When you mention the Universal Monsters what typically comes to mind is the black and white old school horror characters of Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy and The Wolfman. These creatures, who had their start in novels, have been re-created, hailed and popularised in many ways, and stand firm as the best horror characters ever written.
But there’s someone who is missing in that list of Universal Monsters, someone who gets overlooked quite a bit from the less die-hard horror fans. I’m talking about the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and honestly we need to bring this fishy dude into the spotlight more!
The Creature from the Black Lagoon was immortalised in a 1954 American black and white Universal Monster movie. The Creature itself – also known as Gill-man – was played by Ben Chapman on land, and in the water by Ricou Browning. It was popular at the time, and two sequels were released as part of the Universal Monster universe, including Revenge of the Creature, and The Creature Walks Amongst Us. It also featured as a comedic appearance in an Abbott and Costello episode.
The Creature from the Black Lagoon movie centres around a geology expedition in the Amazon that uncovers a fossil of a hand with webbed fingers from the Devonian period of time, said to be the missing link between land and sea animals. The crew embark into the Amazon jungle, where eventually they come across the Creature as a living member of the same species of where the fossil originated from. Finding the live Creature, the humans do what humans do and decide to attack it, forcing the Creature’s survival instincts. When more of the crew arrive, the Creature watches from the jungle and takes notice of one of the female members of the group named Kay and falls in love with her, ending up being captured by the crew and kidnapping her. The end of the film features Kay being rescued and the Creature being riddled with bullets, its body sinking into the watery depths.
Gill-man is in its essence a misunderstood creature who befalls the greed and settlement of mankind. Humans love to seek dominion on all creatures, and unfortunate the Creature in the Black Lagoon is no different, but because it refuses to bow to these mysterious humans, it is hunted, attacked, and eventually killed. While it does do some reprimandable stuff – the killing and abducting – Gill-man is simply misunderstood and forced to defend itself, rescuing the fact that humans are the real villains here.
The unfortunate aspect is that this is not really a popular opinion, despite the sympathetic nature of the creature, and it wasn’t until 2002 when film producer and creator Guillermo del Toro wanted to recreate the original movie based on the Creatures point of view that the idea was raised further. However, this was seen to humanise the Creature too much and the idea was rejected. In 2017 Guillermo del Toro then created an re-imagining of The Creature of the Black Lagoon called The Shape of Water. The film won many awards, including the Academy Award for Best Picture and del Toro explained that The Shape of Water was a way to show the Gill-man’s romance with Kay as “succeeding”. Unfortunately, despite the successful reception of The Shape of Water, this idealised topic is still not being talked about.
The Shape of Water is not the only creature feature that was uniformly well created, but ultimately ignored – the recent DC cinematic universe created a well-produced TV series on Swamp Thing, a comic book hero with strong similarities and origin to the Creature. Swamp Thing focuses on a CDC agent named Abby returning to her hometown in a Louisiana swamp, only to discover a mysterious swamp algae has taken over the mind of her high school sweetheart Dr Alec Holland, who becomes the swamp like creature. The whole series is sympathetic towards the Swamp Thing, showing his human emotions and desire to not only save himself but the swamp from greedy humans looking to further their fame and fortune. The ten episode season one was promptly cancelled after the second episode aired, allowing only one season to progress due to unpopularity.
I watched the show and the reality of the cancellation it was because it was sympathetic to the creature. I almost cried as he was alive and being performed an autopsy on. Apparently, being sympathetic to other creatures doesn’t bode well for a well-produced TV show though, and the Gill-man was once again banished to bottom of the lagoon.
But the thing is, the Gill-man deserves it’s place in the swamp. The Creature of the Black Lagoon WAS a good guy forced to defend himself, in the way we cheer on wronged agents in spy movies and characters who get revenge on others for a heinous crime. Simply because the Gill-man is not human, his sympathies are majorly cast aside. So we need to talk about him more – about The Shape of Water, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Swamp Thing. This way, we can all work together to make sure the Creature from the Black Lagoon gets it day in the sun!