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The legacy of the final Universal Monster is immeasurable, with “The Creature From the Black Lagoon” winning horror hearts since 1954.

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Growing up with horror, I never shied away from any genre from any decade, whereas for most my age, black-and-white horror wasn’t even watchable.

But for me as a young horror fan, I wanted to start from the beginning: the films that created horror and had visually time defying effects. A great place to start was with Universal Monsters, with leaders such as Dracula and Frankenstein. My love affair with these films began with The Bride of Frankenstein and culminated with the masterpiece that is The Creature From the Black Lagoon.

Almost at the end of the studio’s time in the horror limelight, Universal had one more fright to put to screen. Birthed in the time capsule that is the 50s atomic era and bathed in lust, terror, and obsession, the Gillman solidified its place as one of my favorite Universal creatures.

In the 50s, the growing curiosity bloomed about what was really lurking at the depths of our oceans and what was up in the stars above looking down on us. With strong religious feelings and a new scientific age, the human race was only just starting to learn more and more about ours and the earth’s beginnings.

With a fairly simple plot at the surface level, truly, it’s so much more at its depths.

Our story starts with William Alland, the producer who had heard whispers of a myth, a half fish/half man found in the Amazon — inspiring the idea for a story fusing this legend with the timeless fairytale of Beauty and the Beast. He began to write notes for a story originally titled The Sea Monster. In December 1952, Maurice Zimm expanded the story into a treatment, which Harry Essex and Arthur Ross rewrote as The Black Lagoon.

Our main cast of characters — Kay (Julie Adams), Mark Williams (Richard Denning), David Reed (Richard Carlson), and Carl Maia (Antonio Moreno) — set out on an expedition into the deep Amazon after discovering a fossilized claw that belonged to a creature that lived both on land and in the sea.

Lurking in the murky depths is our Gillman. With bulletproof skin and extra lungs, this amphibious, near-human-like creature drills dread into the heart.

When our creature first lays its eyes on Kay, it appears to be love at first sight, even though that love is not reciprocated. This obsession results in one of the most visually stunning and iconic scenes in cinema history. Kay swims in the lagoon with grace, dancing slowly away from safety underneath the creature that dances with her, mimicking her every move. It’s truly both menacing and elegant.

In this dark-hearted romance, the lovesick Gillman attempts to climb onto the boat to take Kay back to his cave, leaving what he desires to do with her to our imagination.

Part of what makes this film so complex starts with our two male leads, Mark Williams (Richard Denning) and David Reed (Richard Carlson). Once the creature approaches the ship, Gillman is immediately met with violence from the men. This makes us empathetic towards the creature and shapes how we judge (or not) the creature’s attempt to fight back.

The arrogance of man is examined, exploring the way we often attack what we don’t understand.

The men view the creature as a threat, yet it is they who invaded its world.

Our true villain of the tale, Doctor Williams, has dollar signs in his eyes, wishing to kill or capture the creature for personal gain. He meets his demise while polluting the lagoon with chemicals in an attempt to subdue the creature. It creates a strange dynamic where viewers want to root for what is supposed to be the monster of the film.

Milicent Partick was the first female animator at Disney. Until 1941, she worked on animated film classics like Dumbo. Universal then hired her to design makeup looks and creatures, like the xenomorph from It Came From Outer Space. In 1954, she created the iconic monster we see today, the Gillman, giving birth to the iconic look that would be burned into pop culture forever.

She had a small acting career afterward but never worked behind the scenes again. She was consistently uncredited for her hard work due to the jealousy of others, and this treatment turned her off from pursuing further work in the industry.

Making 1.3 million at the box office and receiving universal critical acclaim, The Creature From the Black Lagoon cemented itself as a horror powerhouse.

Gillman is the only Universal Monster that has never received a new lease of life with a modern adaptation.

Its only two sequels were filmed in 1955 and 1956. Every other monster — from Frankenstein to Dracula to The Invisible Man and The Wolf Man — has been repeatedly resurrected.

It’s not from a lack of interest. There have been multiple remake attempts from legendary directors like John Carpenter, James Gunn, and Peter Jackson. However, nothing has fully materialized.

Fortunately, the creature lives on in plenty of homages, in media such as cartoons and comic books and films such as Monster Squad. It’s also gone on to inspire major cinematic achievements like Jaws and The Shape Of Water.

The creature’s tale is one full of attraction, complexity, and tragedy. We are left with the image of the creature sinking to the bottom of the lagoon, accepting fate. For me it’s such a powerful film, one everyone should experience for themselves transporting you back in time.

Perhaps the reason a modern remake has never materialized is the understanding that nothing could come close to pulling such emotion out of its viewers as the original The Creature From the Black Lagoon, as impactful today as it was upon its release seventy years ago.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 5

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