Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

Not since the beginning of time has the world beheld terror like this!

A fossilised claw from a creature living in the Devonian period is discovered in a remote part of the Amazon and could provide some missing answers as to how aquatic life evolved into land-based animals. A scientific expedition heads up the river in an attempt to find further fossils or evidence but encounter something even more shocking – a living version of the creature.

 

It’s an often used saying that the old ones are the best and in relation to films like Creature from the Black Lagoon, that statement is 100% spot on. Although made over twenty years later than Universal’s classic films like Frankenstein and Dracula which turned their literary monsters into cinematic legends, the ‘Gill Man’ creature here has become part of vintage monster movie lore too. It’s an iconic film. It’s an influential film. It’s a classic piece of filmmaking. It has stood the test of time and even towers over modern day horror like an empowering god. Featuring the best cinematic monster since King Kong was shot down from the Empire State Building in 1933, Creature from the Black Lagoon can stir the nostalgia as much as it wants because it was a classic back in 1954 and it’s still a classic today.

Creature from the Black Lagoon has dated somewhat in the fact that it’s just not scary anymore and it’s quite plodding at times. I’m sure it was scary and ‘full of action’ for the time but in this modern era of audiences demanding non-stop thrills and spills, it just doesn’t do enough to keep younger viewers happy. But at a slender seventy-nine minutes, the film can little afford to waste any time and it doesn’t. The pace is generally good and the creature isn’t lurking around the depths too long before we get a good look at it. And let’s face it, the success of the film boils down to the believability of the monster.

In the ‘Gill Man’ we have one of the greatest movie monsters ever made. The creature is not only a unique creation which has spawned countless imitations over the years but it’s hard to really comprehend just how flexible, agile and realistic it actually is and this is a credit to the costume design for making the suit. The natural movements of the creature underwater are down to the expert swimming skills of Ricou Browning and its truly remarkable to see how well the effects stand up today. In the 50+ years since it has been made, there have been few monsters that have come to life as vividly and realistic as this. Apart from the inevitable “hold hands out in front like Frankenstein and walk slowly towards the camera” movements that all 50s monsters seem to be lumbered with, the creature comes off as intelligent, curious and scared. Not only are the humans encountering this creature for the first time but the reverse is also true and it’s like watching a child as the Gill Man comes to terms with his new human pursuers. Even little things like his gills moving when he breathes on land just add little bits of character to him and the composer even gives him a thundering theme tune every time he appears.

The film is superbly shot. You always know that old films like this were filmed in studios because they usually have rubbish sets and some awful rear projection. But this one really gives you the impression that they went down the Amazon. The cinematography is superb above the water but below it, it’s simply breathtaking. Underwater filming was in its infancy back in the day so to see it stand up brilliantly today is a testament to the hard work that everyone put in. The underwater scene in which the Gill Man mimics the actions of Julie Adams as she swims is beautiful. Although who can blame him? Adams is gorgeous and one of the finest that the 50s had to offer. His reasons for wanting to take her back to his cave may be more laughable and nudge, nudge, wink, wink but he gets the sympathy vote every time because he’s just protecting his turf and happens to fall in love with the hottest thing in probably a 9000 mile radius.

The other humans lend their considerable talents to add to the film. Richard Carlson is the humanitarian scientist who wants to preserve the creature for the benefits of science whereas the contrasting Richard Denning is the greedy financial backer who wants the creature dead or alive to become famous. The two men both have Adams in their sights and spend the better part of the film trying to impress her and win her over so it’s ironic that the Gill Man is the one who just forgets the war of words and goes in all guns blazing to take what he wants.

 

Its impact may have been diluted over the years but there’s no question that The Creature from the Black Lagoon is one of the daddies of the monster movie genre, arguably second to only King Kong in its legacy. A remarkable piece of cinema from a bygone era and one of the single most-defining horror films ever made.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★☆ 

 

 

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