Today: February 22, 2024

Creature from the Black Lagoon

We are currently going through the third, and now most persistent, wave of 3D cinema at the moment.

By Edward Boff –

We are currently
going through the third, and now most persistent, wave of 3D cinema at the
moment.
Every time this medium
has been introduced has been in response to the growth of new media. At the moment, it’s against the rise of
video gaming and the internet. In
the early 80s, it came back around the time of the home video revolution. Back in the 50s, it was in response to
television. Now one of the
classics of that first wave has been restored for a home video version on shiny
new 3D TVs! Funny how things
change isn’t it?

Creature from the
Black Lagoon
was one of the best entries into the “Atomic Age” of
horror and monster movies. The
story follows an expedition deep into the South American rainforests where an
amazing discovery has been made. Part
of a fossil has been found that looks to belong to a prehistoric aquatic
humanoid, a “Gill Man” if you will. As the scientists venture into an uncharted lagoon looking
for more evidence, they have no idea an even bigger discovery awaits; one Gill
Man is still alive in there!

There are several reasons why Creature was not only such a big success at the time (spawning two
sequels) but also continues to be highly thought of to this day. Let’s start with the titular
character. The Creature/Gill Man
is by far one of the best realised monsters of the 50s; yeah, it’s a rubber
suit, but it’s a very well made and designed rubber suit. The detailing, the way the gills move;
this thing would have been more than just acceptable special effect up until
the late 70s! Major props also
have to go to the guys in the suit.
Ben Chapman does a good job
on land, but Olympic Swimmer Ricou
Browning
gives it phenomenal motion underwater, where he had to hold his
breath while swimming for up to four minutes at a time!

But there’s more to him, and the plot, then just the effect
of course. As Marilyn Monroe famously said in The Seven-Year-Itch “He wasn’t a bad Creature really!” In fact, the plot not so subtly
suggests that the human characters’ problems here are pretty much of their own
creation. From the way they
essentially invade Gill Man’s home, to them freaking out and trying to shoot it
or chuck flammable chemicals on it, they don’t exactly go out of their way to
make friends. Most of the major conflict comes, not just from the team vs. the
Creature, but between the lead scientist (Richard
Carlson
), who wants to study it peacefully, and the main financial backer (Richard Denning), who wants a trophy he
can make fame and fortune off of!
This may be one of the first horror films with a strong ecological
message, addressing how we need to find a careful balance with nature. Try to snatch up, irresponsibly,
whatever you want from nature and the consequences will not be pleasant!

This theme is seen throughout the direction of the film by
many-time sci-fi director Jack Arnold. The jungle environment, though mostly made
on the Universal Back-lot and with a bit in the Florida everglades, is lovingly
shot and the underwater photography is gorgeous to watch. This is where the 3D really comes into
play. Yes, there is the odd stuff poking at the camera moment, mostly the
titular character’s hand, but where it’s really used to its full potential is
in adding depth to the long sequences underwater (and there are many). They are real sights to behold,
especially as events escalate and the scientists must face the Creature on its
home turf. The quieter sections
earlier also work, such as the tension building moment when lone female of the
group Kay (Julia Adams, in a justly
famous white swimsuit specially designed for her) goes for a dip not knowing
the Creature is watching and curious.

The one weak link is that the story is, for the most part, a
recycling of ideas that’d be very familiar to anyone who’s seen King Kong or quite a few other pulp
adventure stories. The lone
expedition, the isolated environment, the monster inexplicably being fascinated
by the lone woman present… Although, what exactly it intended to do with her,
it would be many years later, and a far sleazier film-maker (Roger Corman) who’d dare to answer that
question in Humanoids from the Deep!

There mere fact that such rip-off / inspired works exist
though is still a real mark as to how well this one is remembered and how it’s
become part of pop-culture. To
this day there are still constant discussions and rumours of a remake, although
given these date back to at least the early 80s it’s unlikely we’ll see one all
that soon (fingers crossed!). With
solid acting, a memorable score (including moment that are suspiciously similar
to the Jaws theme!) and good direction, if you haven’t seen Creature already, it’s well worth the
time to correct this. Plus the 3D
restoration means you can now experience, in full, what had audiences flocking
to it in droves back in the day (and in many revival screenings since), except
thankfully not in hideous red and green!
Highly recommended!

Paula Hammond - Features Editor

Paula Hammond is a full-time, freelance journalist. She regularly writes for more magazines than is healthy and has over 25 books to her credit. When not frantically scribbling, she can be found indulging her passions for film, theatre, cult TV, sci-fi and real ale. If you should spot her in the pub, after five rounds rapid, she’ll be the one in the corner mumbling Ghostbusters quotes and waiting for the transporter to lock on to her signal… Email: writerpaula@icloud.com

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