Horror-Wood Blog-a-thon: Creature from the Black Lagoon Trilogy
In order to discuss the franchise of a film, some deeper detail has to be made on certain character and story elements. In short, spoiler alert!
By the time the 1950’s came around, people began to fear more than just monsters. War was on the march and the after affects of World War II left them in shakes. So what to do but make monster movies less scary. They started to get campy, silly, cheaper and dumb. And boy, did it show. There were giant insects, giant monsters, mutated beings that stalked college campuses, beings from other worlds and cheap Roger Corman creations. But interestingly enough was what Universal Studios had to offer. Something that reflected the monster movies they previously made but also fit the tone of the decade.
Creature form the Black Lagoon was a movie I would avoid a lot. Even as a teenager I would have doubts over it and never get to see it. When I think of Universal Studios and their monsters, I would often feel Dracula, Frankenstein monster and the Wolfman were the higher class of the group. The Creature, or better known as “Gill-man”, I felt stuck out like a sore thumb for its silly design and simple premise. Almost like a black sheep of the group. But in preparation for this blog-a-thon, I would find out that its not the monster that makes the movie but how everything plays out.
A group of scientists lead an expedition into the Amazon after uncovering a fossil that proves a link between man and fish. They sure enough find more than they bargained for as a living being that is half-
human and half-fish roams around in the parts. Worse of all, the fishy inhabitant is not keen with his newfound friends and stalks them like prey. One by one, the biologists try to capture the beast but find this is one fish that would be easy to reel in. They try putting a sleeping drought in the water, physically capturing him and even gassing him out. But the thing keeps evading them and even at one point tries to trap them in the Lagoon. This is not an easy catch of the day.
On the side, Gill-man takes fancy to one of the scientists played by Julie Adams in sort of Beauty and the Beast way but the standard archetype of monster loves beauty and beauty fears monster. The biggest highlight is a scene where she does a solo swim and is unaware of Gill-man watching from below. Its an eerie yet beautiful scene that would have had a bigger impact on the big screen. Speaking of which, when Creature of the Black Lagoon was released in theaters, it was screened and filmed in polarized 3-D. 3-D movies were all the rave at the movies as a gimmick to get people away from the television and into movie theaters. Its a shame I was only available to the 2-D version but it still has the same effect thanks to the direction of Jack Arnold who is better known for helming such Universal classics like It Came From Outer Space and The Incredible Shrinking Man. He is aware of how simple and cheesy the story is but the execution and dramatic tension really makes up for it.
Even Gill-man himself is goofy but effectively scary in execution. On that note, would you even believe that he was not created by Jack Pierce but a former Disney illustrator named Millicent Patrick? In fact, a lot of the creature has distinctive feminine features like the lips and body figure. I find it interesting how it looks cartoony in illustration but in action Gill-man gets wicked beastly. Its a shame Millicent went uncredited for half-a-century with credit only going to Bud Westmore who assisted the designer. I have no idea why this happened but apparently this wasn’t the first as she also did the alien design for It Came from Outer Space and the Mutant in This Island Earth. Guess it shows that not all classic monsters can be man-made.
Overall, Creature from the Black Lagoon is actually another gem worth checking out. But I shouldn’t praise it too much seeing the only disappointment I do have is the ending. It feels like its going to build up to this final crescendo as the scientists chase Gill-man back to his lair and then it just ends with the monster getting shot and his lifeless corpse floating in the water. There is no epilogue or assurance to how our characters feel about this. Gill-man is dead and the movie immediately ends without a breath. Still, the underwater fight and swimming scenes were very innovative and slickly shot, the soundtrack knows when to be menacing and unique and even Gill-man himself is a unique monster of the batch. I’m tempted to say its underrated compared to Dracula and Frankenstein but this monster was kept well alive thanks to countless merchandise, parodies and revisions in films like The Monster Squad.
