Search This Blog

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Horror Histories Vol. 17 - The (failed) Remake from the Black Lagoon!

For this edition of Horror Histories, I’d like to talk about a remake that has yet to be made but is very close to my heart.  If you’ve read this blog with any regularity, you know that my favorite horror movie of all time is The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954).  It’s an amazing film and if you don’t know much about it, go watch it now.  You’re really missing out otherwise.  If you don’t have the time though, you can go here and check out my post from last October. 

Now, if you look at every other big name Universal monster from that period, you’ll notice that each has had a remake (or two, or three) in the last four decades.  The only one who has not been through the reboot machine is the Gill-Man. 

Why?  Well, that’s an interesting story.  It’s been connected to some of the biggest names in Hollywood but it’s never come to fruition.  The stories of those failed attempts make for a fascinating look at the studio machine, so let’s talk about a few of them, shall we?

In 1982, John Landis approached Universal about producing a remake.  The studio was excited and a script was written by legendary screenwriter Nigel Kneale (the Quatermass series).   Landis was pushing for it to be directed by none other than Jack Arnold, the man who wrote and directed the original.  That alone would be enough to make me happy but it gets better.  Rick Baker, the genius behind the effects in An American Werewolf in London as well as many others, had been signed to create the practical effects.  His designs for the costume stayed true to the original Gill-Man suit and this looked like a film to get excited about.  

So what happened?

Landis is a huge fan of the original and he insisted that if Universal was going to let him produce it, then it would have to be in 3-D.  However, the studio  already had all their eggs in another 3-D basket in 1982.  It was Jaws 3-D and Universal didn’t want any competition on the schedule the following summer.  The project fell through and Landis moved on.

The next person to be attached to it was Joe Dante.  Dante was fine with not producing it in 3-D, and he was content to work of Kneale’s script but eventually he decided to pass on it and move on to other projects.  The idea of a remake bounced around for about a decade until it landed in the lap of John Carpenter. 

Of all the names attached to this movie, Carpenter’s is the one I was most excited about.  Anyone who has ever seen what he did with The Thing knows that he would have made this his own and still paid a loving tribute to the original.  He was given the script that Kneale had written but it hadn’t aged particularly well.  That script featured two Gill-Men, one aggressive and the other more humane.   Of course they were fighting over a woman and the rest kind of writes itself in a way. 

Carpenter is quoted as saying that the script was interesting but needed some work to get it where he wanted it to be.  Instead of hiring someone else, he approached Kneale about updating it.  He quickly found that Kneale didn’t want to change a word and according to Carpenter felt he was "above this horror thing".  So  Carpenter drafted screenwriter Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween III: Season of the Witch) to help him.  

This version started gaining traction and by 1992, Carpenter was giving interviews about different ideas they’d been playing with, even incorporating some Lovecraftian bits about how the Gill-Man came to be.  Universal seemed more interested than ever, tossing around the idea that it would be a summer event movie.  Even more importantly, Carpenter brought back Rick Baker and both swore that the original design from 1954 was almost perfect.  Carpenter is literally quoted as saying, “Why fix it?”

His only caveat was that it needed to look less rubbery.

So what happened here?  There’s not a 100% solid answer on this.  There’s some indication that due to the demise of Carpenter’s Memoirs of an Invisible Man, the studio lost faith.  Whatever the reason, the movie fell by the wayside again and Ivan Reitman picked it up.

Again, he called on Rick Baker for the effects work.  This time around though, Baker didn’t like what he was seeing.  Reitman wanted to totally rework the design of the creature and also play up the evolutionary angle in the script.  The Gill-Man wouldn’t be the only monster in the lagoon and from what Baker’s gone on record as saying, it wasn’t something he was excited to be attached to.

Thankfully, that also fell through.

Gary Ross took a stab at remaking the film and his script was given to Guillermo Del Toro who agreed to direct for a brief time.  I’ve read a synopsis of this script and it’s pretty lame, doing away with what made the original great and replacing it with a battle between good “student” scientists and evil “corporate” scientists in a part of the jungle where evolution has gone insane.  Once again, the Gill-Man is just one of many antagonists and it comes across as something you’d see go direct to video.  Del Toro decided to move on to a different film.

I’ve also seen another variation on that script that had Tom Cruise attached to it at one point.  It involved the Creature being the protector of the Tree of Life.  It was disjointed and read more like a videogame script than a movie.  Think lots of obstacles, jump scares and very little heart.

Around that time, director Peter Jackson was offered a shot at it.  Initially he expressed interest but ultimately asked to direct his own personal passion project, the remake of King Kong.  

Most recently, when Universal announced their half-baked plan to create a shared universe featuring their monsters, Scarlett Johansson was offered a lead role.  With the tanking of Tom Cruise’s The Mummy, that whole plan seems to have been scrapped now which is probably for the best.

While there’s still some talk of remaking the original, at this point I’d be happy with that never happening.  My favorite thing about Guillermo Del Toro moving on when Universal couldn’t get their shit together is that he’s not the type to let that stop him.  While The Shape of Water (2017) isn’t a remake of The Creature from the Black Lagoon and isn’t really a horror film at all, it is very much a continuation of the original 1954 story.  It disregards the two sequels and imagines what could have happened if the Gill-Man had been captured and brought back to a lab for study.  

It’s a brilliant film that’s a love letter to Jack Arnold’s film as well as to cinema itself.  If you’re a Creature fan, you really couldn’t ask for much more.

No comments: