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Monday, October 23, 2017

Five Things You May Not Know About The Creature From The Black Lagoon - A.K.A. The Best Monster Movie Ever

When I think back on the three years I wrote for, one assignment stands far above all the rest. I was privileged to be paired with a writer named Shawn McLoughlin and we were asked to review about twenty Universal Monster films that had just come out in box sets.  Almost every film featuring the classic characters The Wolfman, Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, The Mummy, The Invisible Man and The Creature From The Black Lagoon was included.  It was a daunting task but there may be no series of films I love more than those original black and white Universal monster movies.  Having to pore through those titles to review them rekindled my love for those monsters and renewed my obsession with my hands down favorite, The Gill Man.

Personally, I believe The Creature From The Black Lagoon is the perfect monster movie.  Even though it's over 60 years old, it can still provoke scares out of people who have never seen it before. Scenes have been quoted (sometimes verbally and sometimes cinematically) in blockbuster films that came years later.  

The most famous is the 'underwater ballet' scene between the Gill Man and Julie Adams that directly influenced Spielberg's opening attack sequence in JAWS.  It's got a great script, fantastic acting and effects that were ahead of its time.

So in order to honor my favorite monster movie, here's a list of five little known facts you can pull out to impress people.  However I should warn you that you will come off looking like a super nerd if you actually attempt to break these out at parties. 

1. The film is based off a real myth.

It's true.  The movie was inspired by a tale from South America about a village that was tormented by a half-man/half-fish monster.  The creature demanded a woman as tribute every so often.  No one really knows what he did with them, but apparently they didn't last long.  

You know, the saying goes that there is some truth to every myth. Perhaps an expedition is in order?

2. Orson Welles was involved in the film's genesis.

How he was involved with the Gill-Man is almost a six degrees of separation game, only there's just three degrees.  Welles was at a Hollywood party and he happened to be talking to Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa.  Figueroa recounted the fish-man story I mentioned above and the conversation was overheard by William Alland.  Alland eventually thought back to that conversation and used the myth as the basis for the original script.  Many, many drafts later it made it to the big screen with no further help from Welles.  Still, if he hadn't had that party I wouldn't have my favorite movie of all time, so I give credit where credit is due.

3.  The head of the creature was designed after a seventeenth century woodcut of a creature called The Sea Bishop.


That picture says it all, right?  Well, not quite.  As the story goes the creature was first discovered in the Baltic Sea in 1433.  It was presented to the King of Poland who was so fascinated by it that he decided to keep it instead of releasing it back into the water.  It was described as having a fin that looked like a clergyman's cloak and a head that was humanoid and shaped like a bishop's mitre. A group of actual bishops were granted an audience with the strange creature who apparently made gestures to them that it wanted to go back to the sea.  The bishops convinced the king to let it go and when it was put back in the water, it made the sign of the cross and then swam down into the depths.

Of course, then it made its way to the Amazon River, terrorized Julie Adams and company and spawned two sequels.  Somewhere along the way, it must have lost its faith but who could blame him?  It was Julie Adams, for crying out loud!

4.  There was no air tank in the Gill Man costume.

For the original film, Ricou Browning (who played the Gill Man in all of the underwater scenes) had to hold his breath, sometimes for up to four minutes.  The director wanted the creature to look real and since the monster had gills, he thought that having bubbles escape the costume would ruin the effect.  Lucky for him, Browning was a professional swimmer and diver.  In fact, Browning had never aspired to be an actor.  He was a behind the scenes guy and went on to do some fantastic directing work including all of the underwater battle scenes in the James Bond classic Thunderball.

5.  There really is a Creature From The Black Lagoon!

The picture above isn't it though supposedly it looks similar.  Actually, it's an amphibious fossil that was discovered by Jennifer Clack at the East Kirkton Quarry near Edinburgh.  Clack named it eucritta melanolimnetes which literally translates into "creature from the black lagoon".  It existed during the Visean epoch of the Carboniferous period of Scotland. Clack noted that the fossil was discovered in what was once a 'fetid swamp', so the name fit perfectly.

And there you have it.  Five fun facts about The Creature From The Black Lagoon that will get you absolutely nowhere in life.  However it did distract you from doing work, so at least that's something, right?

Thanks for reading!

Oh, and hey!  If you're a horror fan and are looking for a good read, why not check out my book The Wash available exclusively on Amazon!



Lisanne Harrington said...

I need to rewatch this movie. It's been a long time.

One of my favorites is Plan 9 From Outer Space, with its hokey space ship. So bad, it's good!

Lon Chaney in The Phantom of the Opera is pretty creepy. But my cup of tea is more the Hammer films, with Vincent Price, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Think The Creeping Flesh...

Cary said...

I love the Hammer films also. I especially like the Hammer Frankenstein films. Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed is my favorite. Peter Cushing is such a complete bastard in that movie. He's fantastic.

And Plan 9! We literally watched that two nights ago. It's a family favorite.