Creature from the Black Lagoon is a 1954 monster horror 3-D film in black-and-white, directed by Jack Arnold and starring Richard Carlson, Julia Adams, Richard Denning, Antonio Moreno and Whit Bissell. The Creature was played by Ben Chapman on land and by Ricou Browning underwater. It premiered in Detroit on February 12 and was released on a regional basis, opening on various dates.
Creature from the Black Lagoon was filmed in 3-D and originally projected by the polarized light method. The audience wore viewers with gray polarizing filters, similar to the viewers most commonly used today. Because the brief 1950s 3-D movie fad had peaked in mid-1953 and was fading fast in early 1954, many audiences actually saw the film "flat", in 2-D; typically, it was shown in 3-D in large downtown theaters and flat in smaller neighborhood theaters.] In 1975, Creature from the Black Lagoon was re-released to theaters in the inferior red-and-blue-glasses anaglyph 3-D format, which was also used for a 1980 home video release on Beta and VHS videocassettes.
The film is considered a classic of the 1950s and generated two sequels: Revenge of the Creature (1955), which was also filmed and released in 3-D in hopes of reviving the format, and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956), filmed in 2-D. The creature, also known as the Gill-man, is usually counted among the classic Universal Monsters.
A geology expedition in the Amazon uncovers fossilized evidence from the Devonian period of a link between land and sea animals in the form of a skeletal hand with webbed fingers. Expedition leader Dr. Carl Maia (Antonio Moreno) visits his friend and former student, Dr. David Reed (Richard Carlson), an ichthyologist who works at an aquarium in California and has been a guest at Maia's marine biology institute in Brazil for over a month. Reed persuades his boss, the financially minded Dr. Mark Williams (Richard Denning), to fund a return expedition to the Amazon to look for the remainder of the skeleton.
They go aboard a tramp steamer, the Rita, which is captained by a crusty old codger named Lucas (Nestor Paiva). The expedition consists of David, Carl, and Mark, as well as Reed's girlfriend and colleague, Kay Lawrence (Julie Adams), and another scientist, Dr. Edwin Thompson (Whit Bissell). When they arrive at the camp, they discover that Maia's entire research team has been mysteriously killed while he was away. Lucas suggests it was done by a jaguar, but the others are unsure. In fact, the camp was attacked by a piscine amphibious humanoid, a living member of the same species from which the fossil originated. The creature, curious upon seeing the expedition, investigates the camp site, but when its sudden appearance frightens the members, they attack it, and in response, the enraged creature kills them.
The excavation of the area where Carl found the hand turns up nothing. Mark is ready to give up the search, but David suggests that perhaps thousands of years ago the part of the embankment containing the rest of the skeleton fell into the water and was washed downriver, broken up by the current. Lucas says that the tributary empties into a lagoon. Lucas calls it the "Black Lagoon", a paradise from which no one has ever returned. The scientists decide to risk it, unaware that the amphibious "Gill-man" that killed Carl's assistants earlier has been watching them. Taking notice of the beautiful Kay, it follows the Rita all the way downriver to the Black Lagoon. Once the expedition arrives, David and Mark go diving to collect fossils from the lagoon floor. After they return, Kay goes swimming and is stalked underwater by the creature, who then gets briefly caught in one of the ship's draglines. Although it escapes, it leaves behind a claw in the net, revealing its existence to the scientists.
Subsequent encounters with the Gill-man claim the lives of Lucas's crew members, before the Gill-man is captured and locked in a cage on board the Rita. It escapes during the night and attacks Edwin, who was guarding it. Kay hits the beast with a lantern; driving it off before it can kill Edwin. Following this incident, David decides they should return to civilization, but as the Rita tries to leave, they find the entrance blocked by fallen logs, courtesy of the escaped Gill-man. While the others attempt to remove the logs, Mark is mauled to death trying to capture the creature single-handedly underwater. The creature then abducts Kay and takes her to his cavern lair. David, Lucas, and Carl give chase to save her. Kay is rescued and the creature is riddled with bullets before he retreats to the lagoon where his body sinks in the watery depths.
Ginger Stanley did underwater stunts in the first two movies.
