It’s an interesting task, actually sitting down and reviewing a movie that you’ve seen dozens of times. To be honest, I could have written this the minute I was asked to review it, if not for the fact that I’ve never seen it in a theater in 3D. What might seem like such a minor thing definitely had me almost feeling like I was watching a different, but very familiar, movie. And you know what? IT. WAS. AWESOME.
Full disclosure, I actually have a Gill-man tattoo (well, it’s been covered up, but not for any lack of love for the film), so clearly I wasn’t going into this objectively. I love this movie, and despite some modern crowd reactions to old horror films (I’m looking at you, people that laugh at The Exorcist), I think it holds up very, very well. What’s interesting about Creature from the Black Lagoon is that it’s one of only three films in the Universal Studios monster lineup to not have a literary source, the other two being The Mummy and The Wolf Man. Also, as opposed to most other films in that stable, there was no real star power in this film. There’s no Karloff, no Lugosi, and neither a senior or junior Chaney. Just a bunch of relative unknowns, especially the men who played Gill-man. Yet, it still shines (to me) as the best of the bunch.
At the heart of nearly every Universal monster film is the same general story presented here. You know, the old hopeless romantic who tries to get closer to his object of desire by killing basically everyone around her. We’ve all been there. In spite of not really treading any new ground on the surface, however, there’s something deeper in Creature from the Black Lagoon. Like George Romero not-so-subtly sticking a message about consumerism in Dawn of the Dead, the writers of Creature (story by Maurice Zimm, screenplay by Harry Essex and Arthur A. Ross) delivered a tale of modern man exploiting primitive man for his own profit and fame.
The two stories work remarkably well together – Gill-man trying to get Kay back to his cave for some Marvin Gaye records, and David spending most of the movie trying to get Mark to stop being such a dick (all while trying to prevent his lady from being kidnapped by a fishman).
As I previously mentioned, seeing this in the theater in 3D was a new experience for me, and one that really brought a smile to my face. Sure, there were some underwater foliage scenes that were a cross-eyed mess, but overall, the way the film was shot in 3D was nothing short of gorgeous. The depth of the fish swimming in the lagoon, the air bubbles from the aqua-lung (hat tip to Jethro Tull), Gill-man reaching out to grab, well, everyone… it was all stunning, and gave me that same sort of giddy feeling you have as a child watching a 3D movie. maybe that’s because I’ve been watching this film since I was a child, but who knows. I’m a pretty staunch opponent of most modern 3D movies, because they’re almost all a post-production, converted mess, and with the exception of some of the Dreamworks titles, they’re all basically a chance for Michael Bay to fulfill his 700 explosions per film quota. This, however, this is how 3D should be done.
One other thing that really marks Creature from the Black Lagoon as the cream of the Universal crop to me is the complete and total lack of a remake of any sort (no, I’m not counting Swamp Thing). Sure, there have been projects started as early as 1982 with the original director Jack Arnold tapped to return, right up to present day in which a potential remake may have Scarlett Johansson in the role of Kay, but nothing has ever materialized. Frankly, you don’t need to touch this film to make it any better. I’m sure that Universal will go for it at some point, though, and any attempt to remake it will come off about as well as Dracula Untold. Really dropped the ball on that one, Universal. The closest thing to a remake was the novelization of the film, which transformed Gill-man from a piscine amphibious humanoid into a 30 ton hermaphrodite with a long tail. I’m serious, look it up. It’s insane.
Along with all of the other Universal Studios monster films, Hollywood horror owes a huge debt of gratitude to Creature from the Black Lagoon. Those films paved the way for so many horror standards to come, and they all hold up as great films in my eyes. Creature, however, will forever hold a place in my heart, perhaps even more so now that I’ve finally seen it as it was originally intended to be seen.
Shane loves movies, records, bicycles, pretzels, and a fine root beer. You can find him being incredibly random here