Creature From The Black Lagoon


Somewhat of an anomaly among his fellow Universal Monsters alumni, the humble Gill-Man is the rare example of the group who is essentially a totally original creation whose origin hasn’t come from the pages of a book (Frankenstein, Dracula), been seen on screen before (The Wolf Man) or doesn’t actually exist in real life (The Mummy). He’s also a completely contemporary figure, not one cooped up in a dingy castle or on a misty moor about a hundred years ago, but one locked into the 1950’s when every other movie made seemed to contain nature mocking radioactive monsters or lurching alien invaders clumsily representing communism. No, in this respect, the Gill-Man is a total one off when stood shoulder to scaley shoulder with his fellow monster chums and yet one thing bonds him to those other mournful creatures as they cause chaos while bemoaning their fate – the fact that he’s a figure of empathy despite having the ability and demeanor to rip you to bits…


An archeological dig in the Amazon reveals a webbed, powerful looking arm that suggests that not only is it true that you can get almost anything when you shop Amazon, but there may have been a missing link between fish and man that has been lost since the first lung fish flopped it’s way ashore and wondered where in the hell had it got itself. The scientist in charge, Carl Maia, contacts former student and square jawed icthyologist David Reed and requests he come and see for himself and he complies, bringing a small entourage that includes his girlfriend and colleague Kay Lawrence and his financially obsessed boss Mark Williams, because nothing ever goes wrong during a trip up the Amazon while looking for the fossilized remains of a clawed monster…
Upon arrival they immediately find Carl’s native helpers reduced to screaming faced chicken strips by some mysterious predator (not a great start, you’ll agree) but then they reason this is probably solid proof that they’re on the right track and head further downstream until they reach the Black Lagoon (not to be confused with the Blue Lagoon which contains a whole different kind of flesh swallowing…).
Sure enough the expedition is first examined, attacked and then finally trapped in the lagoon by a scaley, humanoid creature able to breathe on both land and water who, in true monster fashion, takes a #metoo-unfriendly shine to Kay but is eventually captured for his efforts. He eventually escapes and the scientists bicker back and forth about whether this extraordinarily rare specimen should be preserved in the name of science or killed in the name of not being murdered by a walking fish – but the Gill-Man is dead set on making this choice for them as becomes focused on eliminating these pink skinned trespassers from the outside no matter what.


If the Creature, from Creature From The Black Lagoon, resembles anything else, he closely most resembles King Kong as he shares a surprising amount of similarities with the giant ape from the 30’s. Both are masters of their primordial domain and both come a cropper by the insistence of man to come bursting into it’s life just to start prodding it for sciencey/financial gains; but most striking of all is that they seem to have the same reaction to a pretty face (Kong prefers blondes, Gill-Man’s more of a brunette kinda guy) not to mention the same, unrefined way of trying to “claim” them. However, where Kong’s primal urge is primarily to protect this small, screaming blonde thing he’s become obsessed over, the Gill-Man’s reason seems a little more lucid and is constantly trying to haul the surprisingly resilient Kay back to his watery bachelor pad grotto with the hope they will settle down and raise a school of guppies or something – if she’s lucky…
It’s this counterintuitive behaviour that humanizes the Gill-Man so, a weakness for a shapely human that urges him to keep attacking the scientist’s boat despite the fact that every time he does he gets shot with harpoons or set on fire (no means no, dude), but an earlier scene, eerie in it’s simple beauty, reveals the big gilled goon to be more than just a rampaging brute as he watches Kay swimming and then follows her under the surface, mimicking her moves out of utter fascination.
In fact the whole film, despite being a roaring monster movie from the 50’s, is actually far more classier than the lions share of it’s ilk and manages to feel pretty modern even now. Scenes of Kay cutting through the water while watched from below strongly resembles the early moments of Jaws and later moments, where the crew battle to free their boat while trying to fend of the creatures repeated attacks have a flavour of the intensity of James Cameron’s Aliens despite some choice 50’s B-movie dialogue: “I can’t help but remember what happened to Carl’s boys” wistfully remembers David – he fucking should, the hapless assistants were only torn limb from limb nine days earlier…
In the end, what makes this movie rise above it’s B-movie trappings (it even has one of those panic stricken, brass lead scores that blares out full blast EVERY time even the pinky finger of the Gill-Man appears on screen) is the treatment of it’s titular creature itself. In a time when most movie monsters were bulky, waddling stuntmen encased in rubber, the Gill-Man’s design is sleek, memorable and, most of all, oddly believable – it’s fins and plates creating in interesting look while it’s mouth works like the maw of a gasping fish as he works those full, plump, sensuous Kardashian lips of his. It’s an inspired design and it’s absurdly iconic, intelligently not falling back on overused tropes like jutting fangs or bulging eyes that make this ultimate woman-bothering mouth breather elicit both intimidation and empathy in equal measure – although to this day I have no idea how somebody didn’t fucking drown while wearing the underwater version while submerged and covered in weeds.


Director Jack Arnold had a fair few monster movies on his resumé that packed in more cheese than a quattro formaggi pizza (including the first of two Gill-Man sequels Revenge Of The Creature) but the original Creature still manages to be evergreen (awkward pun for a black and white movie) even after all these years in an iconic creature feature that, when it comes to quality, is utterly packed to the gills.


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