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Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Creature from the Black Lagoon

What can I say? I love this movie. It has to be one of my top three all-time favorites, right up there with THEM! and The Thing (the original, not the Kurt Russel verison, although I like it as well).

1954 was a great year for science fiction/horror movies. In addition to Creature there was Devil Girl from Mars, Gojira (Godzilla), Killers from Space and more.

Like so many black and white films this movie is strong on atmosphere (It was originally shot in 3-D). The main setting is deep in the Amazon jungle, specifically in the Black Lagoon (what a great name), and the shadows and textures add a dimension of eerie-ness you just don't get with color.

As a kid this movie struck me for several reasons, not least of which was the beautiful Julia (Julie) Adams as the heroine. This ivory skinned, dark haired beauty drove me wild in her short shorts and one-piece bathing suit. I was in love! It was easy to see why the gill man fell so hard for her.

What makes this film stand out though is the underwater action, especially the scene where the heroine, the very picture of innocence and purity, swims in the lagoon while below her, hidden in the depths of the shadows, the creature mimics her every stroke, shadowing her, observing her. There's something creepy about swimming in open water in that you truly have no idea what lies beneath you. Jaws played on this fear in much the same way as Creature, but with far bloodier consequences. It's that feeling you get when something brushes against your leg or foot and you have no idea what's down there. It can scare the crap out you, let me tell ya.

Two men played the creature - Ricou Browning did the underwater work while Ben Chapman played the gill man above the water. There was no room in the gill-man costume for air tanks so Browning did all of his scenes while holding his breath. Clever editing aside, try holding your breath during some of those scenes and see how long you last. Browning had to hold his breath for up to five minutes at a time while trying to act menacing and keep himself from drowning.

Richard Carlson plays the hero, one of the best leading men from the '50s Bs. Richard Denning and Whit Bissell are two other well known B-grade names in this film. Denning played leading roles in several films, but this was the first movie I ever saw him in and I never quite trusted him after that - I just knew he was bad news after the way he treated the gill-man.

The theme of this film, at least what I see is the theme, is lust. Lust for power and glory on the part of the ambitious scientist, Dr. Mark Williams, and pure, unadulterated sexual lust from the creature and it is their lust that brings their downfall, a typical, if not overdone, theme of 1950s films. Remember, this was a time in America when conformity was something to be desired. People were expected to live by the rules, to follow society's norms and in the movies of the early 50s those who deviated from the norm, those who broke the unwritten laws always got it in the end. And so the poor creature was doomed the moment he laid his eyes on our heroine, and Dr. Mark Williams was doomed the moment he laid eyes on the creature.

This movie is now available in a box set with its sequels - Revenge of the Creature (1955) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956). Of the three, The Creature from the Black Lagoon is far and above the best, but the box set is definitely worth having if you love the gill man.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

I Love a Good Bad Movie

Picture this: It's Friday night and everyone else is asleep. I'm all alone in the basement. The lights are off. The only illumination comes from the flickering TV screen. I sit enthralled as bizarre stories unfold before me in glorious black and white as I watch “Creature Features,” “Night Frights,” or “Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.” It doesn't matter to me whether it's the “Werewolf of London,” “It Came from Outer Space” or “Monster on Campus,” it's all good and I love every minute of it. Some nights it's a double feature and I won't get to bed till three in the morning but who cares? I'm thirteen years old and tomorrow's Saturday – No School! So I stay up, sucking in every second of cinematic magic. You have to remember, this is before VCRs, this is before Tivo. If I miss a second of one these jewels I may never get to see it again, ever. Oh, the horror!

As far as cinema goes, those were my formative years. We didn't go out to movies all that often when I was a kid so I had to make due with hacked up, commercial infested science fiction and horror flix from the fifties and sixties. (Fifties films were my favorites, what with the giant bugs and all. Who could resist “The Giant Mantis,” or “Them!”? Great stuff for lonely teenage boys.)

I think there is magic involved for anyone who truly loves movies, especially low budget gems like “The Creature from the Black Lagoon,” and it is this – You must totally and completely suspend your disbelief. If you are unwilling or unable to do this you might as well stick to documentaries.

I assume that if you are reading this then you, my friend, possess this magical ability that all too many people have lost. Maybe the secret to B movies is that the worse the movie, the more disbelief you must suspend.

Maybe that's why my family thinks I'm crazy.

What's all this then?

B Movies!

I love B movies, those movies my wife refers to as 'Bad Movies.' What people like her fail to understand is that to the true B lover there is nothing 'bad' about these old science fiction and horror movies. Low budget, yes, that's a given, bad acting, low production values, of course. You have to understand, these movies were typically made on minuscule, sometimes nonexistent budgets. But that doesn't mean they're bad, not by any means. Okay, some are bad, I'll give you that. But then some of Hollywood's big budget block busters are just as bad ( try watching 'Pennies from Heaven' with Steve Martin sometime, or 'Dick Tracy' staring that wonderful actress, Madonna). 'B' doesn't mean 'Bad' just as 'A List' doesn't make Paris Hilton a wonderful human being. So don't condemn a movie because of its B status. You may just be robbing yourself of a wonderful cinematic experience.

So, this Blog is my tribute to the wonder that is low-budget film making at its best or worst. There will be no rhyme or reason as to how and when I'll talk about these gems - I'll just go by instinct, by my gut. Some may disagree with my thoughts about a particular film so, in that case, all I can say is “Get Over It!” It's my Blog and I'll type what I want to.