Building my Movie Posters Puzzle: Creature From the Black Lagoon
In late June I took advantage of some free days to visit my Mother in Virginia for her birthday. It was a fun long weekend that included meals out, a screening of Finding Dory, and an unexpected shared activity when I ran across a puzzle in the book store that was just too good to pass up. It consists of thirty-nine posters from a wide variety of classic films stretching from the silent era of the 1920s into the 1970s. It was an engrossing project to undertake alongside my Mother and we naturally discussed several of the featured movies as we built it. What stunned me a little was that I had actually only seen twenty-six of the thirty-nine films honored. I have vowed to fill these gaps in my knowledge of film and take you along for the ride as I reconstruct the puzzle in question. I’ll re-watch the movies I’ve already seen along with experiencing the ones that are new to me and share my thoughts on each one.
Up to this point in my coverage of this visual celebration of classic movies, what we’ve seen have been largely either legendarily great films, or top-notch examples of genre forms. Even something like Pillow Talk holds a significant place in the history of the romantic comedy and still stands as an excellent example of that kind of movie. Today’s entry Creature From the Black Lagoon, though plenty famous and possessing of some admirable qualities here and there is the first of a few flicks that will be part of this project which will mostly be considered memorable as just being fun.
Growing up in the 1970s the “Gill-Man” from Creature From the Black Lagoon was consistently featured alongside movie monster greats like Dracula, The Mummy, the Frankenstein monster, and the Wolf Man. The creature is certainly visually striking and provides excellent variety when standing next these other scary figures.
Here’s a set of Star Wars-sized action figures that came out in 1981.
This is a set of commemorative glasses made by Anchor Hocking in the early ’60s that can fetch a pretty decent price from collectors nowadays. I remember a friend of mine having these and using them on an everyday basis when I was a kid.
The widely available monster models by Aurora were contained in boxes with cover art that was even more spellbinding than the actual product inside. Kids tended to prop the box up next to the completed model as a sort of backdrop or companion.
And of course no discussion of ’70s era collectibles would be complete without the obligatory metal lunch box of the time. This one came out in 1979 and featured the Creature on its bottom. Whatever was offered up in that plastic thermos inside had to be scary indeed.
Even now, the Creature takes his place next to his fellow monsters at Universal’s theme park in Orlando at a moderately themed counter service restaurant that is only open inconsistently, but persists to tempt fans of classic horror.
All of the Universal monsters have been victims of their success to a degree, gradually being defanged to a degree by becoming cartoons, slapstick stars, and containers for bubble bath. But in contrast to most of the original Universal monster movies, Creature From the Black Lagoon was a little hokey to begin with. After all, before it was even released, the movie was being marketed like this:
That’s a lot of video for just a few moments of the Creature we’re talking about, but that’s also the very first appearance of the creature anywhere which introduces it as as much of a figure of fun as one of terror. The film itself then managed to miss the mark on fright even as the Creature racks up a relatively significant body count. Somebody on the production apparently thought that the extended arm of the Creature was extraordinarily frightening, because we’re treated to several moments when the actor dressed as the Creature simply sticks his hand somewhere and holds it in place while the background music indicates that we should be terrified. This is most likely repeated in order to take advantage of the 3D effect it created. The Vincent Price 3D hit House of Wax had been a big success the previous year, but the craze was already receding significantly by the time of Creature From the Black Lagoon‘s release.
Unfortunately the costume, with a dramatic and memorable look designed by Disney’s Millicent Patrick, was notoriously awkward and uncomfortable. Two different actors played the Creature, with one shooting the swimming scenes with a second unit, and the other playing the part when he was walking around on land or on the boat. The actor who played the Creature on land was repeatedly overheating in the costume and spent any spare moments he had submerged in a nearby lake or getting hosed down by the grips.
As iconic as the look which was achieved turned out to be, the land actor could hardly move or see while he was wearing it. Just watch him try to carry actress Julia Adams during the final scenes of the film.
He was having so much difficulty, in fact, that he accidentally scraped her head against those rocks. Another scene in which he attempts to carry her ends awkwardly as he simply falls to his knees, puts her down and passes out. The Creature had been dosed with some sort of chemical which was explained to have caused his sudden collapse, but it really just looks like the actor in the costume gives up.
The screenwriters did their best to amp up the fear attached to the Creature, but those efforts are ultimately done in by these technical and editing drawbacks. What we’re left with is, however, while not particularly terrifying or poetic, a pulpy genre picture that is still a lot of fun. Although the movie was not one of the top twenty money-makers of its year, it was successful enough to spawn two sequels over the next couple of years (the first of which brings us this very early appearance by one Clint Eastwood).
This is the Creature sequel that my local UHF station showed in 3D when I was about ten years old. Most of us got ahold of those old blue and red style 3D glasses so we could watch it, but the results were not particularly impressive, and neither was the movie itself.
Re-makes have been either in the works or rumored for decades now, but something always seems to get in the way of any of them actually coming to fruition. Just last year there were reports that Jeff Pinker of Amazing Spider-Man 2 was hired to write a new Creature film. Based on his track record it’s hard to feel very enthusiastic about the idea.
Posted on September 3, 2016, in Movies, Nostalgia, sequels and tagged Abbot and Costello, Building My Movie Posters Puzzle, Clint Eastwood, Creature From the Black Lagoon, Revenge of the Creature, Universal Monsters. Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.