ben chapman, clint eastwood, don megowan, jack arnold, jeff morrow, john agar, john sherwood, julia adams, lori nelson, richard carlson, ricou browning, the creature, tom hennesy, Universal Horror, universal pictures
Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954)…
…would symbolise the bridge between Universal’s golden horror era and their move into the sci-fi genre. It also marks the last of the iconic monsters to be born out of the giant film production house.
Directed by Jack Arnold (who also helmed It Came From Outer Space (1953)), The Creature would follow a group of scientists who uncover an amphibious humanoid known as the Gill-man in the heart of the Amazon.
Released in 3D at the point of its decline in the early 50s, and also in the traditional two-dimensional format, managed to capture over $1m in Box Office takings but was overshadowed by its predecessors.
Among the scientists are Dr. David Reed (Richard Carlson) and Kay Lawrence (Julia Adams), the latter forming the object of affection for Gill-man. The film was reported to been inspired by the tale Beauty and the Beast, which is evident at least in the creatures pursuit for love among humankind, fascinated by the beautiful Kate, leading to a similar conclusion to King Kong, where the monster kidnaps the female lead and ends up riddled with bullets. In this instance, though, the monster doesn’t fall a great height , but instead sinks to the depths of a supposed watery grave.
The story is a simple one enough, and is entertaining despite treading in familiar territory, carving out the usual horror movie tropes. It’s appeal lies mainly through the underwater sequences and the cinematography captured to instil fear and create atmosphere. The Gill-man would be portrayed by Ricou Browning for these water scenes, who had the gruelling task of holding his breath under for minutes at a time to deliver the strenuous fight scenes. On land, this task of donning the creatures mask fell to Ben Chapman, who had to wear the costume for 14 hour stretches in the heat and with minimal visibility at best.
Considered a success by Universal, a further two instalments would come in the franchise with…
Revenge of the Creature (1955)
Jack Arnold would be charged with directing the creature once again, only this time the Universal monster is far removed from its native Amazon landscape and confined in captivity where it is studied by Professor Clete Ferguson (John Agar) and his student Helen Dobson (Lori Nelson).
The film follows a familiar trajectory though of unrequited love as the creature pursues and captures Helen, only to be shot by police in his escape for freedom. Ricou Browning would once again return for the underwater segments, and Tom Hennesy filling in for the above ground sequences. Revenge though would be something of a forgotten entry other than to be mocked in Mystery Science Theater 3000, and for boasting Clint Eastwood as an uncredited role as a lab technician. This didn’t stop the creature from returning to screens however three years down the track with…
The Creature Walks Among Us (1958)
The creatures final feature length appearance for Universal would see a different director with John Sherwood but would still see Ricou Browning in full Creature make up (Don Megowan would take on the on-land duties), although now the look had altered slightly. This follows its rescue and surgery after being burned in a fire, the creature becomes physically more human looking and loses its gills, developing lungs to breathe.
The villainy and fear factor falls more in human terrain this time with the abusive and mentally unstable Dr. Barton (Jeff Morrow). The creature sided with a tale of what it means to be human or beast? When we go through such psychological stages, can we truly rid our genetic make up, or in the creatures case, would the call of the ocean prove to be too great?
Our last shot of the iconic creature would see it on the beachfront, walking into the great sea.
The Creature’s cultural impact would still hang in the minds and inspirations of film creatives for years to come however, with several attempts at a remake and appearances in films such as The Monster Squad, and the more recent Creepshow series on Shudder. It’s most affection nod tough comes in Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water, eager to give the creature one last shot at love.
- Saul Muerte