Monday, November 10, 2008

The Creature From the Black Lagoon (trilogy)


(1954)***

Upon discovering the fossilized hand of an ancient creature believed to be the missing link between humans and sea animals, Dr. Carl Maia brings his discovery to marine biologist Dr. David Reed for a looksy. The ichthyologist is impressed with Dr. Maia’s nifty find and convinces Mark Williams, who is in charge of fiscal allocation at Maia’s biology institute, to finance a trip back to the Amazon to look for more skeletal evidence. Dr. Reed makes a good case for continuing with this research and an expedition is formed. Faster than you can say Candyman five times in a row the crew boards a steamboat and back to the Amazon they go. The crew consists of the usual assortment of annoying people including Dr. Maia, Dr. Reed, Reed’s girlfriend, Kay, Williams, and another scientist. The ship is captained by a jerk named Lucas.


Even ancient sea creatures can't help themselves to a little ass

Upon arrival Dr. Maia finds that an unknown assailant has slaughtered his entire research team. When they are unable to detect any evidence of the creature Mark expresses a desire to call it a day but his interest in the research is renewed when jerk captain, Lucas, tells the gang about a secret “black lagoon” downriver that nobody has ever returned from. Rather than being deterred by the fate of former visitors to the mysterious lagoon, these guys can’t get there fast enough. Once they the lagoon is located the researchers spend their time diving for fossils while stupid Kay decides to take a leisure swim. Unbeknownst to the silly girl the mysterious gill-man is watching her and no doubt having impure monster thoughts. Following an encounter with the steamship’s drag nets the Creature leaves behind a claw proving his existence and invigorating the team. Then all hell starts breaking loose.


I was probably scarier when I was in 3D

Despite all the jibber jabber about the Creature’s prehistoric background, the reality is that it’s simply window dressing for another derivative monster movie from Universal. Strip away the foreign setting of the Amazon and the Creature is really no different than Frankenstein, The Mummy, or the Wolf Man. The Creature From the Black Lagoon was originally in 3D and apparently the underwater sequences were breathtaking in this format, conveying the Creature’s alien world. Although these sequences are still impressive, they are neutered by the 2D format. The film excels during the Creature’s underwater peeping-Tom scenes, which make the Creature almost seem real, but fails anytime the Creature is shown onboard the steamship or on land. During these sequences the creepy underwater Creature becomes the man-in-rubber-suit and he loses his potency as a feared menace. If I had one chief complaint about this film it’s that the blaring cacophony of trumpets that erupt every single time the Creature appears is irritating. Rather than enhancing the Creature’s lethality, it becomes a distraction. Overall The Creature From the Black Lagoon is another fun monster movie from Universal although it doesn’t pack nearly the punch of the original Dracula or Frankenstein.

Revenge of the Creature

(1955)**

You actually believed that stabbing and riddling the Creature with bullets could stop him, as the ending of the original film would have you believe? Hell no. In the quickly made 3D sequel, Joe and George, two scientist employees of a Floridian aquarium, hire the jerk captain, Lucas, from the original film to take them to the Amazon despite Lucas’ dire warnings and belief that the Creature is the devil. Lucas’ predictions are proven to be true and the scientists barely escape with their lives after tussling with the angry water monster (with a little help from some dynamite). The Creature is brought to the Ocean Harbor Oceanarium in Florida where he is studied and put on display. Wait, why does this sound familiar?

I'm a rip-off

Once in the Oceanarium professor Clete Ferguson and his student Helen study the creature. Of course the two dopes can’t work together without falling in love, which pisses off Joe, who is in charge of the Creature. The horny Creature falls for Helen, which interferes with Clete’s efforts to study the ancient monster. The Creature eventually escapes his captors and heads back to the ocean, but not before killing Joe and abducting Helen in the process. It is up to Clete and local law enforcement to track down the Creature before it’s curtains for Helen.


