bird was a different sort of dinosaur because it was also a bird and in creating Phorusrhacos his attention to detail was spot on. And the recreation by X-plus is very faithful to his vision, which is why I’m spending so much time discussing the movie itself. Basically, what it comes down to is that this is a faithful recreation of a movie monster which was a faithful recreation of Charles R. Knight’s work which was a faithful recreation of the animal itself. It has all the hallmarks of the terror birds as a group; long legs, sharp curved beak, long slender neck, short stubby wings. It has a powerful predatory look to it while also maintaining an athletic birdie-ness which would have only made the real animal all the more frightening. The movie creature was depicted much larger than it would have appeared in life but translated into a toy this has little bearing on the accuracy of the figure.
The X-plus Phorusrhacos stands about 4” in height, it is dynamically posed with one foot lifted high up in the air, balancing on one foot with wings spread out and mouth agape with a downward gaze. It is very reminiscent of the scene in which the creature appears menacing a young woman. It is a highly detailed figure, not even a proper toy really. The legs are naked flesh from the knees to the ankles where skin is replaced by scales. A lot of colors are reproduced here; a mostly white body with black tipped tail feathers, a black neck and chest and black edging on the arm portion of the wings. The scales on the feet are yellow, the skin flesh colored. The head is very boldly painted with a red crest and blue and brown neck ruff. A white spot bridges the red crest and black beak and yellow feathers bridge the crest and neck. The eyes are brown with black pupils and a blue ring of skin around them. When comparing it to the movie creature there are some minor differences. The movie creature has considerably less black on the chest and is more of a gray color overall. The neck feathers on the film version are more red than brown and there are fewer yellow feathers overall. Aside from these color differences which are admittedly a bit odd the model looks identical to the Harryhausen creation. One minor quibble would be the painting on the inside of the mouth. While the tongue is pink the rest of the inside of the lower jaw is white and the palette is red, like the crest. It’s hardly noticeable when on display but move it around in your hands and you’ll see it. Aside from that the paint application is pretty crisp as are the details; the scales on the feet are particularly well done. The model stands on a stony looking base with a couple broken branches.
If you’re looking for a terror bird model, regardless of movie affiliation, this is a great option. Though I’m a fan of “Mysterious Island” and Harryhausen films in general I’m first and foremost a collector of model dinosaurs and in a collection lacking any other representative of this fascinating group of predators I welcome this little guy in with open arms. Hopefully someday Safari or some other company will come out with the definitive terror bird figure but until that day comes you’re left with only a few options, with only the CollectA Kelenken being easily obtainable. You can find this model on eBay on occasion and for a time it was even on Amazon.com.