Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Monster Mondays, where we go out and find the really big things that can kill you in horror. You join your reviewers, Andy and Lilly, as they pack up their wetsuits and spearguns in preparation for some … palaeontology?
Today’s film offering: The Creature from the Black Lagoon
Andy: There’s some really great eras in horror. Most people know about the Universal movies of the 30s, or the slasher nonsense of the 80s. Let’s talk about another awesome period – the ‘science is weird’ 50s. This includes such fun things as, well, The Thing from Another World, Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, The Fly, and this. It’s a surprisingly optimistic period, where pluck and derring-do usually sufficed to keep the horrors at bay, most of the time, and the good guys usually won through at the end. Which is to be expected, seeing as many of the movies came from the States, and it had just been a Big Damn Hero in World War II.
(Incidentally French horror from the 50s is much weirder. See Les Yeux Sans Visage or Les Diaboliques.)
Lilly: (No, really, see those so you can enjoy them as much as we did!)
Andy: The plot concerns a group of scientist/explorer types heading up the Amazon to search for the rest of a fossil one of them had found on a previous visit. It appears to be some kind of manfish from hundreds of years ago and could provide the missing link between…something.
Lilly: The link between fish and fierce, if those drag nails on that webbed hand tell me anything.
Andy: It goes without saying that at least one of its descendants is hanging around, with an aggressive stance towards being left the f*** alone.
Lilly: For those of you who shy away from films due to them being in black and white, this is one you should really make an exception for. Like Andy said, it is one of the prime examples of the beautiful era of science fiction horror without delving too deep into the science part.
Andy: One of the things I like about this movie (and I like a great many things) is that it is somewhat ambiguous who is really the injured party here. Sure, the Creature murders people, but then so does a jaguar if you go and poke it. Meanwhile the men of this movie shoot guns at it, drug it, harpoon it, and are generally unpleasant to it in the name of ‘science!’.
Lilly: Through the eyes of Kay, the lady researcher who seems to be mainly there as a sounding board for the men and reason to have pointed 1950’s swimsuit breasts on screen (because you are always sure to bring your nice bathing suit to your research trips into lagoons), we get a sense of sympathy for the monster in between its menacing about the place. We see it wonder at her form as she swims and there is a bit of innocence in that scene, comparable to that of Boris Karloff’s creation in Frankenstein first seeing the sun. There is definitely a lot to drive the imagination wild with the creature of the Black Lagoon, which is part of its appeal.
Andy: It’s also got some fantastic underwater photography. This is probably the best until Jaws, some two decades later, and definitely impressive for the time. It also manages something lots of movies don’t; it makes it’s underwater action coherent and compelling, rather than confused and covered with bubbles.
Lilly: Not to mention it doesn’t fall back on shaky camera, distressed breathing noises when it comes to the monster. No, they’ve got some professional diver suited up in there and he is going to earn his paycheck by being fully seen as much as possible.
Andy: It also presents an interesting subversion of something seen in later films like Aliens – here, the good guys are the ones trying to keep the Creature alive, and the man insisting it be destroyed is painted as more of a ‘villain’ character. A far cry from “Nuke the site from orbit.”
As for the Creature itself, it’s probably the most iconic outside of the big Universal hitters, and it manages a wonderful blend of a sort of alien intelligence and animalistic movement. I especially love the way it ‘pants’ on dry land, as if gasping for its natural habitat.
There are a few things that don’t work for me – namely the Creature’s bizarre attraction towards the one female on the expedition. It all feels a bit too King Kong for my liking. The final chase sequence feels oddly rushed.
Lilly: It does seem to run out of steam. As for the Creature’s interest in Kay, I’m of two minds on that one. It’s a bit King Kong-ish, yes, but there is a side of me that wants to think that female Creatures of the Black Lagoon must therefore look like human females, and the poor fishy man guy just is settling for the ugliest fishy woman gal he could find since he was lonely. It could actually be a case of mistaken species, while with King Kong, there was no way Kong was thinking ‘Oh hey, a lady monkey!’ because she would be freakishly short and no one would want to hook up with her in the Kong world.
Andy: But other than that, this is a cracking film that kids and adults alike will enjoy, and even, at a distance of over five decades, may send a slight chill up your spine.