Creature Crypt, Week Four: The Gillman; The Headless Horseman

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“Creature Crypt” is a four part weekly column that spotlights two creatures from our childhood that made us in to rabid horror fans. These are the creatures that scared us, wowed us, made us cry, and made us hope they weren’t under our bed.

I’ve always had such a big affinity for the Gillman. Surely, he’s not the most popular of the Universal monsters, but I’ve always had a thing for the underdogs, either way. Though I think most of the core Universal monster movies are all quite good, “Creature from the Black Lagoon” stands out as my favorite. It’s one quarter horror, one quarter monster movie, one quarter adventure, and one quarter twisted romance. The Gillman loves Julie Adams, and damn, who can blame him? He wants to take her down in to his lair after seeing her angelic dance in the water near where he lurks, and he won’t stop until he brings her home for some canoodling.

The Gillman is just one of the more unique monsters from the Universal legacy that I’ve had a fondness for, for a very long time. Even when I was being exposed to “Wolfman,” and “Frankenstein,” I found the Gillman much more creepy and menacing. Especially in his willingness to slaughter anything that stands in front of his goals for mating and or hunting. He’s the surviving member of a once thriving species, we can guess. And he’s adapted quite well, considering he’s the only one of his kind left to forage for food and hunt. And when the adventurers cross his paths and enter his Lagoon, he slaughters them with territorial ferocity. There’s also some unique back story added to him that I rather enjoyed.

Truly, “Revenge of the Creature” was on Mystery Science Theater 3000, but it’s still a very welcome part of my horror library that I enjoy. The humans make the mistake of taking the Gillman out of his lagoon and bringing him to civilization. Surely, the movie is something of a rip off of “King Kong,” but it’s still a fun and creepy follow-up that finds the Gillman fighting a battle against the new world that he can’t win. In “The Creature Walks Among Us,” he’s lost the battle against the humans and is now an animal out of his wilderness. He’s been captured, caged, and is now turned in to a human hybrid with most of his animalistic and primal features either cut away or reduced.

Only in the end does he decide that he’d rather drown in his natural habitat than suffer the torture of his human captors any longer. It’s a wonderful and sad end to one of my favorite movie monsters. The Headless Horseman was one of the very first horror stories I’ve ever heard. Even when my parents were preventing me from seeing the truly hard stuff in regards to horror, I always heard the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Often times Disney would re-air their Halloween special every year where they told their own truncated tale of Sleepy Hollow. Later on it became a source for movies by Tim Burton, and a TV show that’s apparently gained traction as a cult favorite.

I digress. The Sleepy Hollow tale was always one of my favorite folklore tales that kept me interested in folklore well in to my twenties. The Headless Horseman, like most ghosts, is incapable of crossing his dreaded bridge and will chase carriage and horse riders across the bridge. Riding his black horse, and wielding his jack o lantern projectile, anyone unlucky enough to fall under his wrath suffers a cruel death. Those lucky enough to escape his warpath have a great story to tell, and a warning to heed every single year. The Headless Horseman has those basics about Halloween folklore that I love.

It’s a vengeful ghost on a horrifying black steed, it has a ghost that’s incapable of leaving his own confines, he’s stuck in an eternal loop of violence, and he doesn’t have a head. What’s scarier than a ghost without a head? I’ve always had an empathy for poor Ichabod Crane. All the versions of him I’ve read about in books and short stories always paint him as something of a sad sack who could never quite get the girl he always dreamed of being with. When he finally displays some semblance of courage and bravado, he pays for it dearly by being slain by the headless horseman on the bridge. The Headless Horseman is one of my many early introductions in to the urban legend that would carry in to my adult hood, and it’s still a creepy legend to lose sleep over.

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