The Creature from the Black Lagoon
There are few things cooler than scuba diving or snorkeling, especially if you’re visiting a coral reef. Although I love aquariums, they don’t compare to the chance to see sea creatures in their natural habitat, to get so close that you could reach out and touch them. It’s amazing to see the variety of colors, shapes, sizes of the different species of fish and coral; the only place on land that you could find comparable biodiversity would be in a rainforest. To me, the whole experience is simultaneously exciting and calming: exciting because of the animals I get to see and calming because of the feeling of scuba diving and snorkeling. Whether scuba diving or snorkeling, you gently roll with the waves at the surface and you breathe slowly and evenly. You have to have measured breaths because it affects your buoyancy; as your chest expands when you breathe in, you become more buoyant; think back to all that physics you were supposed to learn in high school. Furthermore, your movements usually have to be slow and measured because you don’t want to scare away the fish or bump into the coral by jerking around; this all besides the fact that it’s hard to go very fast in the water. It’s all very relaxing and helps take your mind away from the dangers of ravenous Piranha or Super Sharks; although, in the case of Super Shark, you’re not even safe in a tank on land or a jet in the air. I think I bring some of those pleasant associations when I watch The Creature from the Black Lagoon because the film features so many underwater shots of the characters scuba diving and the creature swimming.
The Creature from the Black Lagoon starts with a startling discovery, the fossilized forearm and hand of some sort of fish man. Dr. Maia brings his finding to a small group of scientists. With the financial backing of Dr. Mark Williams, the group goes on an expedition on the Amazon River to where they found the fossil. Of course, the South American crew that was left at Dr. Maia’s camp is all dead, thanks to an as-of-yet unseen Gill-man. However, the scientists stay at the camp anyhow to try and excavate the creature’s full skeleton. When they fail to find anything after eight days of digging, Dr. David Reed, our protagonist, suggests that the rocky shelf they are excavating may have been partly washed out by the river; hence, the skeleton they’re looking for might be downriver. They come to Black Lagoon where a tributary of the Amazon ends and go scuba diving in hopes of finding some hint of where the fossil might be. However, the crew run afoul of the Creature, who terrorizes the group by coming aboard and killing people in the night. They manage to capture Gill-man for a short period of time by drugging and caging it, but it escapes and attacks one of the scientists before jumping back into the water. In spite of Mark’s protests, Dr. Reed and the ship captain, Lucas, try to leave the lagoon before any more people get hurt. However, the creature has dammed the lagoon with logs to prevent them from getting away. As Dr. Reed and Mark try to remove the logs, Gill-man kills Mark and makes off with Dr. Reed’s girlfriend, Kay. He chases Gill-man back to his lair and shoots it to death with the help of Captain Lucas and Dr. Maia to save his girlfriend.
In terms of design, Gill-man, the Creature, is probably the best of the Universal Monsters. There were two costumes, one built for land and the other for water, which are very elaborate and detailed. On land, the creature’s mouth opens and closes like a fish out of water and he moves very stiffly. The underwater costume looks remarkably functional, which is to say that the flippers look like they were effective and the actor’s movements are much more graceful. Gill-man looks and acts like a real creature. Although Gill-man is not as beloved as Universal’s other monsters, Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolf-Man, in no small part because of Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Lon Chaney Jr., but he’s well designed and as realistic as an amphibious humanoid can be, which I think deserves props.
The design of the creature and the underwater shots with the Dr. Reed and Mark scuba diving and Gill-man swimming are spectacular, but there was one thing I really disliked about this movie: the creature’s leitmotif. Almost every time the creature appears onscreen, we are treated to the same blaring of horns; I think they’re horns, maybe trumpets, but I don’t know much about musical instruments so don’t quote me on that. At first they’re effective because they provide that same sharp, scary sound used to scare the viewer in any horror movie, but they become progressively more annoying as the movie goes on; maybe if we replace the sound with kazoos, they’ll be less annoying. Aside from that, the film is great and I’d high recommend that you watch it.