Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

Creature From the Black Lagoon

Grade : A- Year : 1954 Director : Jack Arnold Running Time : 1hr 19min Genre :
Movie review score

This is the first time I’ve seen “Creature From the Black Lagoon.” That feels strange to see, because I’ve watched the first sequel, “Revenge of the Creature,” at least a dozen times. Of course, all of those times were when it was getting lampooned on the premiere episode of the Sci-Fi Channel run of “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” so it’s a bit unfair to critique it properly. That made me a bit curious to see “Creature From the Black Lagoon,” which was the last horror franchise of Universal’s classic Monster movies, and came out in a very different landscape of cinema. That is another part of the film that made me curious to watch it, since Universal has packaged with with its earlier classics over the years.

Scientists have gone to the Amazon searching for a mythical half-man, half-fish creature. They find it, and most of the film’s 79 minutes is about them trying to get out of the lagoon. We get a beginning about the beginning of Earth, and we get an idea that this is a product of evolution, rather than the creatures coming from nuclear testing that permeated throughout the rest of the 1950s. We see him in pieces before he really takes center stage in trying to kill the group of scientists and locals in the lagoon. There really isn’t much about the film beyond that.

I don’t know why I didn’t consider that this would be a radically-different movie in terms of structure and tone than the likes of “Dracula” or “Frankenstein” or “The Invisible Man,” but that makes it a decidedly different type of beast in Universal’s horror cap of iconic monsters. Of course, this came out in the 1950s, where giant monsters created by radioactivity were all the rage, so that had its own formula that didn’t lend itself to vampires and brooding Gothic horror, although actually, one movie I thought about was Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws”- I can see Spielberg thinking about this film’s underwater shooting for when he did the scenes of swimming individuals with a lurking danger, and there are some parts of the soundtrack which look forward towards John Williams’s iconic score for that film. Though lacking in the artistry of Universal’s original monster films, “Creature From the Black Lagoon” is not as cheesy as “Revenge of the Creature” was, and director Jack Arnold does a good job at keeping our interest up with moments of suspense that are utterly predictable to a modern viewer, but feel like they would be above-average for a ’50s audience member. There’s nothing ridiculously silly about this film, or feels like it doesn’t take this story seriously, while also remembering that its first job is to have fun. Though it seems out of place with Bela Lugosi’s Dracula or Karloff’s Frankenstein monster, the Creature in this film fits right in with Universal’s finest efforts in making us go bump in the night.

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