Universal Monsters Week: Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Creature From the Black Lagoon is my favorite Universal Monster movie mainly due to the fact that it feels the most plausible out of the whole lot. A “Gill Man” from a lost era that survived thanks to a nice habitat totally works for me. Not to knock vampires, invisible jerks, or reanimated meat, it’s just a “Gill Man” is more grounded and for me, more terrifying.
Now I know my taste isn’t the point - these critters are here to pull out our worst fears. Horror films are meant to be heightened with an elevated nature and of course adapted from fiction for the most part, so to Hell with reality. The Universal Monsters are so huge and vital to our culture.. Like the any great hero, super or not, these are icons that will last centuries long after we are in the grave. Recognizable in silhouette, all of these monsters are immovable objects like statues with a foundation that goes all the way down to the center of the Earth.
Creature from the Black Lagoon was shot by two separate units, one in Florida for the underwater photography and the other at a Universal Studio lot. A perfect marriage of stunt doubles and wonderful editing made for some prime movie magic because the footage blended flawlessly. Clocking in at a brisk 79 minutes, this thrill ride was released in 1954 and received wild acclaim. Filmed in 3D, Creature thrilled audiences with it’s wonderful presentation, and if the projectionists at the theaters were on their “A Game” the 3D effect was simply stunning. Younger crowds came back again and again, and according to the extras on the DVD/Blu release you could stay in a theater all day off of one ticket purchase. Imagine seeing this 4 times in a row back in the day with a rowdy audience high off of candy and soda. This goes for a lot of cinema I love, but I would trade my kingdom for a time machine to see this on opening day.
You can never see too deep into most waters on this darn planet so the thought of a sea creature swimming around under there, especially one the size of a full grown man is creepy as Hell. Your mind zooms. Will it eat me? Drown me? Both?! The unseen will always trigger your worst fears. Many years later when Jaws hit theaters, these same fears became reality again. I’m sure Spielberg had the Black Lagoon in mind especially when Julie Adams can be seen swimming on the surface of the lagoon and we the audience become the creature looking through it’s POV at this foreign element invading our world.
The Creature’s design is absolutely perfect and like another famous monster that came many, many years later, the Predator, it was not the first version they settled on. After realizing the first attempt was too smooth and not up to snuff, a wonderful lady named Millicent Patrick took a pass and that was the design that stuck. And bless her heart, as she was never given her due at the time for this contribution but true fans know the score and will love her forever. The final look is so apt for what the film is trying to achieve and had a ton of amphibian like details that really drove the idea of a Gill Man home. Scales from head to toe and webbed hands with their protruding claws that looked like baseball gloves with razors attached added to both the menace and realism of the aquatic monster.
I have always felt bad for the Creature because he just seemed like a curious dog that chased cars. By that I mean he sees a beautiful woman, very Kong like of course, and is completely smitten. His first encounter may play like he is going to attack her but he can’t quite seem to bring himself to touch this fascinating being swimming in his lagoon. He comes close to touching her then pulls away as if she is electric or she’ll bite back. I always read it as him thinking: what is this stunning and graceful non-fish thingy doing ‘round these parts? (I am fully aware of their location in this film but I gave him a Texas accent anyways.)
Of course things get crazy and he has to kill a couple of dudes but they were in the way of his happiness/curiosity and had to go! He captures her eventually and drags her to his cave as if to say: "I ain’t gonna eat you. I just wanna show you where I sleep and maybe if there's time, my rock collection." Creature from the Black Lagoon is a beautifully shot and realized motion picture that holds up all of these years from childhood to adulthood. Line up all the Universal Monsters and I am picking Creature from the Black Lagoon every damn time even when that cue blurted out by trumpets gets repeated ad nauseam.