No matter how many Universal monster movies I’ve seen, and no matter how much I’ve grown to love their iterations of Dracula and Frankenstein, The Gill-Man always comes out ahead as my favorite Universal monster of all time. While Dracula and The Bride often get the spotlight and special treatment, the Gill-Man has always been the underdog with the great trilogy of horror films in his own right. He just doesn’t receive the credit he deserves, especially in modern horror where Dracula, Frankenstein and Wolfman are still being reworked, while he patiently waits in the wings for his turn.
He’s the blind animalistic rage of the Wolfman, the cunning of Dracula, the inexplicable horror of the Fly, and the self-loathing of The Frankenstein Monster wrapped into one of the most versatile creature designs of all time (thanks to Milicent Patrick). Yes, while everyone was marveling at the grimace of Bela Lugosi, gasping at the horror of the Wolfman, and admiring the sport jacket slacks combo of Frankenstein, I’ve always been that guy admiring the Gill-Man over those juggernauts, and wondering why he just doesn’t get enough respect. With the death of beautiful Gill-Man heroine Julie Adams this year, I couldn’t help but think back to how much I love the Gill-Man, and why Julie Adams and the Creature is just as iconic as Fay Wray and King Kong.
I have nothing but love for all of the other Universal monsters (“Wolfman” would be my second favorite of all time), but never has there been such a trilogy filled with so many layers and dimensions that not only extends the story but act as standalone tales that any newcomers can dive in to without having to catch up or look back to the prior or subsequent films. There’s variety, there’s depth, and even guilty pleasures that I’ve marveled at for years. Look it’s Clint Eastwood! 1954’s “The Creature From the Black Lagoon” is one of my all time favorite horror films, a tale of man interrupting the harsh landscapes of prehistoric monsters one of whom happens to be an anthropomorphic reptile with a primal infatuation for damsel Julie Adams.
1955’s “Revenge of the Creature” is the Gill Man tragically depicted as a wild monster caged in a corrupt civilization who gains amusement by his deformed nature and his struck by his lust for vengeance in a world he does not understand. “The Creature Walks Among Us” is the arguably superior sequel of the trio that ponders the Creature as transformed in to a man by power hungry scientists as he’s forced to endure their torture and ridicule. I am often drawn to “The Creature Walks Among Us,” a movie I approach with resentment because it’s so damn good that it actually rivals Jack Arnold’s 1954 horror entry in class and storytelling, even if it is a wannabe of “Frankenstein.” You have to enjoy the lengths that writer Arthur A. Ross is willing to go to take the Creature out of the simple dimension of a beast clawing and crushing with his hands to forming actual human connections and rivalries.
“The Creature Walks Among Us” is brave final installment. When caged and kept up like an animal, the Gill-Man is able to view the worst of mankind and decides against being domesticated and turned in to one of them. For the beast, death is just easier than being human. I’d love to see what studios can hand us with a remake of “Creature from the Black Lagoon” somewhere down the line. I mean for years the other monsters actually based on novels have been given remakes, reduxes and redos, and the Gill-Man has remained a very lowly and under-appreciate horror monster in the film lexicon.
I think a remake would be a lot of fun if approached with the right tone; I’ve been a long time fan of the Gill-Man as a being of pure ferocity, and just a wild animal that can spar with human intellect. In spite of the years gone by with nary a mention in pop culture, “The Creature” has lurked under the radar for decades (ahem—“Monster Squad,” anyone?). Since my introduction in to the horror genre as a child, I’ve always found the 1954 classic to be one of the greatest horror movies I’ve ever seen. The narrative is simple but harrowing, and the Gill Man just has such a sleek and memorable design. His menace is enhanced by the haunting score by the collective talents of Henry Mancini.
It’s quite unbelievable because like all of the great scores, it’s centered on a simple sequence of chords and horns that identify the creature as a lurching and stalking but truly gruesome creation of the BC era. I want the Gill Man to be given his due and yes, I want a remake if only to breed more people like me who appreciate that the Gill Man may not have the same flash as Dracula or the Wolfman. If anything Guillermo Del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” proved we can get a damn fine creative monster movie that adds to the magic of the Gill-Man rather than subtracts from it. “The Creature” trilogy is still a damn fine creative property that I’ve loved for years. The Creature is my annual Halloween treat and come the 31st, I’ll be sitting down to feast on all three of the Gill-Man’s unappreciated terrors.
Rest in Peace, Julie Adams.