The Creature Walks Among Us

I always heard this was the worst of the Creature from the Black Lagoon movies. Everyone that likes this sort of thing loves the first, is OK with the second, and then gives the third one a bad rap. “Dumb” and “unnecessary” and all that sort of stuff. I almost went with the criticism, since it was close to universal (HA!), but when I got the Gillman Blu-Ray set, I decided to give it a go so I could see for myself.

All those people are wrong. This thing’s nearly as good as the original.

While the second sequel, Revenge of the Creature, is your typical old school sequel, in that it rehashes many of the original’s plot points with enough changes in locale, etc, to be “different enough,” Walks Among Us is an entirely unique beast.

The Universal Monsters go through a lot of pain and torment in their respective movies, but I’m willing to be that The Creature gets it the worst in this movie. The movie starts with him nearly being burned to death during an attempt to capture him, and that leads to a downward spiral into some nasty body horror territory as Gillman is forcibly “evolved” into a land animal. In saving the Creature’s life after said near death burning, the scientists who want to study him give him the ability to breath air, thus robbing it of its ability to use its gills. The look at this as some sort of “gift,”  as they see this as improving on his lungfish-like lungs. Now the Creature can live indefinitely out of the water, rather than the brief moments seen in previous movies. The catch is that in the process, the Creature begins to take on more human-like traits. Gillman’s fish-like scales and eyes all begin to appear far more human-like. They haven’t just saved the Creature’s life, they’ve changed him.

Most Universal Monsters are simply taken out of their elements or misunderstood. Frankenstein is seen as an abomination by a public unwilling to understand that which is different from them, but even in his resurrection-induced self-doubt, Frankenstein remains some semblance of himself. Talbot may transform into a Wolf-Man, but even in death he’s able to revert to his true nature. Death may be inevitable, but they all die on their own terms, relatively speaking. The Creature is changed. He’s no longer “of the Black Lagoon,” he’s just another bald schmo breathing air, without the luxury of having always been said schmo. He has all the weaknesses of being human without the experience to make those weaknesses work, and he’s also lost everything that gave him an advantage as The Creature. Gillman’s had his very identity and purpose robbed, only to perpetuate his suffering for the amusement of some jerk scientists who see him as a curiosity that will boost their careers.

That’s horrifying.

All of this is reflected in the “love triangle” that consumes the human side of the story. We have a woman who married young. Her husband is both a possessive, jealous man who has no faith in his wife AND he’s the one responsible for the Creature’s forced transformation. He’s the sort of man who is so insistent on his own brilliance that he can’t see the obvious truth before his eyes. He’s blind to his ego suffocating his wife, and whatever infidelities she commits are a reaction to unwarranted mistrust rather than any flaws on her part. He’s also blind to the obvious state of the natural world. When his wife turns to “the help” for companionship, despite said man being almost as much of a asshole as her husband, our dear doctor becomes consumed with the very sort of animal-like rage he thinks he’s above, and which he thinks comes natural to the Creature (and his wife). He’s everything he hates, just like such men tend to be.

This movie takes place at the cusp of the space race, and there’s much talk about man reaching to the stars and going into space. The lead scientist sees the Creature as a chance to learn about our limitations, something that can be applied to future endeavors. Our dear doctor friend wants to “seize the stars” while he believes they’re within his grasp, which is what leads him to experiment on the Creature. He’s like Dr. Frankenstein, rushing knowledge ahead for personal gain rather than for the sake of learning. He’s that “scientist” who bends the data to fit his hypothesis, whether that hypothesis is that the Creature can be used to further space travel or that his wife returns his “kindness” with hatred simply because that’s what women do.

It’s all far too timely, despite being over 60 years old. Men picking and choosing details to “prove” the ideas they’ve already decided are correct, and using those “truths” to put down the women around them.

In the end, the Creature, a shadow of his former self, shambles off into the ocean. We the audience are unsure if Gillman can even survive in the water, now that his very genetic make-up has been altered, but you have to wonder if he even cares about that. Gillman would rather die attempting to be what he once was rather than continue to suffer for our amusement.

The Creature isn’t at fault– he’s never been at fault– but The Creature’s suffering is greater than you could imagine. There’s almost a messianic quality to him– as if Earth is offering up its most precious creation to teach its other creation a lesson.

But we won’t listen. We never do.

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