Thursday, March 22, 2012

Creature Featured: "Creature from the Black Lagoon" (1954)

This famous Universal picture features the giant gill man, who has risen in infamy to take his place right up there with the Wolf Man, Dracula, and Frankenstein's monster.

On a dig in the Amazon, Antonio Moreno discovers the fossilized skeletal remains of a hand that has webbed fingers. He takes it back to a biological institute, where hunky guys Richard Carlson and Richard Denning await. Carlson is the good guy, Denning runs the institute and is just out for fame and fortune, Mother Earth be damned. Accompanied by Carlson's girlfriend, Julie Adams, the group return to the site in a rust bucket of a boat. Someone (or something) has killed the natives left to guard the site.

The group puts a strange theory together that the rest of the fossil must have been washed down to a local lagoon, called the Black Lagoon. Adams thinks it should be called "the Beautiful Lagoon" when they arrive there (thanks, Julie, go lie down). As Carlson and Denning put on aqua lungs and bicker, we see a strange creature in the water, a half man and half fish.

The creature from the black lagoon starts offing some of the boat's native crew, and is captured. Then it escapes, only this time hurts a white scientist guy. NOW we are mad. A couple of natives is one thing, but when you hurt Anglos, you are in for it. The film then falls into an unfortunate routine: the burly men come up with a plan, gill man outsmarts them and kills or maims somebody, burly men come up with new plan. Toss in Carlson and Denning fighting worse than George Jefferson and Flo, and you have a cult horror sci-fi flick.

Some of the stuff here is silly. Adams' only role seems to be to look cute in a one piece and scream every time the stealth-like gill man gets on the boat, which is often. Denning and Carlson's arguing grates. At one point, to flush out the gill man, they poison the entire lagoon with a drug that renders aquatic life paralyzed for an hour or two! The gill man is shot twice with a harpoon yet still manages to live through it all.

On the positive, the gill man's makeup is awesome. The suit is totally believable, and the effect is creepy. The suit seems pliable enough that the actor encased inside can still move around, and he gets involved in the action. James C. Havens directed the underwater sequences and did a great job. The shots are crystal clear, and even a silt filled fight between the creature and Denning comes off well. Director Arnold does well on dry land, turning the lagoon into a claustrophobic trap when the creature blocks the exit with a dead tree. Arnold seamlessly blends studio shots with location filming.

All things considered, "Creature from the Black Lagoon" is not a bad film, but no classic. It is scarier and more entertaining than ninety percent of the horror and science fiction films that have come out since the mid 1950's. For nostalgia, you cannot beat it. (* * *) out of five stars.