Richard Carlson as Dr. David Reed
Julie Adams as Kay Lawrence
Richard Denning as Mark Williams
Antonio Moreno as Dr. Carl Maia
Nestor Paiva as Lucas
Whit Bissell as Dr. Edwin Thompson
Bernie Gozier as Zee
Henry A. Escalante as Chico
Perry Lopez as Tomas
Rodd Redwing as Luis
Ben Chapman as Gill-man (land)
Ricou Browning as Gill-man (underwater)
Producer William Alland was attending a dinner party during the filming of Citizen Kane (in which he played the reporter Thompson) in 1941 when Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa told him about the myth of a race of half-fish, half-human creatures in the Amazon river. Alland wrote story notes entitled "The Sea Monster" ten years later. His inspiration was Beauty and the Beast. In December 1952, Maurice Zimm expanded this into a treatment, which Harry Essex and Arthur Ross rewrote as The Black Lagoon. Following the success of the 3-D film House of Wax in 1953, Jack Arnold was hired to direct the film in the same format.
The designer of the approved Gill-man was Disney animator Millicent Patrick, though her role was deliberately downplayed by makeup artist Bud Westmore, who for half a century would receive sole credit for the creature's conception. Jack Kevan, who worked on The Wizard of Oz and made prosthetics for amputees during World War II, created the bodysuit, while Chris Mueller, Jr. sculpted the head.
Ben Chapman portrayed the Gill-man for the majority of the film shot at Universal City, California. The costume made it impossible for Chapman to sit for the 14 hours of each day that he wore it, and it overheated easily, so he stayed in the backlot's lake, often requesting to be hosed down. He also could not see very well while wearing the headpiece, which caused him to scrape Julie Adams' head against the wall when carrying her in the grotto scenes. Ricou Browning played the Gill-Man in the underwater shots, which were filmed by the second unit in Wakulla Springs, Florida. Many of the on-top of the water scenes were filmed at Rice Creek near Palatka, Florida.
The film was novelized in 1954 by John Russell Fearn under the pseudonym of "Vargo Statten"; and then later, in 1977, in paperback under the pseudonym of "Carl Dreadstone", as part of a short-lived series of books based on the classic Universal horror films. The book was introduced by Ramsey Campbell, but was written by Walter Harris. The novel offers a completely different Gill-man, who in this version of the story is gigantic, almost as big as the Rita herself, weighing in at 30 tons. It is both coldblooded and warmblooded, is a hermaphrodite, and also possesses a long whip-like tail. The gigantic creature is dubbed "AA", for "Advanced Amphibian", by the expedition team members. After slaying most of the team members, destroying a Sikorsky helicopter, and kidnapping Kay more than once, the creature is killed by the crew of a US Navy torpedo boat.
The novel also differs greatly with respect to the human characters. Only David Reed and Kay Lawrence remain the same. Mark Williams is a German named "Bruno Gebhardt", and dies not as a result from drowning but by the monster falling on him. Lucas is named "Jose Goncalves Fonseca de Souza" and is a mostly sympathetic character until his suggestion of throwing the wounded and unconscious Reed to the monster makes an enraged Gebhardt/Williams throw him to the beast instead. Dr. Thompson and Dr. Maia both die grisly deaths, whereas in the movie they survive; Maia is eaten by the monster, and Thompson is impaled on a long tree branch flung at him by the creature like a spear (in an apparent nod to a deleted scene from Revenge of the Creature wherein the Gill-man killed a guard in this fashion).
The Creature's extensive and persistent impact on media and popular culture began even before it was seen in theaters. To publicize the release of the film in 1954, Ben Chapman, in costume, introduced the Creature to the public on live television in The Colgate Comedy Hour with Abbott and Costello.
In the 1955 comedy The Seven Year Itch, Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell come out of a theater showing Creature from the Black Lagoon. Monroe expresses some sympathy for the Creature, saying that it was not really bad and "just wanted to be loved".
In the second-series episode of Blackadder, "Money", Edmund refers to Baldrick as "the Creature from the Black Latrine".
Trinidadian calypso singer Lord Melody released a song called "Creature From The Black Lagoon" in 1957. In this song, he is compared to the creature by his son's friends, which his son protests. This song became one of his signature songs and also endured as a nickname for Melody for many years.
In an episode of the classic TV series The Munsters, the Munster family receives a visit from "Uncle Gilbert" who proudly refers to himself as the "Creature from the Black Lagoon".
Dave Edmunds, with his band Rockpile, also performed a song called "Creature from the Black Lagoon". Edmunds' song, included in his 1979 album Repeat When Necessary, was written by Rockpile's lead guitarist Billy Bremner.
A musical based on the film opened at Universal Studios Hollywood in late June 2009. Many films featuring monsters put a Gill-man likeness in the background as homage. More directly, the Gill-man appeared in the Robot Chicken episode "Shoe", voiced by Seth Green. He tells a man that he prefers the lagoon to be called the "African-American Lagoon".
The Gill-man also appears in the Robot Chicken sketch "We Are a Humble Factory", now voiced by Breckin Meyer. Learning of the success of Count Chocula, FrankenBerry, and BooBerry, as well as Fruity Yummy Mummy and Fruit Brute, the creature decides to make his own cereal called "Creature with the Black Macaroons" because macaroon sounds like lagoon; however, the cereal wasn't successful and when all the cereals were dumped into his lagoon, he says "I should've gone with legumes", as legume also sounds like lagoon.
Its likeness was also used for the film The Monster Squad. However, due to licensing issues with Universal, the creature is referred to as "Gill-Man".
There is a very famous poster made in the early 1970s of the character, with him saying "Alright, who peed in the pool?"
The creature has a brief cameo emerging from Lake Springfield on The Simpsons.
In the 1990 cult film "Johnny In Monsterland", Johnny has a nightmare in a sequence where he "spawns" with a sea monster referred to as "the inverted mermaid". The "inverted mermaid" was a nude female wearing a Don Post Creature mask and hands.
Creature from the Black Lagoon was made into a pinball game, designed by John Trudeau (aka "Dr. Flash") and released in 1992 by Midway under the Bally brand name. It has a retro 1950s drive-in theme. Completing side missions causes the screen to display "Universal Presents... Creature from the Black Lagoon", and then requires the player to chase after the monster just like in the film. The game sold 7,841 units.
A series of children's books, written by Mike Thaler and Jared Lee, parody the film. Beginning with The Teacher from the Black Lagoon, it continued with The Principal from the Black Lagoon, The Gym Teacher from the Black Lagoon, and several others.
The Marvel Comics character Triton of the Inhumans is a green water breathing character resembling the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
In the Stephen King novel It (novel), the shape-shifting Pennywise the Clown pursues and kills a victim whilst in the form of the Gill-Man.
The DC Comics character Aquaman donned a suit of armor resembling the creature in the 2005–2007 miniseries Justice.
In The Nightmare Before Christmas, there is a character in Halloween Town who is clearly meant to be a version of the Creature from the Black Lagoon. In one song, it ponders the contents of Jack's present: "Perhaps it's the head that I found in the lake".
When paleontologist Jenny Clack of the University of Cambridge discovered a fossil amphibian in what was once a fetid swamp, she named it Eucritta melanolimnetes, which is Greek for "the true creature from the black lagoon."
Though technically a merman, the character Rikuo in the Darkstalkers game series and his race bear a striking resemblance to the Gill-man, and perhaps more so than any character in the game, remain very true to the source character, with Rikuo being from an area in Brazil near the Amazon. Even the character's name is a reference to one of the actors who played the creature.
Frankenstein Drag Queens from Planet 13, a band from North Carolina who were fronted by now Murderdolls lead singer and solo artist Wednesday 13, also did a song about the creature, titling it "Creature from the Black Lagoon".
The heavy metal band Iced Earth also did a song about the creature called "Dragon's Child" on the Horror Show album.
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes: The Animated Series parodied the film in "The Tomato from the Black Lagoon", where the gang looks for a missing tomato link in the San Zucchini Botanical Gardens and are stalked by an amphibious tomato who goes after Tara, who is also part tomato.
Abe Sapien of Hellboy fame was originally inspired by the film and its titular creature.
The half-man half-fish character known as The Missing Link (often referred to as "Link") in the film Monsters vs. Aliens is an homage to the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
In Hotel Transylvania, there are multiple Gill-men in the crowd scenes with other famous monsters.
The Monster High character, Lagoona Blue, is the daughter of the Gill-man.
