Written by Stu Cooper
Today I had the fortune of seeing one of my favorite Universal monster movies on the big screen! Not only that but I got to view the film in it's original 3-D glory. I actually didn't know until today that the film was originally shot in 3-D. I first saw the film on VHS as a kid, and have sense gotten it on DVD but have never had the opportunity to watch it in 3-D. The film "The Creature From The Black Lagoon" was released in 1957 and directed by Jack Arnold who had also directed a couple other monster movies, namely "Tarantula" and "It Came From Outer Space". The film was the first to ever shoot 3-D underwater, and to my knowledge one of the first films to shoot full fighting action sequences underwater. The "Gillman" character was played by Ben Chapman, and the underwater "Gillman" was played by Richou Browning. Browning actually had to hold his breath for up to 4 minutes during the underwater sequences because the suit did not have a place for an air-tank. This is truly remarkable considering the scenes and the depths that he was swimming down to. The designer of the Creature was a young woman by the name of Millicent Patrick. She unfortunately was blackballed in Hollywood soon after this film because make-up artist Bud Westmore wanted all the credit. An unfortunate case of sexism in Hollywood.
The plot of the film revolves around a couple of scientists and a marine life expert who go on an expedition to recover fossilized remains in the Amazon. At the beginning of the film one of the scientists finds a fossilized hand that has webbed fingers. It looks like a half-fish, half-human hybrid hand. This causes some questions to arise, and the expedition begins. The main focus of the film is on a young couple; Richard Carlson (David) and the absolutely stunning Julie Adams (Kay). I can't even find a word to describe how naturally beautiful Julie Adams is. Every time she was on screen I felt totally enamored with her. David and Kay team up with several others and a real goofy boat captain named Lucas (played by Nestor Paiva). Lucas is merely a background character but I found myself constantly laughing at his goofy faces and odd sense of humor. Even as members of the crew are getting killed he is still grinning away, puffing on his cigar and acting totally excited about every scene. It was an unintentional highlight of the film. About 25 minutes into the film we see the first glimpses of Gillman, starting with slow creepy shots of his hand grasping land, and eventually full body shots of him slowly stalking the crew. The rest of the film plays out like a basic slasher movie with Gillman slowly stalking and killing each crew member of "The Rita".
Kay (Julie Adams) soon becomes the focus of Gillman's interest and the creature makes several slow attempts at grabbing Kay, but is usually met with an onslaught of attention by David and his co-worker Mark. After the initial strangling kill scenes we are treated to some really cool underwater shots. The underwater camera work in the film is pretty entertaining some 60 years later and for the time i'm sure it was mind boggling. There are some cool 3-D sequences where the bubbles from the water come out of the screen, a long with seaweed, and of course Gillman swims up to the camera a few times, giving you that creepy feeling where you imagine him reaching out and grabbing you. I really have to give it to the cinematographers on this film and Richou Browning for making the underwater parts so entertaining and fun to watch. Of course the underwater fight scene towards the end left a lot to be desired since they basically rolled around in circles and then separated. Not exactly a battle of epic proportions. After several failed attempts to capture the creature, the creature finally nabs Kay and takes her away to his love cave. The host of the event at the Alamo (where I saw the film) mentioned the parallels the film had with King Kong, and I started to really see that towards the end. I actually thought Gillman was going to drown Kay to death because he drags her all the way to the bottom of the Lagoon before entering a cave. If she was a smoker she might have been shit out of luck, but she survives and is eventually rescued by her love David. We are then treated to a final confrontation between Mark, David, and The Gillman creature. Mark is a bit blood thirsty and is obsessed with killing the Gillman. This ultimately leads to his downfall, but David gets in a few shots with the harpoon gun, and Gillman retreats. Living to fight another day. One of my only objections with the film is the extremely abrupt ending. A friend of mine at the showing pointed out that Universal never seemed to know how to end horror films. It would always be some last minute thing to stop the monster, and then the credits hit. This was obviously a way to leave the films open to sequels, which is exactly what happened in this case. "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" would spawn two sequels, which I have yet to see, but I'm thinking I will include them in one of my remaining 31 Days of Monster Mania, so stayed tuned for that!
Overall the film was just as cool as I remembered. You can't go wrong with a Universal monster movie. The 3-D was a beautiful effect and really worked well with the black and white. The Creature design was also incredibly unique and cool looking. The gills looked very realistic and the eyes are absolutely eerie. The creature also flexes it's mouth constantly like a fish, adding a little bit of extra creep factor. I also found myself falling in love with Julie Adams as the film progressed, tho I couldn't help but laugh at the fact that she changed outfits in almost every scene, as well as hair styles. She also had that classic petrified horror scream that she blurted out every time she saw the creature, reminding you that you're watching a 50's horror film. Overall the film is a real enjoyable monster movie and will surely satisfy your Halloween viewing needs. It has it's slow moments and quite a few cheesy moments, but that is all part of it's everlasting charm. The effects are just as impressive in 2013 as they were in 1957 and the story is just as fun. I will always remember the Universal Monsters, and this film reminded me of why that is.