The Gill Man, also known as the Creature from the Black Lagoon, was a late addition to the pantheon of Universal Monsters, so late, in fact, that he did not get to interact with any of the rest of them, as their last outing was several years before his first appearance!
The Creature is a wholly original creation, unlike most of his contemporaries. While the Wolf Man invented more werewolf lore than it referenced, werewolves were a prominent part of folklore for many centuries. The idea of walking mummies predates the Universal movies, and the rest are based on famous literary works. But the Gill Man is something entirely new – a creation of the movies alone.
The horror movies of the 50′s are much different from those of the 30′s and 40′s. Those gothic nightmares and European locales had given way to an all-American type of film, with heroic adventurers rather than elderly scientists. In the Gill Man movies, these two concepts are combined, making the protagonists usually Young, Handsome Scientists.
In the first movie, the Young, Handsome Scientist and his Hot Girlfriend are on an expedition. See, a strange fossil was found, clearly belonging to some missing link between man and fish. That’s the kind of science you get in the 50′s, and it’s gonna have to do. To be fair, what with all this science and evolution going on and our lively couple living in sin and all, it’s no surprise the movie’s opening narration is a really long- winded lecture on the glories of creation!
As it happens, the Black Lagoon is not an ideal place to visit. It’s occupied, you see, and the fellow living there doesn’t like strangers. Well, except sexy brunettes in white swimsuits; the Gill Man is willing to make an exception for that. Since his claws are identical to the fossil that led the team there in the first place, it’s possible he’s the last of his kind – it’s even possible that the Gill Man is himself millions of years old! We don’t know. He’s not much of a talker.
The plot then goes the way it must: Young Handsome Scientist and Hot Girlfriend find Creature. Creature menaces the Hot Girlfriend. Young Handsome Scientist comes to the rescue. Roll Credits. In addition to the subtle complexities of the storyline, the movie has some great underwater photography, with Ricou Browning doing the swimming scenes as the Gill Man. Fun stuff.
‘Creature’ was a success, so a sequel was inevitable. ‘Revenge of the Creature‘ has the poor Gill Man being captured and taken to Florida, where he can be studied. He does not appreciate this one bit. Plus, his eye for the ladies once again causes him to go on a rampage, just really making himself unwelcome in the Sunshine State, much like several members of the QRE staff.
Since we see the Gill Man a lot, and since he’s not known for wearing clothes, it’s hard to understand precisely what he plans to do with beautiful women when he abducts them! It could be he just wants their company. After all, no one asked what King Kong wanted with the ladies offered to him on a regular basis. Apparently, monsters carry off women because, well, that’s what they do, is all!
I’m not sure if Universal disliked the Gill Man or if the writer of the third and final film did, but if ‘The Creature Walks Among Us‘ is any indication, SOMEONE must have been fed up with the poor scaly bugger, because they made sure this would be the last Gill Man movie, period.
Briefly, Gill Man gets burned. His body is recovered, barely alive and it’s discovered he has lungs as well as gills! Some really unfortunate surgery takes place and the Creature (Gill Man no longer) is now a Creature of land, not sea. Gills, gone. Also, for some reason, he’s now wearing a suit of clothes, because that’s how us surface dwellers roll. The surprise twist (?) comes when the Creature goes on a rampage! Who would’ve thought?
Then, because the sad, sad fella misses the water, he drowns himself. Yes. The sea monster walks into the ocean and dies.
But like all the great monsters, the Gill Man proved to be immortal. His wide-eyed fish face was added to the list of eternal Halloween characters. Sea beasts like him – sometimes almost EXACTLY like him – have been surfacing in TV and movies ever since. It’s safe to say that even if the Gill Man didn’t survive, there’s always room for one more at the Black Lagoon.
‘Creature From the Black Lagoon‘ is available in streaming format from Netflix.