Saturday, September 29, 2012

[Series 31] CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON

CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954)


SYNOPSIS: After a geologist discovers a fossilized Bela Lugosi hand in the Amazon, he asks for assists from this ichthyologist couple that he knows.  It wouldn't be much of a horror movie if they just found fossils, so they eventually meet the creature from the Black Lagoon, who becomes aggressive after they throw cigarettes and fish poison into his watery home.  He also like scientistette Kay and tries to cart her off while fending off harpoon attacks and being set afire by the boys.  

WHAT WORKED:
You won't find many "B-movies" that work this hard at establishing intriguing, memorable characters.  There are some throwaway victims who are 100% Hispanic, so maybe the Creature is racist IDK, but for the most part every character here is well-drawn.  The scientists are motivated in a myriad of interesting ways and have relationships and conflicts like real humans, not autastic movie scientists.  I appreciated that a movie from 1954 gives its female lead some depth—Julie Adams's Kay is a scientist in her own right, not there just to be a trophy-wife for a man-fish or to bake cookies for the boys after they scuba-dive.   I also liked the subtle ways that it established her relationship with good-guy scientist David (Richard Carlson)—he leans on her whenever he's removing his diving gear, for inst.  And Nestor Paiva almost steals the whole show as boat captain Lucas.  He's jam-packed full of Latino heat.  To this day, my friends and I use "I, Lucas, will do it!" as a boastful in-joke.  


The Creature.  The design mostly looks really cool (it's a guy in a suit movie and there are scenes in which it looks like a guy in a suit, get over it).  I prefer the underwater Creature shots, since they're a little murkier and hide the limitations of the design, but even in the very-lit grotto scenes, it mostly looks fine.  I love the characterization of the Creature so much!  He's portrayed not as an evil abomination, really, more a thing of nature that will kill you, like a lion or a shark.  I even like him getting a crush on Kay and being all, "Where the white women at?" because it dovetails with existing monster-movie canon (at least since KING KONG, if not before) and because it reflects the real behavior of manlike beasts (read about the chimp with a blonde fetish in Zoo Story if you doubt).  


The writing, settings, and direction are superb.  A lot of people have this hang-up about 50s movies and their overly deliberate pacing.  Those people should watch CREATURE and shut up, because there is always something happening in this film.  For its era, it has a breakneck tempo and is so deftly plotted that even some sticks blocking an inlet becomes this harrowing, dramatic obstacle.  I love the portrayal of science, curiosity, adventurousness, and love of nature as incredibly positive things.  I love the widely and justly admired underwater scenes and also the very underrated ending grotto scenes, with expert use of fog and shadow.  


WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
Sometimes the movie reveals its b-movie origins and budget.  I'm especially thinking of the painted jungle backdrop in the third trimester, plus (as stated) the creature suit occasionally looks a little rubbery and unbelievable.  It's nothing that will prevent you from enjoying the film unless you are really serious about being a dick, but it keeps the film from being flawLESS.

DID YOU KNOW?
Lead hunky scientist Richard Carlson didn't really get typecast after this, but they did keep sticking him in water-based bits like RIVERBOAT, THE AQUANAUTS, and VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA.  Lead scientist-cutie Julie Adams fared better, with a standout concerned-mom-who-hates-metal role in BLACK ROSES and a bunch of other credits, including Polanski's CARNAGE.  Like the Creature himself, Roman Polanski is kind of a creepy stalkery monster.

RATING: 8


REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (1955)


SYNOPSIS: The Creature is kidnapped by scientists and taken from the Black Lagoon to what's basically Sea World, where he's tasered with a bull prod, ankle-chained, and exhibited to fat tourists.  A pair of scientists-in-love condition him to not eat and not touch a ball by electroshocking the shit out of him, because that is what science is.  He develops a thing for the scientist with tits.  He gets sick of it and, after a long, long series of boring swimming-in-tank scenes, he violently escapes.  But no one can resist the siren song of sexy science and he stalks the lady ichthyologist and turns the kidnapping tables.  

WHAT WORKED:
The Creature (kind of).  I think the creature suit looks a bit better in this sequel than it did in the original, certainly so when he's walking the land.  Those expanding fins when he breathes!  In the scenes wherein he's lashing out or fed up with this world, the Creature is far more active and assertive & the movie really could've used more of him facepalming people over railings and crushing heads and fucking up cars.  



Nestor Paiva is back!  As Lucas!  For 15 minutes or so.  That's all you get!  But at least he provides a counterargument to "Hey, something natural, let's 'study' it Abu Gharib-style becuz we can!!"  I love that the movie opens with Lucas being jerky to crocodiles, then getting all philosophical about the Creature not evolving because it has a "spark of the divine".  