The TV series The A-Team had the team leader playing a monster called The Aquamaniac in several low budget horror flicks, which is near identical to the creature from the Black Lagoon.
The Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Go Fish" featured aquatic creatures very similar to the Gill-man.
Director William Winckler was inspired by the film when producing his 2005 black and white horror film Frankenstein vs. the Creature from Blood Cove. In the 90-minute retro monster movie, a biogenetically engineered half-man, half-fish creature battles Frankenstein's monster on a beach and beneath the waves, with underwater photography reminiscent of the underwater shots in Creature from the Black Lagoon. A stuntman/diver wearing a full body latex rubber costume was used to portray the Blood Cove creature on camera, not unlike Ben Chapman and Ricou Browning in costume in Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Funko released in October 2010 a 7-inch button eyed cuddly monster.
Pro Wrestling for the Nintendo Entertainment System features The Amazon, otherwise known as Half-piranha, half-man, who shares many similarities with the creature.
WNC-based rock/blues band PIPAPELLI released "Critter" in 2012. The song "Black Lagoon", from that CD, is a ballad about life, love, and murder as seen through the creatures' point of view. Available at link listed in external links.
In 1982, John Landis was keen on getting Arnold to direct a remake of the film, and Nigel Kneale was commissioned to write the screenplay. Kneale completed the script, which involved a pair of creatures, one destructive and the other calm and sensitive, being persecuted by the US Navy. A decision to make the film in 3-D led to the remake being canceled by producers at Universal, both for budgetary concerns and to avoid a clash with Jaws 3-D. In July 1992, John Carpenter was developing the remake at Universal. Herschel Weingrod and Timothy Harris wrote a new script, and Universal offered Peter Jackson the director's position in 1995, but he chose to work on King Kong instead. In February 1996, Ivan Reitman was planning to direct the remake, but the outing never materialized. With the financial success of The Mummy remake in May 1999, development of the Creature from the Black Lagoon remake was revived.
In December 2001, Gary Ross signed on to write and produce the remake with his father, Arthur A. Ross, one of the original's writers. He told The Hollywood Reporter, "The story my father wrote embodies the clash between primitive men and civilized men, and that obviously makes it a fertile area for re-examination." In August 2002, Guillermo del Toro, a fan of the original, was attached as director. Because of his commitments to numerous other projects, Universal was forced to go without del Toro, and hired Tedi Sarafian (credited on Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines) to write a script in March 2003.
In October 2005, Breck Eisner signed on as director. "As a kid, I remember loving Jack Arnold's original version of this film", he explained. "What I really want to do is update an iconic image from the '50s and bring in more of the sci-fi sensibility of Alien or John Carpenter's The Thing." Ross said in March 2007 the Gill-man's origin would be reinvented, with him being the result of a pharmaceutical corporation polluting the Amazon. "It's about the rainforest being exploited for profit", he said.
The film was delayed by the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike, and Eisner put The Crazies on his priority list first. The goal was once he finished filming that, he would begin filming Creature from the Black Lagoon in Manaus, Brazil and on the Amazon River in Peru. Eisner was inspired to shoot on location by the film Fitzcarraldo, and the boat set had been built. Eisner continued to rewrite the script, which was to be a summer blockbuster full of "action and excitement, but [still] scary". Eisner spent six months designing the new incarnation of the Gill-man with Mark McCreery (Jurassic Park, and Davy Jones' designer). The director said the design was "very faithful to the original, but updated", and that the Gill-man will still be sympathetic.
In 2009, it was reported that Carl Erik Rinsch might direct a 2010 remake that would be produced by Marc Abraham, Eric Newman and Gary Ross, however, a project featuring this ensemble had been abandoned by 2011.
In March of 2012, Universal announced that a reboot was in production, and would simply be titled The Black Lagoon rather than The Creature from the Black Lagoon, in order to distinguish the two versions. In October 2012, the studio hired Dave Kajganich to write the film. The film was expected to hit theaters by May of 2014, but was ultimately cancelled.
It was confirmed by Universal Pictures that they would be rebooting the classic Universal Monsters films of the past, with Dracula Untold as the first film in the new cinematic universe. No start date has been announced for The Creature From the Black Lagoon.