Universal’s exclusive movie monster club got a new member in 1954. Joining such familiar frighteners as Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Mummy and The Wolf Man was the group’s first amphibious associate – Gill-Man, the Creature From the Black Lagoon.
The rest of the gang may have given Gill-Man a hard time about being the new guy, but this little water-breather had an edge: 3-D.
Shot in a red/blue 3-D process on black and white film, the Creature From the Black Lagoon gave a new dimension to horror, taking viewers into the depths of a creepy Amazon lagoon.
The descent into the Black Lagoon begins with the simple discovery of a fossilised webbed hand.
Led by the noble-hearted Dr David Reed (Richard Carlson), a group of scientists – including lecherous boss man Dr Mark Williams (Richard Denning) and Dr Edwin Thompson (Whit Bissell) – take a trek down the mist-shrouded Amazon to look for more of its kind.
David’s girlfriend Kay Lawrence (Julia Adams) goes along for the ride as well.
But Lucas (Nestor Paiva) – the Captain of their chartered boat Rita – tells them about the spooky legend of the man-fish that that resides at the Black Lagoon. A humanoid creature with gills and scales. Like a cross between a lizard, a fish and a synchronized swimmer.
They all soon realise that this apparently ludicrous tale is all too true and eventually make unpleasant contact with a living, breathing (water-breathing, natch), horrifying Gill-Man (played by Ben Chapman on land and Ricou Browning underwater), resulting in more than a few deaths.
The creature takes a liking to the lovely Ms Lawrence, who has an unfortunate yen for taking a swim in Gill-Man-infested waters.
The most memorable sequence in the film occurs when Kay takes a dip and the creature swims underneath her in mimicry and what appears to be a sensuous and bizarre mime that is somehow both magical and creepy at the same time. This bizarre eroticism is very striking and the sequence is remarkably balletic and the underwater photography is beautiful.
The crew eventually captures Gill-Man, hoping to take him back home for research, but the creature overpowers them, taking Kay back to its lair to make her the Bride of Gill-Man.
David isn’t quite ready to give his lady up to an amphibious suitor, so he and the gang make a dramatic, suspenseful rescue mission right into the heart of the Black Lagoon.
The studio sets of the creature’s underground dwelling are rather artificial after all the underwater sequences but these are minor distractions from what is an atmospheric and authentic B-movie minor classic for the monster alone.
Creature From the Black Lagoon was an instant horror classic, and Gill-Man soon followed his Universal brethren into sequel territory.
Revenge of the Creature, another 3-D feature, followed quickly in 1955. This time, Gill-Man was taken out of his Black Lagoon home and plunked down in a Florida aquarium for study.
Aside from its place in the Gill-Man trilogy, the film was also notable for a brief role by Clint Eastwood, making his feature film debut.
The final (2-D) instalment in the Creature From the Black Lagoon series came in 1956. The Creature Walks Among Us gave Gill-Man a chance to adapt to his new Floridian surroundings, as an emergency operation replaced his trademarked gills with a set of air-breathing lungs.
Understandably upset at his new lifestyle, Gill-Man did the only thing he knew how to do well: wreak havoc.
In the end, that was what Gill-Man was really all about.
He didn’t have the distinguished literary pedigree of a Frankenstein’s Monster or a Dracula, but the Creature From the Black Lagoon knew how to menace, maul and maim with the best of them. And he got to do it in 3-D – take that, Wolf Man.
Dr David Reed
Dr Mark Williams
Captain Carl Maia
Dr Edwin Thompson
Gill-Man (in water)
Gill-Man (on land)
Henry A. Escalante