Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) — Flippin’ your fins you don’t get too far

“We didn’t come here to fight with monsters. We’re not equipped for it. We came here to find fossils.”

Justin’s rating: I bet he makes his log cabin using fish sticks

Justin’s review: While I was initially pumped up to visit those classic Universal Monsters in a movie marathon, it soon became a trial of patience and will to make it through them. While each of those older ones had their moments, they were still products of a cinematic age where people apparently were still enthralled with “talkies” and didn’t need much more going on to entertain them. I was bored, in other words, so very bored, and by film three, I really wanted it to be over.

To help get across this finish line, I kept one tasty morsel in reserve, a movie and a monster that actually interested me. Creature from the Black Lagoon may have been the last of the “classic” lineup to be introduced, but this worked in my favor by being filmed in the ’50s rather than the ’30s. It’s amazing the difference two decades can make. Yes, it still has an old feeling to it, but it’s the kind of “old” that MST3K trained me to watch. And it comes with a faster pace and more modern conventions (such as “actually good cinematography”).

Sporting a bombastic soundtrack that will tell you when, exactly, you should be scared, Creature from the Black Lagoon managed to make the most visually impressive Universal Monster to date. Gill-Man, as he is sometimes called (I like to call him “Gill”), is a lavishly constructed fish-man that could conceivably be in a Marvel movie these days. I mean, he’d probably have a little less rubber and a little more CGI, but this guy is ready to go join some B-list team.

Intrigued by the recent discovery of a desiccated webbed hand, a scientific expedition heads down into the Amazon basin to see if they might find some sort of missing link of evolution. Their last hope lies in exploring the mysterious and unknown “Black Lagoon” deep into the jungle. And whenever you find a body of water in which some lethal offshoot of humanity lurks, your best bet of survival is to keep diving down into it. Preferably as naked and defenseless as possible.

While the creature plays underwater tag with the scientists — who try to “tag” it with a harpoon — it also spies the expedition’s lone female, Kay, and is overcome with interspecies infatuation. I guess it’s kind of like when a mermaid falls in love with some human on a ship and sings about wanting to be part of his world? To complicate matters even further, one of the expedition members, Mark, is completely gung-ho to do some big game hunting, and he doesn’t care if he puts everyone in danger doing it.

Creature from the Black Lagoon isn’t anything complicated or clever, but there is something to be said for telling a straight-forward tale well. There’s even a level of dread that seeps into this movie thanks to the isolation of this expedition that sits smack in the middle of an amphibious killer’s home turf. I’m sure that many active imaginations have thought about a hand rising up to grab one’s leg while swimming, and it’s those imaginations that are going to turn into nightmares by the time this is through.

Apart from the truly nail-screeching annoyance of Gill-Man’s theme music, I actually had a pretty OK time with Creature from the Black Lagoon. Who would have thought that he would have trounced Dracula and Frankenstein?

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