Hello Geeks and Ghouls, Famous Monster here. Well, it’s finally October and you know what that means? Breast Cancer Awareness 5Ks? Good guess. Pumpkin Spice Lattes? Delicious, but no. Halloween? YES. Horror movies? DOUBLE YES!
Welcome to 31 Days of Horror, where I’ll cover at least two noteworthy horror films a day for the entirety of the month. That’s 31 Days of Horror and 62+ scary movies perfect for a cold, dark October night. Be sure to visit Geeks of Doom every day this month for a double-shot of chills and thrills!
Today’s double-shot of creature features will turn even the most experienced sailor into a bellyachin’ landlubber. I present to you Jack Arnold‘s 1954 classic, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Steven Spielberg‘s 1975 blockbuster, Jaws.
A geological expedition in the Amazon uncovers ancient fossilized evidence of a link between land and sea animals in the form of a skeletal hand with webbed fingers. Expedition leader Dr. Carl Maia (Antonio Moreno) visits his friends, Dr. David Reed (Richard Carlson), an ichthyologist who works at a marine biology institute, and his scientist girlfriend Kay Lawrence (Julia Adams). Reed and Ms. Lawrence persuade the institute’s financial backer, Dr. Mark Williams (Richard Denning), to fund a return expedition to look for the remainder of the skeleton in the heart of the Amazon.
When the group arrive at Dr. Maia’s camp, they discover that the scientist’s entire research team has been brutally killed by a mysterious animal with razor-sharp claws: the amphibious “Gill-man,” an ancient, misunderstood creature that occupies the murky depth’s of an Amazonian paradise known as the Black Lagoon.
That Creepy Scene:
The Gill-man has taken notice of the beautiful Kay and begins following the expedition’s tramp steamer downriver. While David and Mark go diving to collect fossils and sediment samples, Kay goes swimming (in an iconic piece of cinematic swimwear) in the Black Lagoon.
The Creature (played by Ricou Browning in the underwater sequences) watches Kay glide through the water, who is unaware that the creature is swimming directly below her, mimicking her graceful movements.
An elegant, mystifying underwater ballet between the monster and Kay ensues, interrupted suddenly when the Gill-man (who is possessed by Kay’s beauty) grazes her foot with his webbed fingers, causing her to return to the boat. This film is quite poignant and beautiful as Ricou Browning swims effortlessly in one of the most gorgeous monster suits ever created – his gaze fixed on the woman in the white swimsuit as she moves.
I guess the Gill-man is kind of a creeper when you think about it – he spends the whole movie lurking in the riverweed, a peeping tom ogling Julia Adams’ goodies (not that I blame him). Imagine if they remade The Creature from the Black Lagoon today – I can see it now: Chris Hansen on a steamer with a stack of chat transcripts, asking the Gill-man to “please have a seat.”
In March of 1954, U.S. government Officials announced that an American hydrogen bomb test had been conducted on Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. In that very same month, Universal Pictures introduced it’s own product of the nuclear age – The Creature From the Black Lagoon.
The Gill-man was my favorite monster as a kid – much cooler than Dracula or Frankenstein, and more fierce and frightening than Lon Chaney, Jr’s Wolf Man. I remember the iconic musical queue as the creature came out of the water, its webbed hand rising to grab the ladder of the Rita. Those claws, razor-sharp and longer than dinosaur teeth, ready to grab scientists and sailors encroaching on its territory.
Much like King Kong, The Gill-Man is a lonely, misunderstood monster that is both awe-struck by beauty and doomed by it. In 1955’s The Seven Year Itch, The Creature From The Black Lagoon is discussed by Marilyn Monroe’s character and her date:
The Girl: Didn’t you just love the picture? I did. But I just felt so sorry for the creature at the end.
Sherman: Sorry for the creature? What did you want? Him to marry the girl?
The Girl: He was kinda scary-looking, but he wasn’t really all bad. I think he just craved a little affection – you know, a sense of being loved and needed and wanted.
Sherman: That’s a very interesting point of view.
The Creature from the Black Lagoon was a gateway drug to a monster addiction I still haven’t kicked (and likely never will). Along with Star Wars, it was one of the first films that interested me in how it was made – how they created the suit Ben Chapman and Ricou Browning wore in the film – and how they filmed all the underwater sequences.
Interestingly enough, The Creature From the Black Lagoon was inspired by a Mexican folktale. Producer William Alland had dinner with Orson Welles, Dolores Del Rio and Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa where Figueroa described a creature that lives in the Amazon. Once a year, the monster comes up and claims a maiden from the local village, and after he leaves, the village is safe for another year…
Figueroa said, “You people think I’m joking, don’t you?” but insisted that the story was absolutely true, that he could produce photos” While we’ll never know if Figueroa’s Mexican folktale is fact or fiction, Alland took the idea and ran with it, pitching it as a movie at Universal.
Speaking of Universal, Steven Spielberg certainly took a few cues from Creature director Jack Arnold; his opening shark attack in 1975’s Jaws is clearly an homage to The Creature From the Black Lagoon. Both films play upon a basic fear that people have about what might be lurking below the surface of the water. Everyone knows the shock of swimming and feeling something brush your legs down there – it scares the hell out of you – it’s that fear of the unknown that make both films so primordial and timeless.
One night during a party on the beaches of Amity Island, a New England community primarily known as a summertime destination, a young woman (Susan Backlinie) goes for a nude, moonlit swim in the ocean and is attacked and killed by an unseen force beneath the surface. The next morning her remains wash up on shore and are discovered by Amity police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider). Determining the woman’s death to be a shark attack the chief attempts to close the beaches in order to prevent further casualties, but is stonewalled by the town’s mayor Vaughan (Murray Hamilton), cautious to protect Amity’s reputation with the Fourth of July coming up. Some time later a little boy is eaten by the shark while playing in the water. His distraught mother offers up a sizable bounty to anyone who can kill the shark, bringing carloads of fishermen and hunters to Amity ready to claim the reward.
Marine biologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) also arrives on Amity to assist Brody and based on the bite marks left on the remains of the first victim he believes the shark is a great white, unheard of in the waters off Amity. The beaches remain open despite failed attempts to kill the shark and when the tourists descend on Amity for Independence Day the attacks intensify. With the lives of Amity’s citizens, including Brody’s own family, and the town’s future hanging in the balance, Brody and Hopper team up with local fisherman Quint (Robert Shaw) and head out to sea to confront and destroy the great white. It’s only after they’ve encountered the beast that they realize their enemy has been grossly underestimated. One thing’s for sure: they’re gonna need a bigger boat. – BAADASSSSS!, Geeks Of DoomJAWS Blu-ray Review
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