Thursday, August 1, 2013

Revenge of the Creature (1955)

When Universal Pictures released Creature from the Black Lagoon in 1954, they successfully created what most film historians consider to be the last of the classic Universal monsters: Gill-man. Whether or not you've seen the original movie, that pale green, fish-faced humanoid also known as the Creature would probably look familiar with a quick image search.  With back to back sequels in the two consecutive years that followed the original's release, the Creature movies not only harked back to the timeless romanticism of the older Universal monster films but also helped update the science fiction genre with dialogue explaining biological research and theories as best as 1950s science could as well as offering social commentary on the increasing issues of pollution and destruction of ecology.  This duality is what allows the films to fit in with the classics that predate it by over 20 years while simultaneously being easy to watch for modern generations.

For a younger film lover getting into the Universal monster movies, one of the biggest challenges is determining the plot continuity between their array of sequels and deciding which ones are actually worth watching.  Having seen Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Wolf Man (1941), and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), this was the exact point I had reached.  I'd seen the first two Frankenstein sequels (Bride of Frankenstein, 1935, and Son of Frankenstein, 1939), but none of the other sequels/spinoffs are as talked about as these two, and ignoring the rest would surely result in missing out on some great American cinema. Well, I recently rewatched Creature from the Black Lagoon and subsequently viewed Revenge of the Creature (1955) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956) for the first time, and I can say that this well-contained trilogy is worth seeing in its entirety.  I'd like to focus on Revenge of the Creature because personally I liked it more than the last sequel and have some more noteworthy points in its defense.  Like most other Universal monster movies, the Creature movies no longer fit in what's commonly known as the horror genre, but all three can be considered science-fiction films with elements of romance.

For Revenge of the Creature, Jack Arnold returned as director and Ricou Browning reprised his role as Gill-man in the underwater scenes (land scenes featuring the Creature would be covered by three different actors in each of the movies).  While the overall formula of the first sequel is near identical to the original, what really keeps Revenge of the Creature fresh and different from its predecessor is its setting.  While the first movie takes place in the Black Lagoon in the Amazon, Gill-man's home turf, the sequel is set at an oceanarium in Florida where the Creature is studied by scientists after his capture in the film's opening sequence.  This turning of the tables offers a new cast of marine biologists and animal psychologists the opportunity to study the Creature in captivity.  Needless to say, his escape is imminent.  Actor John Agar is the leading man and Lori Nelson his lovely counterpart, and while she ultimately becomes the damsel in distress she is one of the scientists studying the Creature and an intelligent one at that.  Whether or not this qualifies as progressive for the 1950s is up to opinion, but it's a step up from the original if that womanizing factor tends to bother you in movies.  The scientific discussion  between characters in Revenge of the Creature is more prominent than in Creature from the Black Lagoon.  While this feature adds to overall production value of the film, it's also fun to observe what scientific explanations were available in the mid '50s that are still sound today and have a bit of a laugh at the couple lines that don't quite sound right if you've studied biology or psychology lately.  The action and swimming sequences are on par with the original but with a bit more variety, and although they messed up his eyes on the out of water costume (just wait for the third), the gill flapping effects on Gill-man's head are even better than in the first movie.

The Creature Walks Among Us takes a radically different direction with the series but is interesting to say the least.  New ethical issues are delved into as scientists operate on Gill-man in order to keep him alive, replacing his gills with lungs.  In this regard, it reminds me a lot of George Romero's Day of the Dead (1985); I don't like either as much as the first two films in their respective series, but they raise some interesting moral concerns while generally retaining what made the previous films great.  An interesting thing to note about The Creature from the Black Lagoon series is that the first two films were shot and released in 3-D and all three films were made in black and white.  If you're watching Revenge of the Creature, keep your eyes peeled for an uncredited cameo as a lab assistant by Clint Eastwood.  This brief role was his first onscreen appearance!

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