Sympathy for The Creature (from the Black Lagoon)

March 5, 2018 § Leave a comment

From the early 1920s to the late 1950s, Universal Studios unspooled a steady string of horror films and, in the process, created several iconic ‘monsters’ forever fated to be Halloween fodder if not the stuff of nightmares. One of these Universal creations is — well — the Creature, aka Gill-man, featured in Jack Arnold’s films Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and Revenge of the Creature (1955).

Perhaps most notable for its dreamily photographed underwater sequences and tactile monster design, Creature from the Black Lagoon is, at its best, a suspenseful matinee-style adventure that pitches a group of scientists against what could be described as the ‘Amazonian Bigfoot’, an amphibious humanoid relic that has somehow circumvented evolution. But, at the risk of being a yawning millennial unmoved by ‘tame’ classic horror, I will proffer that Creature from the Black Lagoon is more unsettling than terrifying, but that the feeling of unease lingers long past the film’s end credits, and for reasons that go beyond Gill-man’s frightful exterior.

What is it about the Creature that renders his status as a monster somewhat more complex than those which simply trade in shocks and one-note belligerence? In this video, I briefly explore the idea that grudging sympathycombined with revulsion can have an unlikely but striking effect. In a way, the Creature from the Black Lagoon has a lot in common with another great Universal ghoul: Boris Karloff’s Monster from Frankenstein (1931).

* originally published on Fandor Keyframe in 2016

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