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Creature from the Black Lagoon: Classic Monster Collection

In the realm of Universal horror films, the 1930s were the heyday, when such indelible classics as Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Mummy put their stamp on a generation's movie-going experiences. The 1940s, while less significant and littered with ill-conceived sequels, saw the arrival of The Wolf Man. But there was only one true star of Universal B-films in the 1950s — "Gill-Man," better known as The Creature from the Black Lagoon. This late entry in classic Hollywood horror tells the story of a group of adventurers who journey to a remote location on the Amazon River when an inexplicable fossil indicates a mysterious, unclassified species may be discovered. Adventurers David Reed (Richard Carlson) and Mark Williams (Richard Denning) head up the expedition, even though their personalities threaten to send the entire voyage downriver. Oceanographer David believes that science can lead to greater truths about man and nature; Richard, on the other hand, sees the big river with a big-game-hunter mentality. And when their boat and crew is stranded in the legendary Black Lagoon, and Gill-Man makes his presence known by ceaselessly attacking the interlopers, the two headstrong men find themselves battling each other as much as their half-man, half-fish foe. It doesn't help matters that Gill-Man has taking a King Kong liking to David's girlfriend Kay (Julie Adams). For those who have not seen it, Creature from the Black Lagoon, while immensely popular in 1954, today plays more like "Mystery Science Theater 3000" fodder. Both Carlson and Denning appear to be recent graduates of the William Holden school for Movie Drama; Adams, the sort of pretty girl who was perfect for '50s B-film schlock, typifies the "make-horrified-face, pause, scream-your-lungs-out" acting/reacting that was always good for a paycheck. By today's CGI standards, the famous Gill-Man costume is exactly what it appears to be in all of its Godzilla-like glory — a man in a rubber suit. And the studio-imposed score, a pastiche of musical genres, demands that the shrill Creature theme be intoned every time Gill-Man appears, which happens so often that you almost want to take a chainsaw to your amp. Nonetheless, Creature from the Black Lagoon is an enormously important movie, one that's worth watching. Originally filmed in 3-D, the black-and-white compositions work well on home video, and the story raises philosophical questions which still have a place in contemporary films. When Adams, unaware that Gill-Man lives in the lagoon, tosses a cigarette butt into the water, only to have the camera pan to the submerged creature, the viewer can only wonder how justified the watery beast is when he later attacks the boat. In order to flush out the monster, the crew also dumps poison in the lagoon, killing all of the fish. Again, who is the more monstrous? In fact, it would seem that every major Hollywood director has seen Creature, and perhaps several times. Adams' famous bathing-beauty swim in the lagoon, as the creature observes from below, suggests the opening and several other passages from Spielberg's Jaws. Her suit, which was very revealing by the day's standards, suggests the same female vulnerability that had an unsuspecting Sigourney Weaver strip down to her undies before the final attack in Alien. The popular Predator in some ways is a remake of Creature, with a group of harried humans doing battle in the jungle with an inexplicably bloodthirsty foe. And Cameron's The Abyss reaches back to Creature for its most salient theme — when a foreign species is discovered in the deep, should it be observed, captured, or simply exterminated? In its way, Creature from the Black Lagoon is one of the most influential films of its era, which ain't bad for a film that isn't always that good. Along with a pleasant transfer from a good print (1.33:1) and clear audio in the original mono (DD 2.0), Universal's Creature from the Black Lagoon, part of their "Classic Monster Collection," features the 40-minute documentary "Return to the Black Lagoon" hosted by film historian David J. Skal, an informative, funny commentary track by film historian Tom Weaver (in his rapid-fire delivery, also heard on The Wolf Man), an 11-minute gallery of stills and publicity materials with the original score, three trailers, and production notes, along with cast-and-crew bios and filmographies. Collectors of classic horror will want to have this one.

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