Sometimes the film succeeds at providing comedy.  Occasionally, this springs from an intentional exploitation of its satirical potential (the Creature at a theme park).  More often, it delivers funny-on-accident moments like BIRDEMIC and TROLL 2.  The "Creature watches you masturbate" window stalking scene being a prime example.  Comedy will become a big problem if you scroll down a smidge.  Can you guess which kinds of comedy these represent?


Gentlemen, feel free to come on down and die
WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
Remember how the original CREATURE was great because it cared about developing its characters and made scientists sympathetic?  The sequel decides to go the other way.  Its scientists mostly act like dickish automatons, there's a love triangle that exists only because the first movie kind of had one (and because the super-dick Bachelor #2 makes regular-dick protagonist look like less of a dick by comparison), and the blonde object of adoration is one of the most boring and bland lead ladies ever and has at most a B+ cup and YET EVERYBODY WANTS HER, EVEN THE MONSTER.  Kristin Stewart of the 50s!

The writing is very clunky.  The true CREATURE skillfully wove its science talk into the story, but in this film things come to a screeching halt so lady scientist can explain how gills work for 4 and a half minutes.  That's the last science talk you'll hear from her, though, as the rest of her dialogue is mostly mooning over how scientists don't understand love (she talks about looking up "love" in the dictionary, please remember that poor people in the 50s paid to see this).  Even the movie doesn't take her seriously, as she's described as a "pretty, young scientist" in a news report.  Plus this has hideously terrible attempts at comedy (like a cute chimpanzee, lololol), scored with the most grating and laugh-demanding "Green Acres"-esque music cues ever.

I'm sure it's because they weren't in the Black Lagoon anymore and the Creature from Marineland sounds dumb, but I hate the name Gill Man.  And the film makes it abundantly clear that Gill Man is his name, because look.

Huge portions of the original are essentially recycled—the putting stuff in the Lagoon scene to capture the Creature (dynamite in this case), the Creature swimming underneath the woman, even the ending of the film is essentially redone.  In the latter case, I'm assuming that's because they were planning to churn out one of these every year a la PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and SAW (for a while).  

Clint Eastwood's very first movie, you guys!  

RATING: 4



THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US (1956)


SYNOPSIS: The Creature's multiple gunshot wounds followed by lifeless floating at the end of REVENGE was not as bad as it looked and he has relocated to the swamps of the Everglades.  A team of medical doctors with varying motivations track the Creature.  One of them has a wife who is a little shark-smiting spitfire.  They find the Creature and luckily are not killed, but in the melee the Creature sustains severe burns.    The doctors perform surgery, switching him from gill- to lung-based breathing in the process.  Then they take him home, lock him in a pen full of sheep, and bicker amongst themselves until the pen-destroying, doctor-killing finale.  

WHAT WORKED:
The characters are thankfully a little more developed and interesting than the go-round.  No more actors who think the best way to be a scientist is to look smug!  No more actresses who basically sleep through the film like pretty props.  Rex Reason is perfectly fine as the most heroic doctor, who argues that you can catch more Creatures with honey rather than vinegar and cattle prods.  Leigh Snowden as spirited wife Marcia actually steals the show.  Her character is a nice return to the Julie Adams days of memorable female leads.  Plus her status as a wild thing caged by jerk Dr. Barton links her nicely to the Creature (and she loves to swim, too!).  All the characters are given something to do and time to do it, although this ends up being a negative in certain respects...

YEAH!  FUCK YOU, SHARKS!
The action scenes are pretty boss.  Switching from animal scientists to doctors lends credence to the scenes of them drifting into Florida swamps and freaking out about bird noises and Spanish moss.  And, when the Creature is unchained and allowed to rock out, he has never looked more powerful or agile.  The first jump scare and the scene in which he springs out of the water onto the boat are king-size.  The Creature vs. cougar scene is kind of a drag, though, since it reminded me how seldom big cats are now seen in the South (sigh) and isn't really edited or staged all that well, tbh.


WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
Despite the title, THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US is sometimes more of a relationship drama than a monster movie.  There's so much time devoted to Dr. and Mrs. Dr. Barton arguing that you sometimes forget the Creature is out there in the sheep pen.  Even with all the talking, this still isn't as boring as REVENGE sometimes was, but it definitely weakens what could have been a riotous monster-carnage ride.

Post-burning and -surgery Creature needs clothes since his protective scales have burned off, leaving just the weather-sensitive humanlike skin underneath (not sure why he wouldn't be okay naked, since he's in Florida in the summer, but whatever).  So the doctors dress him up like a janitor, basically, and it looks like this:


This film actually has the same problem as REVENGE in that the Creature is fascinating when he's wreaking havoc, but in much of this film he's being penned up or bullied (by SCIENCE NERDS).  It's hard to take a monster seriously when he's overpowered by dorks in fedoras or lying in hospital like a sick kitten.


Better than REVENGE, but nowhere near the glorious heights of the first film (which is really the only CREATURE that you absolutely must see).

RATING: 5




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