A scientific expedition searching for fossils along the Amazon River discovers a prehistoric Gill-Man in the legendary Black Lagoon. The explorers attack and capture the mysterious creature, but it breaks free and seeks its animalistic revenge.
Amelia: Why did this movie begin with talking about how God created the heavens and the earth and then show us evolution? Talk about conflicting messages! I’d love to know how this lady keeps her hair so perfect in Amazon jungle heat and humidity. Is it that this is clearly a sound stage packed with some palm trees and ferns? Yeah, that’s probably it. Though they do have the foresight to make the male actors sweaty after they do their physical labour. And what’s with the pacing? The movie is only an hour and twenty minutes but it feels longer than that by a lot. I think because there’s not actually a tonne of stuff that happens here.
Billy: It’s good to get into some of the classic Universal horror movies for a change. After bouncing all over the place this month from Halloween to Ju-On to The Fly, The Creature From The Black Lagoon feels like coming home. So what’s up with this Creature? Well, he’s definitely one of the more beautiful designs I’ve ever seen in one of these movies and that’s even more impressive considering it’s a costume that has to function in the water. This is the first time I’ve watched the film and I didn’t actually realize before now how they actually show full underwater scenes of the Creature stalking his native environment. That just blows me away. It adds so much complexity to what they had to go through during the film making process and it would have been so easy to write around having to do that. Before watching Creature From The Black Lagoon, I honestly thought this was a Creature that would rise out of a swamp. What they did here is way more impressive.
Amelia: Okay, snark and sarcasm aside, I really love The Creature From the Black Lagoon! It’s a masterful bit of monster cinema. I suppose technically it’s a B-movie, but there was still a tonne of effort put into this picture. Half the movie is underwater scenes and I’m assuming that’s kind of hard to do. I mean, modern movies don’t do it. They just get their actors to flail around in a windy void and then impose some watery details over it in post. Old movies didn’t have that luxury and had to just film these scenes underwater. I do love when old movies put in their 110%!
Billy: Amelia asked me where they shot this movie, and without looking into it I have to assume they shot in on the back lot. Look really closely at all those backdrops and you’ll see there’s not a lot of shots where our characters are actually interacting with the jungle environment. The underwater scenes are a whole other story, and those are some painstaking effort that’s gone into those. There really is some gorgeous cinematography there that’s ahead of its time. And the fact that the Creature looks so good in those environments shows you it was worth it. He was made for underwater shooting, and I can absolutely tell that now. His design makes so much more sense to me. Absolutely stunning.
Amelia: The creature is a pretty amazing full costume piece. And it was designed by the fabulous female Disney animator Milicent Patrick! She didn’t get credit for her creation for a long time, so hell yeah I’m mentioning it here! It’s not like modern makeup that’s molded from the actor’s face and then glued on and painted, it’s a full suit that you could take the head off and be able to eat a ham sandwich at lunch. There’s a really neat trick worked into the makeup that moves the gills to resemble breathing when the actor opens and closes his mouth. You could believe that this is an evolutionary offshoot of a fish though it is a little stiff and silly looking in hi-def.
This creature is definitely at its scariest when it’s in the water. When it’s on land, it lumbers around like a drunk gorilla. When it’s in the water, it’s graceful and controlled. You can lose it in the tangles of weeds and you’ll never know where it goes once it disappears. This lagoon is its ancestral home, it knows it like the back of its fin and the uncredited actor inside deserves a tremendous amount of praise for how he depicts the creature. I don’t know for sure, but the suit doesn’t look like it would hold an air tank. Ricou Browning was probably just holding his breath!
Billy: The one thing this movie doesn’t really provide, for me at least, is memorable characters. Other than the sailor who wonders why anybody would fish for rocks, I didn’t really get a handle on any personalities and didn’t really feel there was much of a story beyond “Oh no! A monster!” The Creature is obviously not a big talker, and they do a good job of emphasizing that inhumanity throughout the film. When he’s captured and just sits there in the tank? Of course. He’s just a fish. I really feel for him too. Why don’t they just leave him alone!? I wish he had lived through it. That would have been a stronger ending, just leaving nature as is, but instead they had to kill it. Poor little guy.
Amelia: Seven evolutionary offshoots out of ten
The Creature From the Black Lagoon is an excellent classic monster movie. I’ve always had a small problem with the pacing, but besides that, this movie is thrilling, beautiful, and just a bunch of B-movie fun! I can’t recommend it enough if you’ve never seen it!
Billy: Six evolutionary offshoots out of ten
So, it’s a Universal monster, and certainly the best designed Universal monster I’ve seen yet, but it’s not my favourite movie of the stable. The lack of solid characters really holds it back. I still think people should see it, because the monster himself is so great, but they could have done a little more with the setting. Maybe take the Creature and throw him into African Queen or something like that. See how he fares going over a waterfall and falling into the hands of the Nazis. Katherine Hepburn could really show him what for!