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Friday, October 09, 2009

Halloween Hoardefest - Creature From the Black Lagoon

One of the most striking elements to Universal's Creature From the Black Lagoon is its G rating. Granted, Universal was hardly gory in its monster masher business; the goons, vamps, wolfies and fishfaces were all the studio needed to evoke terror. Black and white especially made Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolf Man and the Creature From the Black Lagoon all the creepier.

Can you imagine audiences back in the day and their reactions to this stuff? By the time 1954 came around, Universal had already enjoyed a legacy of menacing moviegoers to the point the original Frankenstein and its sequel The Bride of Frankenstein had staked reputations for unnerving people in their seats.

Today you can watch Creature From the Black Lagoon and compared to all of the bloodletting the horror genre flings at will, this film should be rated G. By modern standards, it's a timid but still rather effective popcorn film where a stubborn ichthyologist (Richard Carlson), his girlfriend Kay (the luscious Julie Adams) and their expedition seek out further evidence of a land and aquatic lifeform upon the discovery of amphibious skeletal remains in a cliffside. Their lagoon-crashed obsession invites the slippery shenanigans of our water-gurgling antagonist, referred to as "Gill-Man."

You pretty much know the film from there. Two actors portray "Gill-Man," Ben Chapman for the land sequences and famed underwater cinephotographer Ricou Browning for the underwater stalks and scrums. The creature's webby paw emerges off camera frequently while he swims in cat and mouse fashion waiting for playmates to wrestle with. Having attacked expedition crew on land and taking a shot at tormenting on a shipwide scale, "Gill-Man" kidnaps Kay and sets us up for a lot of harpoons to the torso, though not before squishing the project financier Mark Williams (Richard Denning) underwater.

The biggest criticism fronted to Creature From the Black Lagoon is an inferred lack of believability because of the "man in the rubber suit" aspect. Okay, if you're going to try that stunt today, you're going to get laughed and relegated to a 48-hour film festival with the hopes of scoring in the comedy bracket. In '54, however, this was fairly alarming stuff, though keep that G rating in mind. I was but 7 years old when I saw Creature for the first time, via a film projector in my elementary school. I remember vividly sitting between a fellow dude and dudette and we laughed as much as we sat in awe. Maybe not as distressing for the fifties folk, but undoubtedly "Gill-Man" left enough of an impact to warrant two sequels.

One facet to Creature From the Black Lagoon most forget is it was originally presented in 3-D. Now that three-dimensional films are en vogue once again in American pop culture, is there room (much less an existing print) of Creature in 3-D? I mean, come on, if they're going to plant "Gill-Man" on a Broadway stage for real-life consumption, let's get busy, Universal!

I don't know about a dancing ensemble around a guy in a rubber suit, though...if he kicks out Rockette-style, I'll boo it on sight.


Metal Mark said...

"The biggest criticism fronted to Creature From the Black Lagoon is an inferred lack of believability because of the "man in the rubber suit" aspect."
Seriously only someone who wasn't a fan of 50's horror/sci-fi would be of that opinion. They did have sense enough to do it in black and white which helps the monster look a little better. The underwater shots are great too. One of the best horror films of it's decade.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

of course, I agree with you, natch

Jessica Wilson said...

of course, I agree with you, natch