Audiences may not have realised it at the time, but when the final credits rolled on The Creature Walks Among Us, the third and final movie featuring the love sick, triple-chinned Gill-Man, it signified the end of an era. Essentially the last entry of what eventually became know as the Universal Monsters stable, the classic movies got a new lease of life after showing up on syndicated television in the 60’s and 70’s and cemented their legacy in popular culture with endless examples of merchandise. However, of the group, the Gill-Man was usually seen as the old (fish) man out as he only swam into the public consciousness years after the reign of Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolf Man had already passed and while his debut may be one of the greatest monster movies of the 50’s (no mean feat), his sequels got…. a little weird. How weird, you may ask? Well, get a load of this.
After his justified rampage after escaping the Floria Oceanarium he was imprisoned in, the Gill-Man apparently survived and has been spotted by a local after a damn good face-clawing. Jumping onto this sighting, a gaggle of scientists, lead by the blatantly insane Dr. Barton, head into the Everglades that the creature has now made it’s home to recapture something in Florida far more dangerous than endless memes about law breaking meth-heads.
Accompanied by guide Jed and Dr. Tom Morgan, who thanks to their baritone voices and no-nonsense attitude seem to be engaged in a contest to see who can act the most manly (Jed only edges it because he’s often wearing a shirt tighter than his own skin), they scour the area while Barton’s wife, the glamorous and headstrong Marcia, stirs up his jealousy as she turns various heads on the boat.
Eventually, after catching up with the Gill-Man and indulging in the usual Creature From The Black Lagoon, cat and mouse shenanigans, the aquatic a-hole manages to set itself on fire and nearly kills itself due to its gills being too badly burned, but Dr Barton jumps at the opportunity to get stuck into operating on the creature to turn it into an air breather in order to create a being that’s never existed before (yeah, because half fish, Gill-Men were ten a penny back in the 50’s…).
Carted off to live in a pen in a research facility in San Francisco like a thick-necked convict, the creature becomes understandably depressed as it stares despondently at the ocean, while his chonky and bloated new look suggests either the special effects guys over padded the suit or the Gill-Man is stress eating like a champ. However, as depressing as all this is, things get even worse when Barton’s abusive jealousy towards his wife leads to murder and he tries to pin it on the creature. This finally seems to be the straw that breaks the Gill-Man’s back and it embarks on one final rampage to payback all the indignities the poor, air breathing bastard has suffered.
The Creature Walks Among Us usually gets a bad rap when shuffled alongside the flawless Black Lagoon and the enjoyably dopey Revenge Of The Creature and while it’s true that the Gill-Man’s last hurrah is a flawed and jarringly downbeat movie, it’s far better than it’s reputation suggests. It’s problem is that after a fun but incredibly derivative first half, where the capture of the creature might as well just be the entire first movie told in half the time, the story takes such a drastic turn into the morose as a lung-ed up creature contemplates a life away from his beloved H²0. If you thought the treatment of King Kong was excessive, at least the giant ape wasn’t captured, taken away from it’s home and then operated on to make him deathly allergic to the jungle, or beating up T-Rexes, or blondes, or something – in comparison, watching the modified Gill-Man (or should that now be Lung-Man) try to escape the boat at one point only to almost drown in his natural habitat is incredibly depressing. By all means, building empathy for your antagonist monster is a smart thing to do, especially if it riffs on man’s rape of the natural world, but The Creature Walks Among Us takes it to an extreme degree by having it’s iconic monster brought so low it almost plays like the 50’s monster version of Requiem For A Dream.
The humans in this manic depressive tale of creature discomfort are your standard bunch of arched eyebrowed men and spunky women, but with a slight twist. For example, Marcia hasn’t been broken down into a cowering wreck by her husband’s abusive billshit, but instead rebels every chance she gets to be independent, like laughing off the dangers of scuba diving by claiming the adverse effects of diving too deep is like getting drunk of water pressure instead of champagne – uh… in a wrong kind of way, Marcia, sure. As a result, Jeff Morrow’s eyeball bulging scientist also manages mixes things up a little by being an irresponsible sadist instead of the usual, benevolent boffins these movies usually palm off on us and it sits in the actors resume snugly alongside other noticable sci-fi titles such as the legendary This Island Earth and… er, Octoman. Everyone is the usual lantern jawed hunk with their guts sucked in and boot polish in their hair and therefore virtually interchangeable – no seriously, at times I actually Iost track of which white guy was who.
Aside from the heaps of depression and the fact that the Monster’s transformation turns him from one of the most iconic monsters in movie history to lumbering chonky boi who looks like Frankenstein’s Monster had his head replaced by a fish, another thing that counts against the film is that the Gill-Man’s climatic rampage is a bit weak with a spot of couch flipping hardly filling in for the cathartic bout of chaos you feel the creature has earned after his long period of abuse.
Still, as the poor, pillowy lipped bastard contemplates returning to the ocean- an act that will surely kill it – you do feel a genuine pang of pity and while the movie’s oddly traded thrills and spills for outright misery, at least it’s trying something different.
It’s also fitting that the sobering last shot is a diminished Gill-Man heading into the sea as it also closed the book of a noticable section of film history that began in 1931 with Bela Lugosi in a cape and ended over twenty five years later with an aquatic creature drowning itself in the sea (?).
Thank you, Universal Monsters. It was a hell of a ride.