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Building my Movie Posters Puzzle: Creature From the Black Lagoon

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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.

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Here’s a set of Star Wars-sized action figures that came out in 1981.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Posted on September 3, 2016, in Movies, Nostalgia, sequels and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. A nice addition to this series, Daffy. I agree with your assessment of Creature—strictly a genre film but fun to watch (plus, it is not at all painful to get to watch Julie Adams model swimwear and shorts for 80 minutes 🙂 ).

    The creature was always performed by two different actors, one for the land scenes and another for the underwater sequences. The “land” actors were different in each of the three movies, but the same man, Ricou Browning, was the underwater man in all three. Browning made a nice career in film and television as a specialist in underwater work—he was a second unit director on Thunderball, for instance, in charge of all the underwater scenes.

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    • Adams is pretty darn fetching. She had a long career, mostly in guest shots on TV shows, including on The Andy Griffith Show and later appearances on Melrose Place and Lost. She was a working actress and that’s quite an achievement.

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      • Julie Adams wrote a memoir of her career a few years ago which sounds interesting; I may try to track it down.

        Interesting bit of trivia. A couple of years before Creature, Julie Adams starred opposite James Stewart in a Western called Bend of the River. One of the supporting players, playing Adams’ younger sister, was an actress named Lori Nelson. When they made Revenge of the Creature, the first of the two sequels, who but Lori Nelson should get cast in the “swimsuit girl” role.

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  2. As the creatures rose from the depths, it was unaware of its future fate…in puzzle form.
    I was introduced to the creature by “The Monster Squad”; the bully brother from “The Wonder Years” watches in terror as the much-maligned Horace character gives the creature a shotgun funeral. “My name (cocks shotgun), is Horace!”.

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    • I’ve never seen Monster Squad, so I can’t judge its merits, but I love this review quote from Vincent Canby of The New York Times. “A feature-length commercial for a joke store that sells not-great, rubber monster masks”.

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      • Yeah, it’s definitely not a critical darling, really more for undiscerning kids like I was at the time. But back then, myself and a few others found the concept of a Monster Squad a lot of fun. For adults, there really just isn’t anything there to work with, unless one had a thing for the late Mary Ellen Trainor (loved her as the therapist in the Lethal Weapon film series).

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        • Not a critical darling, but the reviews at the time were mixed leaning towards positive. And Monster Squad has developed a very strong cult following among audiences who were a bit younger than Daffy and myself.

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        • I agree with you, especially since I was one of those kids. I’ll tell you though, my friends and I sometimes pronounced the name Horace as a dirty word, which I’m sure some other like-minded kids at the time did.

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  3. Apparently, “My Name is Horace!” is on a t-shirt, and kind of a thing online. I had no idea, I just viewed the film a boatload of times in the late 1980’s (but only twice since).

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  4. This is a nostalgia bomb. We talked in the Frankenstein article about my affection for the Universal monsters. I didn’t have any of that merchandise you included, but I remember seeing all of it. And I remember watching Revenge of the Creature in 3-D as well. It was kind of a big deal when the local channel ran it. There were 3-D glasses available all over town. Every kid I knew watched it because that’s how things were back then. I remember we had a babysitter that night which only added to the excitement. That carried along with it TV dinners and soda. Toss in a 3-D monster movie, even a bad one like Revenge of the Creature, and it made for a memorable night.

    I’m surprised to hear you say that the Universal Studios’ Classic Monsters Cafe is open inconsistently. I have never heard of it being on a seasonal plan like Disney does with some of its restaurants. If that’s true, that would be a shame. The place is an attraction even without the food. We stopped in for a potty break which is always more of a time commitment than you would think and I greatly enjoyed the museum-like quality of the place. I assume it was closed during your visit? I haven’t been able to find confirmation one way or another about it closing.

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    • I’ e been to Universal three times and have found it closed twice. One time it was being opened later that night for the Halloween party..

      That’s one choice night for a preteen boy you had going on there!

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      • From what I have read, the food at the Universal Monster Cafe is unexceptional as is most of the counter service outside of The Simpsons and Harry Potter areas. So probably no big loss there, but it’s definitely worth a quick look for any monster movie fan who finds it open. Hopefully as they add to the on-site hotels, they can keep it open on a more regular schedule. And maybe update the menu.

        I had completely forgotten Revenge of the Creature, but it was something me and all my friends were really looking forward to. The movie itself was a bit disappointing, but TV dinners and a pop more than made up for that!

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  5. A few years ago, I saw THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON on a big screen, in 3-D, with Julie Adams in attendance! I even got to ask her a question during the Q&A session! That was a great night.

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  6. Do you recall what the 3D glasses looked like that you bought at Store 24 for the Creature movie? Was there any graphics on them?

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