Saturday, October 31, 2015

Creature from the Black Lagoon

   As a movie buff in general, there's always a whole heap of classic films I feel guilty for not watching. When weighed against a lot of the junk I usually watch, it's almost a crime. With my October Horror-thon and Halloween itself coming to a close, I decided to end it with a bang. What better flick to cap it all off with than one of the original creature features? It was a no-brainer actually, and one I had been planning all month. I dimmed the lights, popped the popcorn and started the movie up. It's breezy 80-ish minute long runtime left no room for sluggish pacing. Almost right away, Creature from the Black Lagoon was proving it's reputation with frightening gusto. This is definitely the penultimate granddaddy of all creature feature flicks.

   The movie is about an expedition up the Amazon river to unearth a rather unusual and mysterious skeleton that looks part human, part amphibian. Only, the intrepid researchers get a lot more than they bargained for when they end up face to face with the real live counterpart to the skeleton. It's a snappy little set up and one that works well. It's sad that a lot of people think 'old' and 'boring' are synonymous when it comes to movies. In no time at all, this movie was cranking out creepy imagery, violent action scenes, and gorgeous scenery all set to a fantastic score, ranging from adventurous to downright scary! The movie clicks along at a quick pace, keeping the creature from full view for a while- but it doesn't take long for us to realize this Gill-man isn't camera shy.

   The Gill-man steals the show whenever possible. Only the most jaded and cynical viewers could possibly say this looked like a man in a suit. The stuntmen inside the creature do an amazing job of bringing it to life with animalistic mannerisms and plenty of personality. What's unique about the Gill-man is that he's also a rather sympathetic creature. He can be quite menacing, for sure, but he's also just responding to a bunch of people invading his territory. He's also quite possibly the only one of his kind, and is clearly fascinated by Julia Adam's character, Kay Lawrence. Who knows if he's ever seen people before? Let alone a woman for that matter. I firmly believe Jaws owes a lot to this movie, but the shark in Jaws doesn't have a face.

   An important distinction between Gill-man and most horror movie creatures. Even the xenomorph in Alien lacked any discernible humanoid facial features. As terrifying as he is, the Gill-man is never portrayed as evil. I felt that was a very smart and sophisticated angle for a story like this to use. It's an animal from a forgotten and bygone era of history, time has seemed to pass it by. Though it's quite at home in the eponymous Black Lagoon, right off the Amazon river. It's a place that's haunting and gorgeous all at the same time. The sounds of the wildlife accompany the score with screeches and howls. It all contributes to an exceptionally eerie atmosphere. There's a lot to appreciate in this breezy little creature feature, but special mention goes to the underwater scenes.

   Whole action sequences take place underwater, and it's all the more harrowing because you know there's no special effects trickery going on here. I read somewhere that the stuntman playing the creature often had to hold his breath for up to four minutes at a time. The director (if I recall correctly) didn't feel like the Gill-man would have bubbles coming from his mouth because he wouldn't be breathing the way a normal human would, so there was no oxygen tank fitted under the suit. That sort of detail is admirable, and the crew's willingness to go through with it is... scary. Regardless, it adds yet another layer of danger and suspense to the movie, albeit a very real one. When you know there's a real element of danger to a movie, it becomes all that much more engrossing. This movie is no exception.

   The leads are all great, but I really wished Kay had more of a leading role. She's relegated to doling out screams here and there whenever Gill-man shows up, and while she has a great set of lungs I felt like her character had a lot of unexplored potential. Alas, this was the 1950's. Women in movies were going to be damsels in distress or eye candy- and usually both. Even so, Kay is a smart woman and brave. For the most part she's treated like an equal member of the expedition. I can only hope that if this is ever remade (which I don't think would be an awful idea, if in the right hands) that Kay is made the absolute main character. She is the one that the Gill-man becomes obsessed with after all.

   Nevertheless, Creature from the Black Lagoon is a surprisingly smart and effective creature feature even decades later. It's directed with jolting efficiency and has an intensely energetic vibe to it. It's tightly paced and a real delight any way you slice it. I can't imagine this flick boring anyone of any age. It's a classic that certainly lived up to it's massive reputation. Timeless, gorgeous, scary, and full of action, this movie was a blast. I loved it, and look forward to future re-watches.

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