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  • Writer's pictureAndy Ross

70 Years of The Creature from the Black Lagoon



On February 12, 1954, Universal-International Pictures premiered their newest movie, a contemporary entry in from the sci-fi/horror vein in the then-popular 3-D format. The movie was “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” which would become a big hit for the studio and give the world a monster that came to be affectionally known as “The Gill Man,” the last monster to be added to the famed line up of monsters from the studio. 


The monsters have long been the bread and butter of Universal, it’s a lineup so closely identified with the studio that even when they haven’t made movies featuring the characters for years, they’ve been pop culture staples. It’d be hard to throw a candy bag around on Halloween without finding someone, somewhere, dressed up as one of the seven from the lineup. Dracula, Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, The Invisible Man, and The Gill Man. 


In the 1990s the characters had something of a resurgence appearing on everything from TV commercials, toys, T-shirts, hats, and even Pizza Hut boxes. When I read that this month marked the 70th birthday of The Creature, I knew I had to sit down and watch his first movie again. I’m a big fan of the Universal Monsters, and out of all of them, The Creature from the Black Lagoon is my favorite. 


Directed by Jack Arnold, who helmed several notable sci-fi films for the studio such as “It Came From Outer Space” and “The Incredible Shrinking Man,” and with an iconic monster design by Millicent Patrick, “Creature from the Black Lagoon” is about an expedition up the Amazon river who come across the half-man, half-fish creature. The movie holds up today and is just a delight to watch. I’ve had the pleasure of not only seeing it on the big screen, which was great but also I got to see it in 3-D once. A movie-watching experience I won’t forget. 


Universal asked to keep the ending of the movie a little open in case the film would warrant a sequel, and soon after the original film opened they began work on the follow-up. “Revenge of the Creature” would be released the following year and again in 3-D. This time the Gill Man has been caught and brought to a sea world-type amusement park, where he eventually breaks out and havoc ensues. 


“Revenge” isn’t too bad, and does have an uncredited appearance by an early in his career Clint Eastwood, but it doesn’t quite live up to the first film. It too was a hit and in 1956 Universal released the third and final film in the series “The Creature Walks Among Us.” This one is a, well, a bit of a head-scratcher. The creature is burned badly and scientists find that under his scales there is a layer of human skin. So they dress him up in a little suit jacket and the gill man spends most of his time wandering around looking like Herman Munster in a mask.


Despite Gill Man’s last time on the big screen being something of a low point, the character has endured. I also bring up Herman Munster above as according to an episode of “The Munsters” he is canonically related to the family, they call him “Uncle Gilbert.” There have been countless toys, action figures, model kits, and merch over the years with the character. Most notably a truly fantastic pinball machine from 1993, and he appearing with the other Universal Monsters in the 1998 pinball game “Monster Bash.” 


There’s been talks of remakes over the years, but nothing has ever come together. As Universal prepares to open their monster land in Orlando next year, one of the rumors is the park will feature a boat ride with the Gill Man, something I hope is true as I would love that. “Creature From The Black Lagoon” is more than just an iconic movie monster, he has become something of an iconic piece of Americana. I’m so glad to see The Gill Man make it to 70 and I hope we celebrate him, and the other Universal Monsters, for 70 more. See you next week.


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