The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)
Director: Jack Arnold
Writers: Harry Essex, Arthur Ross, and Maurice Zimm
Starring: Richard Carlson, Julie Adams, and Richard Denning

The Plot: While doing research in the Amazons, the famous Dr. Carl Maia (Antonio Moreno) finds a discovery that may very well change all of science as we know it. Within the rock formations built around these swamp waters, Maia and his crew find a fossilized arm unlike anything the world has ever seen. The arm features a very human-like hand that features webbing between its digits and seems to be part man and part sea creature. This creature, if it turns out to be true, would be the discovery of the century, and Maia quickly heads back to America in order to assemble the very best team that he can with the hopes of finding some other similar fossils. As he and his team of anthropologists and biologists arrive, they find themselves coming up empty handed. Although they continue their search, this group doesn’t realize that they are indeed being watched. Some creatures do not go extinct easily, and this sea creature is watching and waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike.

The Review
To be completely honest, I have never considered myself to be an expert on horror cinema. Granted, I have seen my fair share of classic horror films, but my blank spots are pretty massive. While I have seen far more backyard German splatter films than almost any other person I know (and there are still even more of those to search out!), there are still numerous classic horror movies that have evaded me. The Hammer horror library is an area that I need to explore, as well as some of the older Hong Kong and Japanese titles that are floating around, but I can think of no better place to start educating myself than finally getting around to viewing some of the classic Universal monster movies. These were horror movies that defined the genre and emblazoned themselves within the popular culture for nearly a millennium. Some of these films I have already seen, but some are a complete enigma to me. Such was the case with Creature From the Black Lagoon. Considered to be one of the immortal Universal monster movies, it was a title that I had never seen. So, now, at the age of 27, I sat down to watch it for the very first time. Could it live up to expectations?

Going into the film, my expectations were actually pretty limited. The reason I never sought this movie out was due to my general disinterest in the monster. Even as a kid, the “creature” was never even a favorite character of mine when watching The Monster Squad. As a youngster, I was actually pretty open to black and white horror movies. I enjoyed Dracula, and Night of the Living Dead was an immediate favorite. Despite this, the lagoon setting and my belief that the creature lacked personality kept me from ever renting the movie. There was something about a hokey looking monster chasing people down in an exotic location that didn’t appeal to me. Yet, as an adult, that idea sounds absolutely brilliant to me. Go figure. Surprisingly, Creature From the Black Lagoon doesn’t actually deserve to be labelled with many of the stereotypes that I grew up believing. A hybrid of horror and science fiction, Black Lagoon certainly lives up to its hype as a mammoth movie from the monster age.

One thing about these classic horror films that always manages to impress me is the music. Granted, the soundtrack attempts to purposefully spook out the audience, but there’s a reason that these movies all have such similar sounds: it gets the job done. Musical director Joseph Gershenson was a master of his craft, and his work here is phenomenal. Although this might only come from me missing the days when horror movies featured fully orchestrated scores, I still believe that the music here truly stands out. It delivers a sense of class that simply can’t be found in modern cinema. That “sense of class” also extends to every other aspect of the movie, really. The cinematography is very well done, as one might expect from a movie studio such as Universal. Although most of the movie is shot during the broad daylight, the black and white photography at least gives the movie a bit of atmosphere. When the camera delves below the water, the dark becomes much more prominent and it allows the movie to feel a bit more dangerous.

Some of these older horror movies do feature dialogue that is a bit on the stilted side, but for the most part the acting is solid enough that it becomes easy to fall into the movie. Yet, for all that can be said about the movie, the “gill man” has to be the most dominant performer throughout the entire film. While watching, any viewer can easily see what the difference was between the independent horror world and those created by the big studios during this era. The “creature,” or the “gill man,” is surprisingly well designed even when looking at it from today’s perspective. Sure, it has some flaws, and it probably shouldn’t have been shown in as many well-lit areas as it was, but the costume is surprisingly strong. The gills and their movement look real, and despite what the pre-teen version of me would say, there is a lot of character to be found in this monster. This isn’t simply a creature out for blood with no real motive behind his actions, this creature does indeed seem to be quite methodical, and he is played in such a way.

The Conclusion
Although it still isn’t my favorite classic monster movie from this time period, The Creature From the Black Lagoon is very solid. It’s easy to see why it had the influence that it did, and ultimately it is a lot of fun for any horror movie fan. I give it a nice four out of five. It is certainly worth exploring for horror movie fans.