Sunday, October 11, 2015

MR:Quickies The Gill-man series

It escaped from the Black Lagoon! People flee in Horror! A city screams in Terror!

The Creature is among us for three classic Universal horror films!

The End of the World Starts at Midnight, the classics join forces for a monster-ous good time!

It all began with Jack Arnold's classic Creature from the Black Lagoon, originally released as a 3D motion picture featuring Richard Carlson, Julia Adams, Richard Denning, Antonio Moreno and Whit Bissell.

The film was actually made for the 3D at the time (projected in a pretty rudimentary "3-D method" compared to nowadays, but pretty similar in its execution). Right in the middle of the first 3D fad of the 1950s, it was also later re-released in 1975 during the second 3D fad with the simpler blue & red 3-D glasses format.

The film came in pretty late into Universal Studios' original monster features series, but it still managed to become a staple of the genre, another classic entry in these black & white horror films. This "Creature" would mostly be referred to as the "Gill-man" over the years.

The film was based on an idea that came up to producer William Alland during the filming of Citizen Kane, playing with a "half-fish/half-human creature" in the Amazon river. They had already written a previous similar unused story titled "The Sea Monster" a decade earlier. He wanted to have a sort of Beauty and the Beast-like story with a message about science trying to take control of nature.

While the first film was an immense success for the time, it would be followed by a couple of sequels of, let's say, questionable and decreasing quality over the time. The original was dark, creepy and serious, the later films were a lot cheesier. 

While the entire cast of actors and characters changed through the film, only stuntman Ricou Browning stayed through the entire series portraying the underwater Gill-man throughout the three films.

Movie title: Creature from the Black Lagoon 
Directed by Jack Arnold
Release date 1954
Genre Horror monster film 

[Already reviewed here]

Overall: The first film in the series is a great monster flick in the true sense of the term. In fact the influence of this film can still be seen to this day in the basic plots of a lot of films of the genre, even in slasher films, just look no further than films like Predator 1 or Hatchet and tell me you don't seem the same structure!

It's a Highly Recommended cult classic. Really fun and entertaining. With sort of a message like most of these early Universal monster films had. 

And it's perhaps the most different of the whole bunch.

I give this one a: 3 / 3 Score!

Movie title: Revenge of the Creature also known as Return of the Creature or also Return of the Creature from the Black Lagoon
Directed by Jack Arnold
Release date 1955
Genre Science-fiction horror/monster film

Apparently the Gill-man creature survived being crippled with bullets in the original film... or it's either an all-new creature, it's never made quite clear. And it does look kind of different from the previous film appearance.

Anyway, the Creature is found once more, and this time they're able to capture it (without much trouble in fact). They took it to the Ocean Harbor Oceanarium in Florida, to be studied by animal psychologist Professor Clete Ferguson (John Agar). They attempt to communicate with good ol' Gill-man, but it doesn't seem to answer to anything.. but the Creature is clearly attracted to another young female in sexy swimwear, Ferguson's young ichthyology student Helen Dobson (Lori Nelson).  

Helen and Clete fall in love. The Creature escapes the tank and breaks loose. They think it escaped into the ocean, but actually it's still lurking around. It kidnaps Helen. They tracked them down. And the Gill-man is shot dead once and for good.. that is, if you don't take the follow-up into consideration...

Overall: Revenge of the Creature was released the following year, directed once more by Jack Arnold. This first sequel was also made in 3D at the time. 

Our characters are kind of interesting, they have a surprisingly big amount of debates through the film. We even get an interesting discussion about the role of women in modern society all the way through film.. although it's strange we have our heroine doubting her career and thinking about getting back to a home life for her, how all her friends are already married with children, while our male lead thinks she should keep working and her work as a scientist is more important.

A lot of the filming actually took place at the Marineland of Florida, several surrounding locations actually played a part in the film like the restaurant Gill-man attacks.

Fun fact, this film marked the debut role for a young Clint Eastwood (!!) who appears as an uncredited lab technician named "Jennings" early in the story.

As far as sequels go, this was more of the same. It didn't offer anything new to the table. But I like how it actually continued the story by bringing the Creature to an aquarium.. although it stays there for most of the film.

The costume work was actually a lot cheaper than the previous film. It looks pretty bad a couple of time, it's specially apparent how they've put googles inside the mask to see and it has now this huge back to hide some kind of oxygen tank. 

At least the film offers some great underwater scenes and a creepy vibe thanks to great eerie night-time sequences.

I give this one a: 2 / 3 Score!


Movie title: The Creature Walks Among Us 
Directed by John Sherwood
Release date 1956
Genre Science-fiction/monster film

People have found the Creature again, or another one at the very least since it appeared to be clearly dead last time. The Creature has been seen attacking anyone that comes near its new habitat in the Everglades. A new team of scientists is dispatched to study it, but the Gill-man gets accidentally mortallty burned. The wounds are sever, and it might not be able to ever use its gills anymore!

