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Overall Rating

Awesome: 23.68%
Worth A Look: 28.95%
Pretty Bad: 5.26%
Total Crap: 0%

3 reviews, 20 user ratings

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Creature from the Black Lagoon
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by WilliamPrice

"The amorous amphibian that time couldn’t kill."
4 stars

Fifteen million years ago, the Gill-Man walked the earth. He’s still around, and so is this fantastic genre film from 1954. Its compact and dramatically effective structure sets it apart from the swarm of typically awkward sci-fiers let loose upon theaters throughout the fifties. It’s also a strangely late entry in Universal’s “Classic Monster” formula, the last important entry having been "TheWolf Man" back in 1941. Even so, it was well ahead of its time, with a libidinous sophistication more common to the slasher flicks of 25 years or so later. It’s also one of the first dramatic films to make extensive use of handheld underwater cameras (3-D cameras no less!).

Historical importance aside, this flick is a hoot for any horror/sci-fi fan. Because it was filmed in black and white on a relatively small budget ($650,000), and features the slower pace and hokey dialogue of its day, you might have to adjust your sensors accordingly. But looking beyond these necessary shortcomings, you will see a tight, well made film that is simple and poetic, and free from the corny excesses that plague so many “modern” action-oriented monster movies.

In Creature, the sci-fi element is evolution. Dr. Maia (Antonio Moreno) discovers a fossil of a mysterious 15-million year old “Gill-Man” in the wilds of the Amazon. Almost immediately, we are shown that one such creature is still alive, and very poorly disposed to the idea of civilized man discovering his secrets. Meanwhile, the good doctor rounds up a research team: David Reed (Richard Carlson) and his lovely fiancée Kay (Julia Adams), and ambitious financier Mark Williams (Richard Denning). (There’s also this Dr. Thompson dude, who gets pretty sorely whacked by the creature later on.) Mark considers Kay his sort of protégée, and feels like David is intruding, so there’s a bit of low-key romantic friction. But the fact is all the guys are mostly wrapped up in their work and not giving sultry, smoldering Kay the attention she deserves.

So anyways, they hire the scruffy riverboat captain Lucas (Nestor Paiva) to take them up river so they can investigate the strange fossil. Their search leads them to invade the mysterious “Black Lagoon” – rumored to be a paradise, although no man has ever returned from there. It’s a tight squeeze but they make it in.

In an excellent underwater sequence, David and Mark are stalked by the freaky Gill-Man as they scuba-dive for rock samples. As in all of the underwater scenes, the shot compositions are gorgeous and the complex action reads beautifully –nothing short of a miracle considering it was directed some 40 or 50 feet underwater at Wakulla Springs, Florida. These scenes are further enhanced by the full-saturation music score which clearly delineates the action. Especially noticeable is the squalling, three-note leitmotif that lets rip practically every time the creature is shown. Apparently the three composers who worked on this film (Henry Mancini, Hans J. Salter and Herman Stein) were instructed to use this theme over and over. You can’t miss it.

(Besides their work, Universal stock music from The Wolf Man also appears in the film, adding to the genuine “Classic Monster” feel.)

When the divers climb back out of the water and the music fades away, we feel safe again. The creature is obviously disgruntled at this invasion of his domain, but a new element is soon to be added. As David and Mark scurry below deck to analyze their rock samples, bored, neglected Kay decides to take a swim! Uh-oh! It turns out the creature is far more “interested” in her than any of her over-civilized buddies are. He dares to swim ever closer to lovely Kay, who is lollygagging on the surface, making for a kind of bizarre mating ritual. The notion of “primitive desires lurking beneath the surface” is given a perfect visual metaphor. Together with the music, which melds warm, romantic melodies with the screeching creature theme, this is a classic sequence that has gone down in movie history.

Kay escapes safely, but our troubles with the creature are just beginning. Intent on kidnapping Kay and murdering everybody else, he becomes a bit of a nuisance. Ultimately he blocks the ship’s escape from the lagoon, and the hunters become the hunted.

By trapping us in the lagoon with the creature, the screenplay keeps thing linear, uncomplicated and punchy. This kind of structure was also used in another old black and white horror film that no-one complains about –The Night Of The Living Dead.

Although not fast-paced by today’s standards, this is one of the most pulse-pounding action-horror films of its decade. The creature’s character is wildly illogical, but somehow we accept from the get-go that he is a manifestation of everything we find exciting or fearful about the idea of man’s dark evolutionary past. The screenplay does its best to play up the sci-fi angle with much talk about fossils and evolution. Richard Carlson even manages to bring up outer space on more than one occasion.

But this is first and foremost a Universal monster film. The lovingly designed creature is pretty much the gold standard as far as ye olde man-in-a-monster-suit in concerned. He can swim underwater with complete naturalness and ease. Out of the lagoon he’s a shuffling, dripping menace with a gasping mouth and throbbing gills, which mean either that he’s starving for air or getting, like, really horny. Ironically, he was designed by a gorgeous former Italian baroness and Goldwyn Girl named Millicent Patrick.

True to the Universal formula, the Gill-Man is the film’s most passionate character. David does not ultimately rescue Kay from the creature; in fact it takes three men to kill it. And the final shot is not David and Kay embracing; rather it is the vanquished Gill-Man, who is now extinct. OR IS HE?

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originally posted: 08/25/05 20:09:06
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/06/18 morris campbell classic creature feature 4 stars
12/20/09 action movie fan crappy overrated movie-the fly and horror of dracula much better 2 stars
12/30/08 Dr.Lao Last of the great Universal monster movies 5 stars
7/14/07 Vincent Ebriega An old-fashioned B-flick. Fun and easy. 3.5/5. 3 stars
11/25/06 David Pollastrini a bit slow in places but still great. 5 stars
12/03/05 cody a cool movie for it day, cool under water scenes, and great ending 3 stars
8/28/05 Carolyn Rathburn cool, I enjoy classic old movies 4 stars
8/15/05 cristeen69 a classic, great in 3d 5 stars
7/19/05 Eric Rollins Monsters in bright sunlight are very handicapped, good as adventure yarn 3 stars
7/14/05 Ronald Newbold My favorite of the Universal Horror movies. DVD should have had the 3D included. 5 stars
12/16/04 BRET It is really BAD but I liked it and brought the DVD its a must see for horror genre freaks 4 stars
11/02/04 Robert Webb One of my favorite classics 5 stars
9/11/04 David Fowler Breathtakingly detailed and believable creature suit. Great score. A true classic. 5 stars
8/20/04 Sean Scanlan Wow! 5 stars
7/23/03 Double G it is so stupid is it so funny it is stupid it is funny, hahahahahaHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 2 stars
6/15/03 Alice I love the Creature, but keep in mind that this is old, very old.. 4 stars
6/05/03 Charles Tatum Overrated 3 stars
7/30/02 Janis Jan with a J Creature Feature knows what he's talking about. If you see this as a kid, you'll love it 5 stars
1/17/02 R.W. Welch Semi-classic 50's monster flick, rises well above its budget. 4 stars
9/03/00 Creature Feature A cool classic. The B+W underwater sequences are wonderfully atmospheric 5 stars
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  02-Mar-1954 (NR)
  DVD: 19-Oct-2004



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