Hey, even prehistoric gill-men have needs

Revenge of the Creature squanders a terrific opportunity to expand upon the creature mythos introduced in the original film. Rather than creating a riveting sequel to a pretty nifty concept (the hard work has already been done, fellas), the writers slap together a glacially paced adventure where little happens for most of the story. Capturing the Creature at the beginning of the film is mildly interesting but essentially the same underwater sequences from the first film are repeated with the same annoying blaring trumpets. Once the Creature is brought to Florida nothing happens for 45 minutes, unless you find sequences of the Creature chained to the bottom of a large swimming pool eating fish interesting. Once the Creature escapes the film becomes marginally entertaining but by that time you’re already checking your watch. The sequel also suffers from creature over-exposure, especially in scenes where he’s out of water – these sequences only highlight how silly he looks when he’s not in his natural surroundings, which brings us to The Creature Walks Among Us.

The Creature Walks Among Us

(1956)*1/2

Oh good lord. Picking up where Revenge of the Creature concluded yet another team of scientists track down the Creature, who is now residing in the Florida Everglades. During an elaborate capture sequence the Creature is severely burned. While patching up the poor monster Dr. Barton discovers that the Creature is shedding its gills and a primitive lung system is uncovered – the Creature can breathe air! For some reason when the Creature completes the shedding process it appears that he has human skin and Dr. Barton immediately orders clothing to be made so the Creature can cover his shame. The Creature is neutered for most of the story as the crack team of scientists’ attempts to teach the Creature how to live on land. When Dr. Barton discovers fellow scientist Jed making a pass at his wife, he kills him and tries to pin the blame on the Creature. The Creature, who witnessed the murder goes crazy, breaking out of his pen and beginning yet another murderous rampage.


Why do I have to wear pants?

I’m not sure why the two sequels to The Creature From the Black Lagoon insist on pulling the Creature out of his natural element. Presumably if another sequel had been made it would’ve been set on the moon. Similar to Revenge of the Creature's greatest blunder, placing the Creature on land in The Creature Walks Among Us renders him no more frightening than a lion in a zoo, not to mention that the clothing the Creature wears makes him resemble a car mechanic more than a fearful entity. For most of the film the Creature broods in his cage no doubt dreaming about returning to the depths of the Amazon and shedding his pants. Following his predictable end-of-the-film rampage, the Creature is seen heading into the ocean, although he no longer has gills (?). See it if you’ve already watched the first two installments of this franchise, otherwise skip it.

3 comments:

Octopunk said...

Ha! Great review! I don't think I can count all the times it made me laugh.

"Rather than being deterred by the fate of former visitors to the mysterious lagoon..."

"impure monster thoughts"

These plus your continual harping on the gillman's regrettable pants are making me giggle as I type this. Good one.

I actually saw the first movie in 3-D at the Bristol Cinemas, paired with It Came from Outer Space. I wish I could report on the grandeur of the underwater sequences, but what I really remember are the two shots towards the beginning in which the fossilized claw is reaching right out at the viewer. It might be that I just kind of got used to the 3-D after a while and didn't really notice it. (Same thing goes for ICfOS, there's a great spaceship crash in the opening but after that 2 dimensions are ample.

I've only seen the sequel in the MST3K episode, which I highly, highly recommend. One of their best. It was the first one with the new host Mike and they really brought their A game to the task. During the many scenes with the Creature in the aquarium, the guys add in lines for all the fish that swim in front of the camera. Good stuff.

I've never seen the third one but I've always been intrigued about the horribleness of the idea. It looks like that's Tor Johnson inside those clothes.

As a kid I always thought the Creature to be the best of the Universal monsters, because the others were basically humans with a twist and the Creature was a full-bodied lizardy fish thing. But yeah, as a movie star he's got the least to work with.

Excellent read!

Johnny Sweatpants said...

Yeah nice reviews although I think you were a little hard on the first one which I would file in the "delightful romp" category.

The pic of the creature with pants is priceless!

Octo, I've maintained my stubborn refusal to give in to MST3K but the fish bit finally convinced me!

Catfreeek said...

I love MST3K, Time of the Apes, The Mr.B-Natural shorts all classics. The episode Octo refers is excellent. I was skeptical about the new host but Mike won me over in that first episode.