The Creature is my Feature

I do not hide the fact that my favorite monster movie of all time is The Creature From the Black Lagoon. The fact that he’s amphibious, has super human strength, and really, just wants to be left alone…it strikes a chord with me. Add to the fact that despite being at a disadvantage on land, he always seemed to pick his spots right, and never caught until the end.

The movie came to be from a local legend, told to the eventual producer of the movie William Alland, by Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa. In the legend, there is a half man, half fish that lives in the Amazon River. I do enjoy how in The Shape of Water, they flesh out the legend a bit more for its origin, but that really wasn’t the style back in the day.

The premise is a team of scientists go down the Amazon, with some very sketchy men on a pretty sketchy boat. They have found a fossilized remain of a Gill-Man’s hand, and they’ve persuaded an institute to fund an endeavor down the river to look for the rest of the skeleton. When all they find at the dig spot is two dead scientists, they believe a jaguar has killed them, and that the remains have possible washed into the paradise known as The Black Lagoon.
Unbeknownst to them, they’ve been being watched by the Gill-Man. He immediately becomes attracted to the beautiful scientist Kay Lawrence, played by the beautiful Julia Adams. Apparently there is enough human in this Gill-Man to want a woman, but we’ll discuss that in a bit.

Once they see the Creature, it’s on, and I don’t want to give the plot away too much, in case some of you kids haven’t seen this movie. Lets just say there is fighting, a supposed knocked out leading lady, mystery, tension, thrills, chills, and a lot of Ricou Browning holding his breath.
Speaking of Ricou Browning, he played the swimming half of the Gill-Man. Ben Chapman played the land based creature. To give the illusion of the creature having gills, the suit wasn’t outfitted with an Oxygen tank. Ricou had to hold his breath, sometimes up to four minutes, to get the underwater shots. Another little trick they did was have a lighter green costume for the underwater shots, so the Creature could bepicked up by the camera easier. Mr. Chapman wore a darker green costume for the land shots.

The costume was designed by Milicent Patrick. She got the idea for his look from a 17th century wood burning, called the “Sea Monk”. She made two versions of it, which were also used in the ensuing sequels. Fun fact, they were found in a dumpster by a custodian, and his kid wore it for Halloween.
One of the best part of the movie was the use of music to set the tone. Herman Stein gets credit for writing the original music, with a little help from Hans J Salter, and some guy named Henry Mancini (from a river creature to a pink panther within two decades.

Another fun fact that has absolutely nothing to do with the movie, but does. When they finished the third installment of the film, instead of preserving the costume for generations to come, they filed it into a dumpster. Luckily, a custodian saw it, thought it would make a great Halloween costume for his kid, and saved the head and the flippers. What a lucky find on his part.

There were two actual sequels after this, “Revenge of the Creature”, and “The Creature Walks Among Us”. I’m going to be honest, I’ve seen both a few times, and they aren’t that good. The only memorable moment is a young Clint Eastwood playing a scientist in “Revenge of the Creature”. Only because I think scientist when I think Clint Eastwood.

Basically, in these installments, the Creature has been captured, and they are trying to figure out what to do with it. Common sense would be to study it, but it doesn’t matter, because the Creature is wreaking havoc trying to escape. I watch them because I bought the Creature Box set, otherwise I probably wouldn’t make an effort to see them. If you can, it’s a fun rainy day afternoon marathon.

The perfect sequel to the original Creature is Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water”. Set in the ‘60’s, beautifully written, visually stunning, superior acting, it has everything I love in a movie. If you have not seen this movie, stop reading this garbage, and go out and buy it, so when the apocalypse hits, you can still jury rig a power source, a DVD player, and a TV player, and watch this masterpiece.

“The Shape of Water” follows the life of Elisa Esposito, played by the great Sally Hawkins. Elisa is mute from a childhood accident. She’s worked at a research facility as a janitor for the last ten years, and leads a pretty boring life. At night, she hangs out with her (shocking) “in the closet” neighbor, who has some scandal in his past, so he is now a freelance advertisement artist, fighting the onset of photograpy.

And then one day, she meets Richard Strickland, played by Michael Shannon. He is head of security for this project, a bit of a sadist, and is so supremely confident in himself, that you hate him almost immediately. He is cold to his wife, played by the beautiful Lauren Lee Smith, ignores his children, and is really self centered.

So when the Creature bites off a few of his fingers, you don’t really mind. In fact, you’re pretty happy about it. Elisa is called in to clean up after the “accident”, with her friend Zelda, they find the fingers while mopping up the blood, and they also discover the Creature, who is in a holding tank. Elisa is fascinated, so she of course takes advantage of the lack of security, and starts having lunch with the Creature, and teaching it basic sign language.
After this, you get a Cold War spy plot, a classic bad guy doing bad things, and a great escape led by a mute and a closet homosexual. I know gang, it sounds absolutely idiotic, but del Toro makes it all work out. I find the director fascinating as a human being, a man of principle, and just a creative genius.

I’m not going to lie, he could film me sleeping for two hours, and as long as he creates a creature to sit there, and watch me sleep, I’m spending the money to watch that del Toro feature, he is that good. You may also know him from directing Blade II, the Hellboy’s, and Pan’s Labyrinth, which is a gorgeous movie, and you can follow the story without the subtitles…but is much better if you read along.

I know I have glossed over a movie that probably many of you have seen. It deserves a rich a description as the actual movie is, but hey, my podcast is about funny stories, not about spoiling shit like Spoiler Country, so you are going to have to take my word for it, watch this movie, and thank me for it, preferably by mailing me $1 bills.

But the real point of this, is what a great sequel this would have been to the original Creature. You assume at the end of the original COTBL that they are going to catch the Creature, and this is exactly how I assumed it would happen. Sometimes governments are so much in a hurry, especially back in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, that they are willing to destroy a god, just to see how it ticks, when if they’d have left well enough alone, they’d have been amazed at the powers the Creature possessed.

From the discovery, and eventual capture to the Creature in South America, to the arrival of the Creature in the States in TSOW, to the strong finish, this movie and storyline melded perfectly together.

Go watch these two movies, then go find the other two sequels and watch them too, then find a Funko pop of the creature and find Ricou Browning at a convention to sign it, because the dude is old, and is one of the few original monsters left! And then listen to Spoiler Country, and then My Worst Holiday

(I’m the funny one)!

Then go outside and play with your kids or take a hike or something. Life is better in the fresh air.

JR

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