Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954)

A wet, weird, wonderful Amazonian mystery/horror B-flick completing a quintet of classic Universal Monster Movies, CFTBL might not hit the high notes of its genre and series-kin, but is nonetheless a campy proto sci-fi jolt of innovatively-filmed biological scares. 7.5/10.

Plot Synopsis: Remnants of a mysterious animal have come to light in a remote jungle, and a group of scientists intends to determine if the find is an anomaly or evidence of an undiscovered beast. To accomplish their goal, the scientists (Antonio Moreno, Richard Carlson, Richard Denning, Whit Bissell) must brave the most perilous pieces of land South America has to offer. But the terrain is nothing compared to the danger posed by an otherworldly being that endangers their work and their lives.

*Possible Spoilers Ahead*

Review

The Universal Monsters

Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolfman, & The Mummy: Meet Your New 1950’s Addition

Photograph Courtesy Of: Universal Studios

Everyone knows them: Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolfman, & The Mummy. Universal Studios’ tetrad of iconic monsters was the first franchise in cinematic history – and one of the best ones at that. Expansion outside of those mythic classics from the 1920’s to 1950’s was a bit dicier and not always as successful, not to say the corporate powers at-be didn’t try; Oh boy, did they try – with sequels, and sequels to those sequels, and sequels to those sequels’ sequels’ sequels. One of the most intriguing examples of the expansion that still remains nearly as entertaining and imaginative as the originals and far above the lazy irks of their mailed-in orders was 1954’s Creature From The Black Lagoon. A wet, weird, wonderful Amazonian mystery/horror B-flick completing a quintet of classic Universal Monster Movies, CFTBL might not hit the high notes of its original franchise-kin, but is nonetheless a campy proto sci-fi jolt of innovatively-filmed biological scares.

The Imagination & Setting

The Amazonian Jungles & Biological Mystery; The Perfect Backdrop For New Franchise Ideas, Innovatively-Filmed

Photograph Courtesy Of: Universal Studios

The backdrop of the mysterious Amazonian jungles and marine ecosystems very little-changed since the primordial days of our planet’s history make for one of the most idiosyncratic and interesting backdrops for a horror movie of any picture of the age. Indeed, the imagination of the premise itself: a humanoid, evolutionarily-singular creature living in the deep, dark depths of the Amazonian waterways is one of the boldest and most fantastic sci-fi/horror sounding pitches of the Universal Monsters. Whereas the other iconic creatures of the franchise lean far more on established folklore and ancient tales every person on the planet has at least tertiarily-heard of in pop culture (or on the Halloween costume racks every October 31st), this took more imagination and scripting/design to bring to life – and, as someone who majored in and got my degree in Biology at the ivy league level back in college, the old-world intrigue is massively fascinating. The collection of set pieces and location settings in the film are beautiful – from the palm-lined Devonian-reminiscent jungle to riverbank to limestone-fringed cave grottos.

A Biological & Academia Backbone

Shockingly Scientifically-Accurate Exploration Of The Science Of Evolution & The Ethics Of Research

Photograph Courtesy Of: Universal Studios

The backbone of the film thematically is a biological and academia one that’s somewhat-groundbreaking and was likely a ballsy, huge risk controversial at the time period. The film is shockingly scientifically-accurate (well, as much as it could’ve been at the time) in how it paints the evolutionary history of life on Earth in relation to what could’ve plausibly led to a creature such as its Black Lagoon’s. Even more respectable if it didn’t have to be entirely scientifically-accurate is the fact that it merges religious beliefs of God-like creation with evolutionary fact for an explanation for everything we see around us that won’t turn off creationists from the very first second as was the major risk involved. The film also has a female scientists amongst the PhD’s and Marine Biologists of the time – a nice hint of representation that was likely ahead of its time, and smart interplay of the vitality and critical importance of scientific research in helping to understand and learn more about the world around us and mysteries of life, vs. the funding by capitalistic fat-cats who make all the knowledge-questing possible.

The Proto-Slasher/Horror Scenes

A Collection Of Epically-Scored Scares That Are Just Forceful & Malevolent Enough To Get The Blood Pumping

Photograph Courtesy Of: Universal Studios

The proto-slasher/horror scenes are also shockingly effective. Of course, the (amphibian-reminsicent) elephant in the room: the suit is not scary and looks more like a rubber toad than something we’re.. *checks notes*.. supposed to have nightmares about. I’m not sure even people in the ’50’s thought it was frightening by visual appearance alone – yikes. However, the monster is just as much one so in its big horror sequences, from the very first camp one and Jaws-like (actually, technically, Jaws came after this) underwater swimmer-approach one that is intricately and innovatively filmed below sea-level. Plus, you don’t even see most of the monster (and his bizarre breathing method) until later in the film, making it so that the opening is pretty scary, especially by ’50’s standards. The enabler of most of this feeling is the film’s soaring orchestral score that tightropes between elegant and airy themes interspersed within big, brassy, bold dissonance hits whenever the creature appears. Plus, 4 kills isn’t a bad kill count for a slasher.

The Performances & Cast

Okay Performances Led By Julie Adams, But An Overcrowded Canvas & Rubbery, ’50’s Not-Scary-Enough ‘Monster’ Look

Photograph Courtesy Of: Universal Studios

The performances are.. decent. There’s nothing really standout or remarkable about them; Julie Adams’ gorgeous and serviceable final girl around which the entire narrative rotates is probably the best of the bunch, but not one that screams Oscar pedigree or anything. There are far too many characters to form any sort of reasonable connection to the story or pack – an overcrowded canvas I’m not sure why they needed all these random bystanders in. The creature’s transformation from malice to curiosity and dare I say love (expositioned further by Guillermo del Torro’s masterpiece 2017 sequel The Shape Of Water) back to even darker malice after attempted kill of him is dramatic enough for good entertainment value. Although, the ending is kind of open-ended and lacking resolution: is he dead or just wounded?

Conclusion

One Of Universal’s Core Monsters

A Wet, Weird, Wonderful Amazonian Mystery/Sci-Fi/Horror B-Flick That Doesn’t Hit All Notes But Is Campy Fun

Photograph Courtesy Of: Universal Studios

Overall, Creature From The Black Lagoon is one of the most intriguing Universal Monster movies, and has since become one of its five biggest icons. It certainly went its own way and innovated the concept going beyond the traditional folklore and ubbiquitous status of the others, and was innovative for its underwater shooting techniques, proto-slasher hints, and evolution narratives with female scientists in a time where both would’ve been frowned upon by the public at-large. Despite an overcrowded canvas and dramatically-unscary rubbery fish body suit, it is a nice nostalgic way to pass an hour and enjoy some movie history. A wet, weird, wonderful Amazonian mystery/horror B-flick completing a quintet of classic Universal Monster Movies, CFTBL might not hit the high notes of its original franchise-kin, but is nonetheless a campy proto sci-fi jolt of innovatively-filmed biological scares.

Official CLC Score: 7.5/10