Friday, August 24, 2018

Revisiting The Creature from the Black Lagoon #OurAuthorGang

Pity The Monster

Back to the Black Lagoon
Joe Bonadonna
All photos courtesy of Google Images  

He was just another lonely guy looking for love and companionship.

He’s most commonly known as the Gillman, but many of us call him Creach. (Or Creatch, if you prefer.)

One of my favorite of the Universal Pictures Famous Monsters is The Creature from the Black Lagoon. The first film was released in 1954, and the basic plot involves a geology expedition in the Amazon that uncovers fossilized evidence (a skeletal hand with webbed fingers) from the Devonian Period that provides a direct link between land and sea animals. Of course, the expedition discovers a living representative from that period, and thus the usual mayhem and murder result when the scientists try to capture Creach and take him back to the States to study. 

The Creature is an innocent, no matter that he kills and tries to make off with the girl. After all, his territory was invaded by outsiders. He was hounded and hunter, doused with flames from an oil lamp, and the waters of his lagoon subjected to Roanoke, a substance that can cause severe organ damage or death if ingested, breathed in, or absorbed through the skin. The scientists fail to capture Creach, who is obviously an intelligent being, in spite of the fact that it cannot communicate with us. The Gillman commits more murders in order to protect his environment and avoid capture, and nearly succeeds in abducting the object of his desire. In the end, Creach is riddled with bullets before retreating to the lagoon, where his body sinks into the watery depths. We are the interlopers in this film. We are the monsters. Can you blame the poor creature for trying to protect his home, and his life . . . and trying to make off with a bathing beauty? I sure don’t.

Revenge of the Creature premiered in 1955. Creach was a real die-hard who survived the first film. In this sequel, the Gillman is discovered to have survived being riddled with bullets. Once again humans set out to hunt and capture him, and this time they succeed. He’s then sent to the Ocean Harbor Oceanarium in Florida, where he is studied by Clete, an animal psychologist, and Helen, an ichthyology student. (Look for Clint Eastwood in a bit part as a scientist with a pet mouse; this was his film debut.) This time, old Creach is chained at the bottom of a huge aquarium tank where the scientists try to train him and teach him commands by using an electrical device similar to a cattle-prod. 

Creach becomes the main attraction of the Ocean Harbor, as well as a water-dwelling version of Pavlov’s Dog. Of course Clete and Helen fall in love, which enrages Creach, who has his eye on the young lady. Subjected to torturous tests, captivity, humiliation and a hungry heart, the jealous Creature manages to escape and wreak more havoc. In the end, he’s once again brought down, and the final scene in the film is the same shot of him floating in the water from the first film. Again, this film shows us clearly who the monster really is, the invader, the interloper, the masters of torture: human beings.

In 1956, the third and final film, The Creature Walks Among Us, was released. Once again, Creach proved tougher than the stupid, stupid humans thought: he lived through his ordeal in the second film. Following the Gillman’s escape from Ocean Harbor, a team of scientists, led by the deranged and cold-hearted doctor, set out to capture Creach in the Everglades. This time, another love triangle is introduced when the doctor’s arrogant guide falls for his wife. Of course, the Gillman, who has quite the eye for the ladies, sets his sights on the doctor’s wife. 

When he’s eventually captured, the Creature is badly burned in a fire, which leads to a surgical transformation in order to save his life for further study, testing, caging and humiliation. While bandaging Creach, the doctors notice that he’s shedding his gills and even breathing using a kind of lung system. Now that the creature has more human-like skin, and looks more human (and much larger, too!) he’s given clothing made from canvas sailcloth, which is not very fashionable. The doctors try to get Creach accustomed to living among humans, but naturally he’s not a happy Devonian: he’s an outsider, and after all he’s been through, his opinion of men is understandably quite low. Once again behind bars like an animal in a zoo or a convict in prison, Creach’s jealous rage explodes one night during a scuffle between the doctor, his wife, and the love-sick guide. He breaks free of his cage, kills a few more people and flees to the beach, where he stares longingly at the sea before walking towards it. But I guess he didn’t survive this time because he no longer had gills, only lungs, can no longer breathe underwater, and a fourth film was never made. My bet is, poor Creach quickly drowned. Like the other films, this film portrays humans as the monsters, taking another living creature away from its natural habitat in order to “study it.” Will we never learn? Will Mankind always be the monster in monster films? 

At the beginning of the 21st century Universal Pictures teamed up with Dark Horse Books and authorized a series of really fine novels based on their famous monsters—sequels written especially for this series. Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, and The WolfmanBut my favorite is Creature from the Black Lagoon: Time’s Black Lagoon, written by Paul Di Filippo. 

This highly-enjoyable novel is set in 2015 (our recent past, now), but soon turns into a great time-travel novel, back to the Devonian Era where we learn the origins of Creach’s amphibious ancestors, as well as their culture and society. Pretty good stuff, in my humble opinion.

In 1987 a different-looking but no less cool Creature appeared along side Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, the Wolfman, and the Mummy in the now classic, more family-friendly The Monster Squad. This wonderful little film, I have heard, may soon become a big-budget remake. Ah, so sad, the times we live in! 

Now, while there's been some talk over the years regarding cinematic remakes and reboots of The Creature of the Black Lagoon, most recently director/writer Guillermo del Toro's Academy Award film, The Shape of Water (2017), features a very similar albeit more highly-advanced and human-like creature. While del Toro's film treats his Amphibian Man with more sympathy and understanding than ol' Creach ever got, The Shape of Water is more of a romantic and visually stunning film . . . a love story between his creature and a lonely, sympathetic mute cleaning lady at a high-security government laboratory where the amphibian humanoid suffers a series of tortuous "examinations." Inter-species romance at its best. 

Please check out and enjoy Dace Edmund's 1979 song, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, written by his guitarist, Billy Bremner.

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