This is the third "Creature" movie. Universal left their options open at the end of second with the exact same ambiguous ending. While sequels to sequels tend to be poor fare, gill-man fans tend to regard Creature Walks Among Us (CWAU) as being as good as the first.
CWAU shares many B-movie weaknesses. It follows formula plot elements that were hallmarks of the first movie, but it also ventures into some new material. This new ground gives CWAU some muscle of its own. The first movie had a tiny bit of science blather about evolution. The second movie didn't bother. The third, however, tried to re-inject some science into the fiction.
Quick Plot Synopsis
A rich scientist mounts an expedition to find the gill-man who has escaped into the Florida swamps. A local fisherman reports being attacked by a man-like "diablo" so they investigate. Using an underwater radar device (not sonar), they track him down to a narrow bayou. Here he attacks their small boat, but is set on fire by spilled gasoline. Badly burned, the gill-man collapses. The scientists take him back aboard their 100' yacht and head for San Francisco. They've bandaged him up (head to toe) and are monitoring his vital signs. During the trip the complex soap opera develops. Dr. Barton (Jeff Morrow) is the rich, but jealous husband. Mrs. Barton (Liegh Snowden) is the blonde babe no longer in love and resentful of her husbands attempts to control her. Dr. Morgan (Rex Reason) is the concerned friend. Jed Grant is the buff playboy helper. Innuendo and misunderstandings keep the pot simmering.
Along the way, the doctors find that gill-man's gills are too badly burned to supply his body with oxygen. An x-ray reveals that he has lungs but that they're collapsed and closed off. They operate to open them. He can breathe air now. They also comment about how the burns have cause the fish-like layer to fall away, and a more human-like layer of skin to develop. Gillman awakens and interrupts Jed forcing himself on Marcia. He then dives into the sea, but must be rescued before he drowns.
Back in San Francisco, Gill is taken to Dr. Barton's estate and put into an electrified pen with some other animals. He looks somewhat longingly to the water's edge, but is docile. When a mountain lion gets into the pen and kills a sheep, Gill kills the big cat. When Dr. Barton pistol-whips Jed and puts the body in Gill's cage (to frame him for the murder), Gill goes nuts, tears up the house looking for Dr. Barton, finally killing him. Gill then wanders off the estate. With everyone in funeral attire, there's a mild suggestion that Dr. Morgan will come to call on the widow Barton when a respectful time has passed. The movie closes with Gill walking down the beach towards the sea. The End.
Why is this movie fun?
Once you've gotten into the gill-man saga, the plot of CWAU takes it to a new level which is more thoughtful than simply another monster movie. It's also fun to see the team of Jeff Morrow and Rex Reason again -- two good actors -- who starred in This Island Earth ('54).
Cold War Angle
The first two gill-man movies had none. This third one doesn't either. There is a thin connection to man exploring space, but not all space themes are Cold War themes.
Creature, Mark III -- The original movie had two gill-man suits -- a smaller one for the underwater shots, and a larger one for the above-water shots. The second movie, Revenge, made two new gill-man suits along the same lines. For the third movie, they didn't put too much into a new gill-man suit. They created a new gill-man head and hands, but dressed him the crude sailcloth shirt and pants so as to not have to make more. For the pre-changed gill-man, they used footage from the first two movies. The only scenes which needed a new gill-man suit was where he attacked the small boat and was burned. These scenes are so quick and dark, that the lower quality Gill-Man III is not apparent.
Nature vs Nurture -- Arthur Ross, who co-wrote the original opted for a more thoughtful script. Are we what we are because of our genes, or because of our environment? Dr. Barton is excited that the gill-man is becoming more human. The fire burned away his "old self", releasing the new. "Change the metabolism and man will change." Dr. Morgan disagrees. Science can't create a new species. They may have altered gillman's skin, but inside he's the same. As though mankind would not be fit for space travel until he evolved into something better. This is a natural sort of thought for scientism which denies there being any divine element to man. How else to define man? Our human physiology is all we have. This is reminiscent of the premise underlying The Island of Dr. Moreau. Give animals human shape, human features, and they'll become people.
The Nurture part comes where the scientists theorize that the Gill-man as a "new" man will behave good or bad, depending on how he's treated. The assumption of the Tabula Rasa.
Star Man? -- A notion floated in the dialogue is that ordinary humans are "built" for the earth and not suitable to space. The scientists pontificate about how the aquatic gill-man was "built" for life in the water. Man, therefore, was "built" for terrestrial life. That build would not work in space, they say. "We all stand at a crossroads between the jungle and the stars." If gill-man could become a new creature, maybe man could too. Since the changed gill-man could not really become human, the inference is that man can't become this Nietzchean over-man either.
Spiritual Metaphors -- Some aspects of CWAU have spiritual parallels. The before-creature is the old "animal" nature -- rash, violent, lustful. The after-creature is the new "human" self. He's no longer lustful or rash. He's violent only as defense. At the end, he's violent but driven by a sense of justice. There's also a parallel to the biblical "fall of man" described in the Book of Genesis, in that the before creature was innocent. He needed no clothes. After the change, he needed clothing. There's also a parallel to New Testament verses which talk of the old man having to die (metaphorically) before the new man could emerge. This adds some twist to the movie's title. Our own struggles with our animal side with our divine. Dr. Barton and Jed Grant are examples of those who gives in to their animal side. Dr. Morgan and even Marcia Barton are examples of people who maintained morality.
Old Home -- Dr. Barton's estate was one of Universal's stock houses. Used in many movies, such as Tarantula
Bottom line? CWAU will appeal to gill-man fans. Since it's not simply a re-remake of the first two "Creature" films, it has some appeal to others too. It's a bit lighter on the action but more cerebral. It's worth a watch.