Director: Jack Arnold
Writers: Harry Essex and Arthur Ross
Cast: Richard Carlson, Julia Adams, Richard Denning, Antonio Moreno, Nestor Paiva, Whit Bissel, Bernie Gozier, and Henry Escalante
Composer: Joseph Gershenson
Release Date: 3/5/1954
MPAA Rating: G
While traversing the Amazon River, a scientific expedition consisting of David Reed (Richard Carlson), Kay (Julia Adams), Mark Williams (Richard Denning), and Carl Maia (Antonio Moreno) encounters an amphibious, bipedal lifeform known colloquially as the Gill-man. Though Mark wastes no time in attempting to capture and/or kill the creature, David prefers that the Gill-man—now enamored of Kay—be allowed to continue residing in its normal habitat.
The quintessential 1950s monster movie, Creature from the Black Lagoon will appeal to fans of Universal Studios’ classic horror series. Especially worth praising is the underwater cinematography of James C. Havens, which creates a breathtaking contrast between the prehistoric world that produced the Gill-man and a modern society whose encroachment serves to threaten his very existence.
Operating on the premise that less is more, Creature from the Black Lagoon establishes an eerie atmosphere by featuring mere glimpses of the Gill-man prior to his full-body reveal at the appropriate time. One such manner of suspense-building occurs during the tent sequence, wherein tropes of a suggestive nature (e.g. webbed fingers belonging to a personified amphibian, hideous growling noises emanating from a primal creature, and the mortified reactions of an unsuspecting victim) are employed in conjunction with a blaring three-note motif to result in a thoroughly chilling outcome.
Given the brutality with which the Gill-man dispatches nearly every member of the Rita’s crew, Creature from the Black Lagoon should be commended for eliciting sympathy toward a decidedly savage animal. Notably, the Gill-man is implied to be the lone survivor of a piscine humanoid species and one who—contrary to the presumptuous assertions of Mark—attacks only when disturbed or provoked by others (the slaughter at Maia’s camp would seem to contradict this notion; however, audiences should consider that from the perspective of the Gill-man, each human character had first invaded the creature’s territory before meeting a violent demise).
A study on man’s callousness toward the environment and any non-human life therein, Creature from the Black Lagoon conveys an insightful message without resorting to preachy or offensive stereotypes. Specifically, the character of Mark embodies the destructive and impulsive sentiments typically associated with the most deplorable of men; but always maintains a pragmatic and therefore realistic method of problem-solving. David, on the other hand, demonstrates a respectful, empathetic approach to confronting the Gill-man and thereby solidifies himself as a more compassionate—albeit less compelling—hero figure than Mark.
Creature from the Black Lagoon puts a unique, terrifying spin on the Beauty and the Beast legend. Universal Monster fans will thus enjoy this visually stunning introduction to one of the most iconic horror franchises in cinematic history.
Overall Quality: 10/10
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