Review by C.J. Bunce
Who is my favorite Universal Studios classic movie monster? I have always answered The Creature from the Black Lagoon. I first watched the web-footed and web-handed fellow with gills in 3D on local network television on one Friday night many years ago. I am not sure cable TV was yet making its headway across the country, but the “creature feature” was something marketed for a few weeks over the summer. The local CBS affiliate, if I recall correctly, teamed up with the local Hy-Vee grocery store to hand out those cardboard and vellum 3D glasses. I knew early on that The Creature was the first and only one of the classic monsters filmed and shown in theaters in 3D back in 1954. My trusty World Almanac told me it wasn’t the first 3D film released–that went to the African lion film Bwana Devil in 1952.
As part of my current quest to sample the best of 3D movies on Blu-ray, finding The Creature from the Black Lagoon on the very short list of released 3D films was a big win. Back in 1997 in Seattle where basic DVDs were first released in a major U.S. market, I remember digging through a short box at the big Suncoast store but feeling similarly dismayed, until I noticed A Boy and His Dog among the early conversions to digital video. The Creature is a great starting point for modern 3D, giving the current technology some historical context.
Thanks in large part to make-up guru Bud Westport’s incredible creature suit and mask, the film holds up as well as any modern classic. In fact, viewing The Creature back to back with Predator 3D (reviewed here earlier this month), it’s surprising how similar the films are. Take away the sci-fi intro to Predator and you have a jungle adventure with another otherworldly creature. As with Predator 3D, the multi-layered jungle comes alive in The Creature, and the careful placement of actors onscreen gives a crystal clear dimensional image that doesn’t waver. Better yet, you have to look hard to see The Creature’s air bubbles–mostly he swims for seemingly long stints underwater with no apparent breathing going on. And let’s not forget both of these films are part of the horror genre–each character gets picked off one by one by the monster until only a few are left for a final life-or-death showdown.
Like The Thing from Another World, it’s full of the more innocent jolts and scares you’d expect from the 1950s. Some scenes really stand out. Take the introduction scenes, which today indicate Jurassic Park borrowed plenty from this classic. A giant fossil claw in found a bed of limestone reaches out creepily into the audience’s lap and just hangs there. It’s quite impressive. Later the fossil is handled by scientists and it always has this excellent clarity and presence that, yes, makes you want to reach out and grab it–exactly what the moviemakers were after. The Creature actually could be the inspiration for a host of films and books from Michael Crichton–with the focus on the business of science, struggles of scientists, and amalgamation of several experts brought together to go on some strange quest for the impossible. The story of The Creature will be familiar to modern audiences.
The sound quality is clear and clean, too. Look for a score created by an odd assemblage: Henry Mancini, Hans J. Salter and Herman Stein, each adding a section to the movie’s tension.
But the greatest accomplishment may be The Creature from the Black Lagoon as the first 3D movie filmed underwater. Take what you want from the scene where actress Julia Adams is swimming in the Amazon jungle–after she just saw plenty of alligators drifting about. For me this was like the opening shark scene in Jaws. We don’t really get enough to feel entirely sympathetic with the creature as we might have felt for Frankenstein. The Creature may be nothing more than a creepy stalker admiring a beautiful woman, but maybe he’s an innocent and curious stranger from another place and time. With a thick river, who knows what is swimming 12 inches below you? In this case it is a six-foot long iguana, with believable glassy eyes.
The Creature from the Black Lagoon in 3D is available in an affordable 3D/2D set in its original black and white format here from Amazon.com. Features include a 2D documentary with 40 minutes of interesting tidbits like interviews with Julia Adams and the actors that played The Creature, a gallery of posters and other marketing materials, trailers, an audio track by a film historian, and a 9-minute look at the Universal back lot.