So, I should probably stop there but two sequels exist sadly. I say that because it seems like great potential was held for a franchise but something about it feels wasted with these two. Revenge of the Creature picks up with Gill-man being captured and taken to the Ocean Harbor Oceanarium in Florida (filmed at the Marineland of Florida in real life) where he is chained to a pool and given constant shock treatment while being examined by biologists. This gave Gill-man a chance to explore the world above but its a shame it only happens in the final third when he breaks free and walks about on land. Most of the time, it just focuses on character relationships and Gill-man having another love interest. That’s fine but it takes up a good bulk of the movie as we focus more on the human element and less on the monster.
Jack Arnold directed this one and he does give the slick and tense feel the original had but it doesn’t help any. The production value is good but most of the time we are treated to characters exchanging dialogue or Gill-man being fed lunch. Things don’t kick off till he gets loose and that’s when it starts to salvage itself a little. Like the first movie, it was presented in 3-D but unfortunately, I saw a better variation of it on Mystery Science Theater 3000. The show was known for taking cheesy movies and riffing them with a running commentary and this movie was one they took on when they started on the Sci-Fi Channel. I love how much they poke fun at things that I never thought were there and just thinking what it would be like to be in a theater with Mike, Crow and Tom Servo tearing away is just pure fun. This episode is available on the Volume 25 DVD from Shout Factory. Its worth checking out just for the riffs. As a film on its own, its only good for the last half but at least they take an idea and try to salvage it.
The next film on the other hand doesn’t do squat. The Creature Walks Among Us has a really interesting concept but unlike Revenge where the good stuff is halfway, this one has little momentum. Gill-man is found and captured in the Florida Everglades but is set on fire by accident. A surgical overlook shows he is evolving as the scales and gills on his body are forming into skin. In short, he’s evolving into a human. A good idea but it has some problems. First, the design for the “human” version of Gill-man is a bit disappointing. It feels cheap and very unfinished. Almost like a secret love child version of Uncle Fester, Curly Howard and a villain from Dick Tracy.
Worse of all, he is confined to a pin full of sheep where he is to studied to see if he can be gentle and not as ravenous like his former self. And that is what they do. They abandon him to focus on a story-line about one of the scientist’s marriage problems. It takes up a huge fraction of the movie and tries to be the center of the story. It feels like two movies in one. A melodrama in one corner and a cheap creature feature in the other. Jeff Morrow does a good job playing out the easily jealous husband but it feels way too over the top. It almost becomes disturbing and awkward seeing a man get so obsessed over how overly protective he of his wife. It feels like I walked into a Twin Peaks episode directed by Roger Corman and Sigmund Freud.
And of course, the ending is a big downer. Its clearly stated that “human” Gill-man can’t return to the water because he mutated to have human lungs. At the end of the movie when he escapes, Gill-man is last seen taking a good look at the ocean before plunging into it. It feels like they did this to open on a sequel but with the information knowing that he evolving into a human being, I’m positive he will drown instead. Unlike Revenge of the Creature which had some thrilling scenes, this one feels extremely scaled back. They could have done anything with a concept like this with something along the lines of The Elephant Man or even have the Gill-man interact with modern society. Like maybe have him explore a coffee shop for the first time or walk about the Hollywood Boulevard. It worked for Escape from the Planet of Apes so why not? Both films are bad but Revenge is marginally better thanks to its effort and some good stuff in the final half. The Creature Walks Among Us is not worth checking out and it feels like nothing progresses as much. Also, it was never made in 3-D.
I’m glad to see Gill-man was able to have two films though. Most movies like The Mummy or The Wolf Man never got a straight forward follow-up so its interesting to see them try to expand the story a bit even if it feels unnecessary. I still feel the first film holds up enough to highly recommend while its sequels are nowhere near as enjoyable as they should be. I’d probably say Revenge of the Creature is decent to an extant but there’s too many slow moments in the first half that prevents me from giving a decent approval. Either way, Creature from the Black Lagoon is truly a classic in its own right.
Posted on October 5, 2014, in Horror-Wood 2014 and tagged 3-D, Clint Eastwood, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Gill-man, half fish, half human, Horror, Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon, Jack Arnold, Jack Pierce, Mystery Science Theater 3000, Revenge of the Creature, The Creature Walks Among Us. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.