Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

Sometimes, writing this blog, I’ve learned that time has marched on a little too far for the classics of the past to have much of an impact on kids of today. When I was about nine years old, Creature from the Black Lagoon, or any one of a hundred imitators of Creature from the Black Lagoon, would have had me completely captivated. Our son was alternately bored out of his skull or irritated by the downright dumb decisions of the characters. One guy in particular is so desperate to kill the monster and bring its carcass back to society for accolades and celebrity that you can see a color bullseye on his back in a black and white movie.

So this was a big disappointment for him, especially since he has a three-inch glow-in-the-dark action figure of the Gill Man and has been looking forward to seeing this movie, but really only the design of the creature held any interest. I think it’s a very fine film for its day and has aged extremely well. Only two things really ring fake and hollow almost sixty years later. There’s the stock “jungle noises” sound effects in the background – count how often you hear the unforgettable ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo-ah-ah-ah-ah animal from every movie set anywhere remotely like Brazil – and there’s a wholly unnecessary fake bat in a cave held up by giant wires. Maybe a modern remake would have a more diverse cast shot on an actual location, but it wouldn’t be a very different movie than this. I wonder whether they could find a female lead anywhere as beautiful as Julie Adams, though.

Actually, for a boatload of scientists, our son’s right, and it’s true the people in this movie do act like dimwits. They keep talking about the Gill Man in the singular, like they knew the budget only extended to one really good costume. Surely one of them would have realized that there must be a large colony of them to have survived into the present from the Devonian period. Wouldn’t that have made a much more thrilling ending, to have just gone thirty seconds more at the end, realizing their terrible mistake?

Maybe I should have gotten to this one sooner. I did begin by recapping that Them! was considered terrifying in its day, but was more of an exciting action movie for him, and that’s how he’d probably feel about this one. But time has marched on so much that the isolated thrills that this movie offered the audience of 1954, and certainly for many years after, have long been eclipsed by more immediate and greater dangers.

Netflix just released a new season of one of our son’s favorite cartoons, Jurassic Park: Camp Cretaceous. It’s a show packed with threats and frights and it moves like lightning. Even starting him off on old movies as early as we have, he’s growing into realizing that many of the classics of the past – particularly the ones that relied on urgency and scares to keep the audience riveted – can really only be viewed through the prism of looking back at how these things used to be made. If things work out, we’ve got another Universal classic horror film in the pipeline for March; hopefully we can make sure he appreciates it as an effective period piece instead of something that’s going to give him the same frisson as everything he can find on his own. Fingers crossed!

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