Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Halloween movie month: Creature from the Black Lagoon

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Netflix, instant
Rating:  3.5/5

Basic plot:  After finding a strange and unknown fossil in the Amazon, an archaeologist, a group of scientists, and their guide go on a search for the rest of the remains.  Their search leads them down river to a lagoon (the Black Lagoon) where they eventually discover that there is still a living form of this ancient creature (they never actually say if the creature had been around since pre-historic times, or if it's a descendant).

As with many movies in the 50s and 60s, there is a narrator setting the stage in the early acts of the film.  I have mixed feelings about narration in current movies, depending on how well it is done, but I generally like the narration in older movies.  Maybe it's because it brings about an inherent sense of nostalgia.  Or maybe it's because the narration in movies was basically the same type of narration that was used in documentaries of the day - which, in a way, makes the movie seem like a documentary and suggests that you should accept that what takes place really happened (or, at least, could conceivably happen).

This movie actually does a lot to suggest that the creature could conceivably exist.  For starters, the movie starts off by saying that God created the world, and then describes the millions of years of evolution that took place afterwards (and then explosions.  Lots of explosions).  So, whether you are religious, scientific, or both (or Michael Bay...cause of the 'splosions), this movie starts off with a viable explanation as to how there can be such strange and unknown creatures in the world.  There is also a conversation between two characters over whether or not they can believe the creature actually exists.  During that conversation, they discuss the lungfish (they explain that it is a creature that has basically remained unevolved for thousands of years), as well as how people believe it is possible for there to be life on other planets but they have a hard time believing in the unknown under the water on Earth.  And after watching River Monsters: with Jeremy Wade on Animal Planet, it's not that hard to believe that there are unknown creatures lurking in fresh waters.

I talked about the importance of music in my Nosferatu review, and the same holds true for Creature - the music plays a major role in helping to set the tone of the scene.  One of the reasons that the music is so vital in Creature from the Black Lagoon is that many of the scenes with the creature take place under water.  This was in the days before scuba masks that allowed people to talk to each other under water, so the music is the primary way of conveying the characters' emotions.

The look of the film isn't too bad either, but I think that a lot of that has to do with the film being in black and white.  When they are traveling on a boat, it's clear that the backdrop behind them is a video of scenery moving and not actually following a moving boat.  But it didn't look nearly as bad as some current movies that use a green screen to give the appearance of movement.  The creature effects weren't too bad either.  Nothing terribly amazing.  But, they did at least pay attention to enough detail to have air bubbles coming out of the gills rather than out of its nose/mouth.  Even though I didn't think that the effects looked too bad, I think that was due in large part to the overall picture quality and to it being in black and white.  For instance, the creature didn't look too bad because there were less details to focus on to notice whether or not it was bad.  Nowadays, everything is filmed and projected in much higher quality.  So when something doesn't look quite right, there is a much bigger discrepancy.

Recommendation:  It's a classic - everyone should see it.  As far as leading up to Halloween, it's worth seeing, but I wouldn't say that it's necessarily a "must see."  The scare factor of Creature from the Black Lagoon comes mostly from the fear of the unknown.  There is one scene in particular where Julie Adams's character is swimming in the lagoon and the creature swims up to her and touches her leg a few times before she swims back to the boat - playing on the fear that anyone who has ever swam in nature can tell you about...when something brushes against their leg and there is instant terror of "what was that??!!!??"  You might not have a fear of a part man, part fish, part reptile creature grabbing you when you are swimming - but there are certainly plenty of other deadly creatures that hide just below the surface of the water - and that scene reminds you of it.

Side note:  expect typical 50s movie stereotypes:  guys with dashing hair (even immediately after getting out of the water), damsels in distress (and the related sexual undertones of creatures capturing women.  After all, horror creatures need love too), etc.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for the next review in Halloween movie month.


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