Early admission: I had never seen any of the Creature features until this year. I know, I know— how dare I call myself a Classic Universal Monsters fan without having at least seen the first one? It could be easy to justify as the Gill-man movies didn’t arrive until the fifties, well after many consider the classic period over. This was after the “monster rally” stretch which many consider blatant cash grabs (they were, but still fun for the fans). Gill-man also hit the screens in the wake of the Abbott & Costello cross-overs— those were genuinely funny, but proved Universal’s fearsome fiends had gone the way of parody.
The Creature From the Black Lagoon, I’m happy to say, deserves its place among the classics. It didn’t kick-start a revival of the original monsters, or help the fad of 3D films much, but the Creature provides a nice coda for what Universal possesses: the worlds greatest collection of bogeymen.
During an expedition along the Amazon River, geologist Carl Maia makes the find of his career (so far). It is the fossilized remains of a creature from the Devonian period. It is a missing link, if you will, for the transition of sea creatures to land based animals. Maia recruits his former student, David, Kay (David’s scientist girlfriend) and David’s boss, Mark, to accompany him back to the Amazon to search for more of the fossils.
Upon their arrival, the scientists, and Lucas, the boat captain, learn that Carl’s assistants have been savagely killed. Seeing how it’s the Amazon jungle, just about anything could have murdered the men. It’s a handy reminder that when in the Amazon jungle, maybe don’t go into the Amazon jungle, especially in 1954.
Also, another useful bit of information: when a body of water is called the Black Lagoon because no one has ever returned from it, maybe don’t travel there either. But our intrepid explorers do, and when they find a claw snagged in their net, they have a hunch they’ve found more than they bargained for. They just may need a bigger boat. The scientists went looking for fossils, but they found the last living vestige of the prehistoric age.
And the Gill-man, unlike some fishermen, does not practice catch-and-release. He ain’t no dummy, either, as he traps the interlopers’ boat in the lagoon and tries to get his scaly hands on the lovely Kay, willing to kill any who dares get in his way.
Creature boils down to a man in a suit. It still works, and should be Exhibit A in the argument for practical effects. In Gill-man (a brilliant design by Milicent Patrick) can be seen the line of his descendants, from the Xenomorph to the Predator.
I’m sorry it took me so long for me to get around to watching Creature From the Black Lagoon. Where a lot of horror movies depend on dark and stormy nights, there’s a lot of daylight thrills where Gill-man is concerned. I’ve always like daylight horror— a of lot times seeing what’s coming at you is more terrifying than what may be hiding in the dark…unless we’re talking about the dark depths below the surface of the calm waters.