Monday, 2 May 2011
THE CREATURE STRIKES TWICE
It's interesting to note that prior to starting his remake of King Kong, director Peter Jackson was actually considering doing a remake of the Creature from the Black Lagoon. That he opted for King Kong instead is telling, since both movies rely on a retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story in a fantasy/horror setting.
The Creature from the Black Lagoon, at age 15 million years old, is the last survivor of its species - a mixture of amphibian and man. When his habitat in the Amazon is disturbed, he attacks those who try to capture it. Unlike Frankenstein and Dracula who had their roots in Gothic literature, the gill-man was an all original creation by Universal Pictures. Actor Ben Chapman played the creature in the land scenes and Ricou Browning played the creature for the underwater scenes - but neither actor achieved the same level of name awareness as other stars of the Universal horror movies, names such as Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. Maybe because the Gill-Man required a suit rather than extensive and inventive make-up techniques. That's not to rubbish the suit, though - the creature looks stunning and has been referenced many times in pop culture. The Gill-Man was also the first screen monster known to teenagers in the 1950's, since earlier creations like Frankenstein, the Wolf Man and The Mummy had long since finished their cinema runs and not yet made it to television.
The DVD of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, part of the Universal Creature Features Collection - my edition comes as a double pack, alongside The Mummy. Watching the film these days on a decent set up and you're actually getting a better viewing experience that original cinema audiences. Back in the day they wouldn't have had the crisp digital picture and booming soundtrack. The disc comes in 2.0 Mono but put through a surround system really delivers. And the black and white transfer in incredibly crisp.
The disc is also heavy with special features with a great all original documentary and a fascinating commentary from film historian Tom Weaver.
But what about the movie?
Well modern viewers will either love it or find it too corny - but if you can sit back and allow yourself to become lost in the movie, a great experience is waiting. The acting style is very much of its period, bigger than modern screen acting and almost theatrical, the locations used like a stage set. That the film was largely made on a Universal back lot doesn't show and the Amazon of the movie truly looks like a dark and mysterious place. Most of the underwater scenes were filmed in Florida because of the clarity of the water.
One famous scene where the monster swims unseen below the lovely Julia Adams is very daring and almost simulates lovemaking. The scene in excellently out together and it is this scene maybe more than any other that humanises the Gill-Man.
Lead actor, Richard Carlson is very affective as the 1950's square jawed, heroic scientist and there's a lot of this character in Indiana Jones and indeed both Spielberg and George Lucus have both mentioned the influence of this movie on their creation. Spielberg's Jaws also owes a lot this this all time classic and the early appearances of the giant shark are presented in the same way as Gill-Man in introduced - first we get the odd shot of a webbed hand or a fin before eventually seeing the full magnificent creation.
The original movie was in 3D and it's a pity we can't see it this way today - hopefully one day a 3D version will be released onto DVD or Blu-Ray.
Revenge of the Creature which hit cinemas a year later - by the same director, Jack Arnold it doesn't quite match the original but it's a good enough movie. The law of diminishing returns seemed to have applied even way back then.
It's basically the same plot - creature gets the hots for attractive young woman and goes on a hormone fuelled rampage. Only this time the creature is at loose in the big city.
As mentioned previously Clint Eastwood turns up early in the movie - he may have been a future superstar but back then he was unknown and his small scene is unremarkable. It, like the original movie, was also shot in 3D but the current DVD release is the standard version.
There was also another movie - 1956's, The Creature Walks Among Us - as of yet I've not seen this movie, but have just ordered the box set from Amazon so expect a review here soon.
The original is the best but both movies hold up well (indeed the ecological subtext is perhaps even more relevant today) and the creature is truly an important part of fantasy cinema. They sure don't make em like this anymore...more's the pity.