Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Creature from the Black Lagoon

Watched this beauty on my phone, using something called an ‘app’. I previously saw it in my youth, I believe, in a theatre, certainly not a first-run film. I think even then I recognized the limitations of the movie, yet the power of the monster projected intense visceral response.

I somehow understood that there were a gazillion of these rubber-suited monstrosities on show somewhere serving the need for unexamined fear. Donald Trump now fills that role. Few of these movies were available to me in the darkness before VHS and Internet. This movie somehow exceeded the niche and became a classic. It’s not The Thing (50s version), which is both more primally scary, and also has a livelier script. Still, it’s an iconic sea monster until we can get Spielberg to present sharks as psychopathic killers.

The movie begins with an archaeologist whose team discovers a large, unprecedented clawed hand from, as repeatedly said, the Devonian Era. The archaeologist hacks it out of the earth to bring it home. He wants to return with a proper crew to excavate the site.

His two native workers were to remain at the site. Whilst they discussed the logistics of the archaeologist’s return, we see a living version of that hand reach out of the nearby river. It just feels the ground a bit then draws back into the water. That, my friends, is presaging. Use it wisely.

Scene change to somewhere else. The staff ingenue, yclept Kate, drives a speed boat to a larger one. Under the sea someone is scuba diving. The diver, David, emerges from the water and we get some exposition going. Kate brings the archaeologist to meet with the diver. David and Kate are an item, albeit unmarried

They gather with the rest of the cast, which includes Kate’s boss. He too is a scientist but, as belaboured, he thinks too much in terms of bottom line. His name is Mark as in the ill-fated King in the Tristan and Iseult cycle of stories. Just saying.

Meanwhile, the two natives back at the archaeological site are in their tent one night. A, but we know it is the, creature emerges from the water and heads for their tent. We see one native sleeping, the other a-fright and saying “No! No!” The big claw lands on the fellow’s head and then from outside we see the turmoil of his death. Similarly so for sleepyhead, who wakes just in time to see himself killed. Okay, monster fully checked in. Such a monster can easily get thru first floor windows, and find its way upstairs to bedrooms of overly-imaginative youngsters. Easily!

The scene changes to our scientific party as it starts its journey African Queen-style down the Amazon. The captain has been charged with overacting as the wise but eccentric master of the river who needs a shave. A couple of natives help him drive the boat while our science friends lounge on deck.

Kate has a remarkable facility to keep her hair well-fussed with pins and scarves. Her shorts don’t seem like Amazon ware. David seems to look older as the movie progresses but they remain fluttery in their moon eyes. Mark proves to be a bit grouchy. He never seems to have been in the game vis-a-vis Kate but jealous nonetheless. Also, he’s not idealistic like David is.

At the site they happen to notice that the two natives have been eviscerated. Everyone’s almost shocked, but then they get back to business. They dig at the site for a while until Mark becomes disgruntled about not discovering a fishy Piltdown Man. They decide they need to investigate the water, on the off chance that earthquakes and landslides had moved the rest of the bones. David and Mark do the diving.

I believe that every movie or television show featuring diving becomes an act of following random fish around with a camera then occasionally taking note of the divers. At least glimpses of the Creature sends some adrenalin into our bloodstream. He does a lot of lurking, kind of a wallflower.
After one dive, Kate decides the boys are having all the fun so she takes a dip herself. We see her swimming luxuriously. She even performs some synchronized swimming routines for our viewing pleasure. And the pleasure seems even more so for the Creature, who lurks below watching. At one point she swims backstroke and the Creature below her unbeknownst does the same thing. A curious mating dance.

Lucas, the Captain, espies Kate and tells her to come closer, it is dangerous out there. She complies. Despite webbed feet and hands, the Creature barely can keep up with her, outstretching his clawed paw but unable to grasp her.

Just after she is back on board, the boat is rocked. Something large has gotten into the net they have in the water. They try to reel the net in but whatever that was caught burst thru the net. Later that night, the Creature climbs aboard and kills a native, using his patented claw to the head maneuver. Kate gets to scream.

Mark and David argue what to do next. Mark wants to kill it, and bring it back as a lucrative trophy. David wants to capture it, and bring it back as a scientific trophy. In a hunt for the Creature, Mark wounds it with a spear gun. It may be that it is now that the Creature comes aboard to kill a native. Specific narrative doesn’t matter, we know what’s going to happen.

Lucas suggests using a powder the natives use to catch fish. When they get the dose right, the Creature becomes woozy. I think the boys chase it to its grotto or something.

Whatever narrative details I have missed, Mark still falls to the clutches of the Creature, tho David does his best to save him.

Since it would be silly to take defensive measures, Kate sits out somewhere dreamy-eyed. The Creature appears, and the last native runs to her defense and is killed. That guy in all the 50s movies (Whit Bissell by name) joins the affray and is wounded, David and Lucas coming in the nick of time shooting guns.

While discussing the next move in a cabin with Whit Bissell laying there with his head completely bandaged, the Creature’s hand appears at the porthole. David slaps at the hand and closes the porthole. What was the Creature planning anyway? Surprise attack thru the 10” porthole?

Well, time for denouement. Kate sits out in the open on the shore and the Creature scoops her up and takes her to his grotto. David follows with loaded spear gun. Finding Kate he drops his weapon and they enter full smooch-mode, At which time the Creature reappears. Before things go too far regarding David’s head in the grip of the Creatures clawed paw, Lucas and the archaeologist appear with firearms a-blaze. The Creature hightails it. David, out of some arcane definition of humane, prevents the coup-de-grace. They let the Creature return to the water, where death comes soon enough. The end.

Like in King Kong, the movie wants to suggest the Creature’s humanity, or humanness, at least. And he seems attracted to Kate, tho expressed in a muddy way. But this is a monster, and the trumped up logic is simple:
  1. See monster (code word Other)
  2. Kill it.
  3. Revel in the thrill of fear.