An expedition to the Upper Reaches of the Amazon disturbs the natural habitat of the Gill Man, a prehistoric human-fish hybrid. Scientists attempt to capture the valuable specimen, but the creature is smitten with a svelte ichthyologist.
Directed by sometimes-inspired journeyman Jack Arnold (The Incredible Shrinking Man), this is one of the best-loved monster movies of the ‘50s. Whereas many of its rivals drag until the monster shows up and turn ridiculous afterwards, this establishes an atmosphere of unease and magic in the early stretches, as the monster is glimpsed as a 3-D clutching hand accompanied by its memorable blaring theme tune.
When it slinks on screen, the Creature is not some stuntman in a waterlogged sack with ping-pong-ball eyes but a truly impressive make-up creation – a fish-faced humanoid in a scaly wetsuit, which even has its own unique swimming style. The backlot is covered in foliage to create an impressive jungle hell, and the good ship Rita chug chugs across the glassy surface of the Black Lagoon in true African Queen fashion.
The underwater scenes remain definitive, with the curvy Adams floating on the surface and dangling her long white legs above the Creature's claws, and the Gill Man performing a serpentine underwater ballet beneath her pin-up form. Few 1950s science fiction films bothered with sex, but this swimming flirtation remains as classic an image of impossible love as King Kong and his tiny blonde.
This element of 'mad love', harking back to classic horror, is at odds with 50s trends and was the single ingredient that made Creature From the Black Lagoon more than just another fun monster romp for the kids. The monster has been merchandised ever since, and was instantly popular enough to return in Arnold’s Revenge of the Creature and Jack Sherwood’s The Creature Walks Among Us.
A classic horror that warms the heart and wets the pants.