Today marks the kick off for 2012’s 31 Days of Horror. And I’m home sick on this rainy October first. Which has given me plenty of time to watch movie #1, a horror flick I’ve always wanted to check out but never got around to. None other than 1954’s Creature from the Black Lagoon.

I always try and imagine these movies the way a new audience would have seen them. The Gillman (I dislike that name) and his distinctive look has been a joke since long before I was born. I really loved how Dr. Maia found the fossilized creature hand, then for the next half hour, until we were in the creature’s Black Lagoon habitat, all we saw was the creature’s hand, leaving us to imagine what this thing looked like.

We’re all pretty familiar with the story, but I’ll break it down: Amazon expedition to find a missing link-type fossil, one schmexy lady, two manly scientists who are in love with her. They realize their fossil is alive, and a little bit murdery. One manly scientist thinks the creature is more valuable alive in its habitat, the other wants it stuffed and mounted, for all of science to see and admire. They butt heads, sling some spears into the poor creature, all the while it tries to get them to leave, then tries to kill them, as it falls in love with Kay. They poison it, harpoon it, and finally, it drifts into a crevasse, presumably dead (though these things never are.)

The tension is great. The score is super-great, composed by Henry Mancini, Hans J Salter, and Herman Stein. In the 1950’s, scientific breakthroughs made the world a scary, unknown place. We don’t know what’s down there under the water. It was reminiscent of Jaws in many places…the swimming scene, where the lovely Kay is seen from below (pictured), the boom breaking as they struggle to reel in the netted creature. The Gillman is a little bit sympathetic, his motives very human. Movie monsters in the 1930’s were humanoid: Dracula, Wolfman, Mummy, etc. Most of the 50’s monsters were giant atomic creatures. The Gillman bridged a gap between them, human and alien all at the same time. His loneliness came through, but he wasn’t afraid to be aggressive and conniving when he needed to be.

Now, some fun facts from IMDB:

  • Ricou Browning, a professional diver and swimmer, was required to hold his breath for up to 4 minutes at a time for his underwater role as the “Gill Man.” The director’s logic was that the air would have to travel through the monster’s gills and thus not reveal air bubbles from his mouth or nose. Thus, the costume was designed without an air tank. In the subsequent films, this detail was ignored and air can be seen emanating from the top of the creature’s head.
  • Jenny Clack (University of Cambridge) discovered a fossil amphibian, found in the remnants of what was once a fetid swamp and named it Eucritta melanolimnetes – literally “the creature from the black lagoon”.
  • The Creature’s appearance was based on old seventeenth-century woodcuts of two bizarre creatures called the Sea Monk and the Sea Bishop. The Creature’s final head was based on that of the Sea Monk, but the original discarded head was based on that of the Sea Bishop.
And here’s that scary hand…