Dr. William Barton (Jeff Morrow) wants to test an experimental procedure to save it. With this strange new surgery, science could prevent it from suffocating! A strange transformation process takes course while it's recovering and it slowly loses its gills and develops proper lungs like land animals. They perform more surgery to help it complete this accelerated evolution process... and now the Creature is near human!!

They dress the Gill-man and bring it to a compound in California with a whole fence and all.

Meanwhile the men try to flirt with Barton's young wife, Marcia (Leigh Snowden), but William Barton gets pretty jealous. You see the good doctor's a deranged and abusive cold-hearted man, almost mentally unstable and violent towards Marcia. The guide Jed Grant (Gregg Palmer) keeps coming on Marcia, 

As the time passes they try to integrate the Gill-man into human society, but nothing seems to reach the monster. Marcia gets closer to Dr. Tom Morgan (Rex Reason), which pushes Barton over the edge and he murders Morgan. Dr. Barton tries to frame the Creature and it uses the situation to escape and go on a rampage before escaping into the Ocean...

The problem is... it can no longer breath underwater and seems doomed to a certain death...

Overall: The third and final entry in the series, The Creature Walks Among Us was directed by John Sherwood this time, a long-time Universal assistant director in his directorial debut after having worked for Jack Arnold in the previous films. Arnold suggested his assistant to the studios while he went on making "A-list" Hollywood film. 

This one was not presented in 3D. 

This episode still had its fair share of violence, although sadly the creature really lost most of its mystic aura thanks to a very strange plot and specially cheesy special effects. While it starts actually pretty nice, returning the Creature to its slender physic of the first film in the first minutes, once it is changed to a more "human" form and dressed the Gill-man just becomes your cheesy Frankenstein monster lookalike, complete with raggedy clothes, huge stature, awkward movements and sounds. It's just not the Gill-man anymore (and reminded me of the Kane Hodder Jason Voorhees to be honest, a big imposing lumbering slasher monster).

It was the last entry in the classic series.. but I say good riddance. By this point Universal just cared churning out these films one after the other without even trying anymore. They didn't seem to know what to make of this monster and were running out of ideas by changing the Gill-man into completely something else. It's the most comedic entry in the series and a far cry from the original terrifying horror film.

I give this one a: 1.5 / 3 Score! 

And that is all for the Gill-man series. An iconic movie monster that got ruined by non-stop sequels. There was only three films produced at the time, but the formula got repetitive and tiresome pretty fast. At least the monster became a legend and it's cultural impact goes beyond these bad sequels.

The original film went on having a huge impact on pop culture and despite his late arrival in the Universal horror films, the Creature from the Black Lagoon made a big impression enough and had an impressive success as well, helping establish the Gill-man amongst the other Universal classics.

The Creature came so late compared to the rest of the other classic monsters but it got a huge popularity, having appeared in one for or another through all kinds of mediums. There even was a whole theme park attraction at the Universal Studios Hollywood and also a Creature from the Black Lagoon: The Musical! The Gill-man has been seen on an Abbott and Costello sketch, a cameo on The Munsters and all kinds of appearance in animation from Scooby-Doo to the stop motion classic Mad Monster Party? and countless other appearances over the years in comics, games or even the recent Hotel Transylvania films (it was also the inspiration behind Mike Mignola's Abe Sapien from the Hellboy series).

While there's been countless Dracula or Frankenstein iterations, the Creature from the Black Lagoon has been the only Universal Monster to have never truly received a modern iterations these past few decades. There's been various talks and ideas of a possible remake, from the likes of John Landis to John Carpenter, but also Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro and even Ivan Reitman at some point, but none of these projects never went past post-production. 

The Creature would never have a proper comeback, outside a small cameo role in the Universal Monster-loving tribute Fred Dekker’s Monster Squad where it received a redesign by Stan Winston himself!

A proper remake is supposed to be part of Universal's current new plans for a new wave of their Universal monsters back to the big screen. They're trying to resurrect the entire monsters library by taking a note from Disney's Marvel Cinemative Universe with the first installment being Dracula Untold soon to be followed by a new Frankenstein. Apparently Breck Eisner is signed as director  and the Creature is already designed following a six months-design with Mark McCreery (Jurassic Park and Davy Jones's designer), supposed to be very faithful and only slightly updated - hopefully it takes some cues from the prior Monster Squads upgrade. Producer Gary Ross has gone on to say that the Gill-man new's origins would be explored tying into the pollution of the Amazon. Wait and see...

That's all for this time's Quickies!

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