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Kinda scary-looking Kinda scary-looking
by Asa Butcher
Issue 11
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Film
Creature from the Black Lagoon
Jack Arnold
1954
"Didn't you just love the picture? I did. But I just felt so sorry for the creature at the end," gushes Marilyn Monroe's character in The Seven Year Itch after watching the Creature from the Black Lagoon. I completely agree with Miss Monroe's evaluation and I too felt more sympathy for the Creature than for the people he was killing.

From the film's opening Genesis dialogue, 'In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth…', and an archaeologist discovering the preserved hand of a Creature, I never thought of the antagonist as a monster. I saw him as an inquisitive creature merely defending his home from arrogant human intruders and exercising his rights.

The tagline for the movie was 'Not since the beginning of time has the world beheld terror like this!' and I feel this is directed at the humans, rather than the Creature. The story begins with a group of scientists from varying fields undertake an expedition along the Amazon River hoping to find more of the fossilised remains that match the hand. The group eventually arrive at a place called Black Lagoon and the leader rapidly changes from scientist to bounty hunter upon the first sighting of the Creature.

Aside from all the teasing shots of the Creature that are presented in the opening quarter, we first see the Creature under the water watching Kay Lawrence (Julia Adams), the fiancée of one of the expedition. He begins by watching her as she swims gracefully on the surface of the lagoon before mimicking her movements a few metres below her. The shot of Kay is from below and this creates a silhouette effect, which makes her appear to be swimming nude.

This scene was one of the most beautiful throughout the film because it was so peaceful and, in a way, romantic. It portrays the Creature as having emotions as he curiously watches this strange shape swimming above him. Jack Arnold, the director, later admitted that the Creature reflecting Kay's movements was a 'stylised interpretation of sexual intercourse' and it is certainly that.

The underwater scenes really capture your attention during the movie. They are so well photographed that you forget that they were using 1954 technology, plus they made the film in 3D, so they were filming underwater with 3D cameras. William E. Snyder's cinematography is excellent and his shots of the Creature allow you to move one-step closer to believing that he really does exist.

Universal credited eight actors in the making of Creature from the Black Lagoon, yet there was no on-screen credit for the man, actually men, who played the Creature. Professional diver and swimmer Ricou Browning played the Creature in the water, while Ben Chapman, a Universal stock player, wore a heavier suit on land. Browning had the harder task of holding his breath up to four minutes at a time and struggling to see where he was swimming.

Bud Westmore, the head of Universal's makeup department, took the credit for the design of the Creature, although Milicent Patrick really developed and designed the Creature's appearance. Once you see the Creature for the first time, you understand from where the inspiration for so many future monsters came, including the Alien and the Predator.

Luis Llosa's Ananconda (1997) bears a striking resemblance to the story and I am sure it does not end there, the screenplay by Harry Essex and Arthur A. Ross is not quite the usual horror that Universal had served up in the past. The story really has a heart, as I mentioned earlier, and it even throws in some ecological observations that were certainly ahead of its time in the mid-50s.

One scene that immediately comes to my mind is Kay Lawrence smoking a cigarette on the deck of the boat and she throws the butt into the lagoon, unaware that the Creature is watching her from below. The director cuts from that scene to the result of the mass drugging of the lagoon in order to knock out the Creature and force him to the surface, instead there are hundreds of fish floating, apparently dead. These are just two more reasons why you feel sympathy for the Creature, as these strangers abuse the natural balance of his home.

Unfortunately, I didn't like any of the actors because I supported the Creature so much and therefore cheered him on whenever the opportunity arose. This was Universal's final original Monster Movie, two sequels were made and next year they are sadly remaking it - why not start re-releasing instead of remaking? Instead of watching another remake, why not go and catch the original, then see if, like Marilyn and me, you feel sympathy for the Creature too.

"He was kinda scary-looking, but he wasn't really all bad. I think he just craved a little affection - you know, a sense of being loved and needed and wanted." - Marilyn Monroe's The Girl in The Seven Year Itch (1955)
   
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