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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Revenge of the Creature

Even before they were done making Creature from the Black Lagoon ('54) Universal Studios and director Jack Arnold were laying the seeds to a sequel. They changed the ending in the first movie to be ambiguous so it would be plausible to bring the gill-man back. Their instincts were correct. The first movie turned out to be very popular. When they set about doing the second movie, it was only part sequel -- it professed to tell the continuing story -- but it was also a remake -- telling the same story in a slightly different way. Fans of the Creature series often consider this second installment to be the weakest of the three, perhaps because it recycles much of the original plot. The third movie, The Creature Walks Among Us offers some new story elements.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Two scientists return to the Black Lagoon, aboard the Rita 2, to capture the gill-man. They explode some floating dynamite charges around the lagoon. When the unconscious gill-man floats up, they put him in a tank and head home. They take him "Ocean Harbor" (an aquatic amusement park) in Florida for exhibition and study. They revive him, but have him chained to the floor in the big exhibit tank, along with all the other ocean life already on display. The lead scientist, Clete Fergusson (John Agar) and obligatory beautiful female scientist Helen Dobson (Lori Nelson) are trying to train the gill-man to understand spoken commands. After one session, gill-man breaks his chain and escapes -- amid much pandemonium. He escapes into the sea.
Later, he reappears outside Helen's motel room. He follows her and Clete upriver to Jacksonville and crashes their celebration party at a riverside restaurant. Gill-man snatches Helen and swims off. He is hunted down by an army of policemen with searchlights. Eventually they find him. The lights anger/confuse him, so he puts Helen down. A hail of bullets throw him backwards into the water. There's the exact same ambiguous floating down footage from the first movie. The end.

Why is this movie fun?
If you're a Creature fan, this movie is a second helping of your favorite meal. The acting is much better than its B-budget would imply. There is a lot more action, so the movie moves along at a fairly brisk pace. It's also fun to spot the re-use of footage from the first movie. More on that below. Also, watch for a very young Clint Eastwood in his first movie role. He got a small talking part as the intern lab assistant. His hair is a total hoot!

Cold War Angle
None. Like the first Creature movie, which this is just more of it, the story is about scary creatures, not commies.

Creature, Mark II -- The gill-man's costume in Revenge is not simply the re-use of the first. Since the gill-man had to do more walking on land in this movie, they had to modify the eyes so the stunt man could see better. The modified eyes were incorporated into the underwater costume too, for continuity, but you'll notice some shots where the gill-man's costume does not have the "egg" eyes. These are shots from the first movie's footage.

Aqua Kong -- The plot line is a close mirror to the story of King Kong. An expedition travels into the mysterious jungle and discovers a rare "freak" of nature. They bring it back to civilization to exhibit and study. The creature is smitten with the beautiful woman. He breaks his chains and escapes. He abducts the woman, but is stopped and killed (almost). There are many little copied elements, if you're looking for them, such as at the display tank where the many photographers' flashbulbs drive the gill-man crazy.

Dip Redux -- Many of the first movie's scenes were reshot, but essentially the same. One of the most blatant was having the second beauty, Helen, don a white swimsuit and go swimming in the clear spring water. The creature then swims along beneath her in almost the exact same manner. The producers were apparently not ashamed of simply doing it again, if audiences liked it.

Inevitable Love Interest -- Like the first movie, and most movies, for that matter, Revenge has the usual boy-likes-girl (who is also liked by another boy) sub plot. It's fairly shallow, to the point of trivial. Given the surprise popularity of Gill-Man from the first movie, it's a little odd that this plot feature got as much air time as it did.

By Any Other Name -- The exhibit and research facility is called "Ocean Harbor," but is actually shot at a real sea-attraction park called Marineland. Located on the coast just south of St. Augustine, Marineland was one of the first touristy attraction sites which were beginning to cater to the growing tourism industry. Years before SeaWorld and decades before Disneyworld. The post-war prosperity put millions of Americans on the road looking for interesting diversions. The producers of Revenge used Marineland, but made up overlay signs that said "Ocean Harbor" for wherever "Marineland" or "Marine Studios" appeared. Watch for them and you'll see. They're just overlays. Still, Revenge gives modern viewers a peek at mid-50s pre-Disney Florida tourism's modest beginnings.

Bottom line? If you liked the first Creature movie, Revenge will be fun. If you didn't especially like the first movie, the second one will feel shallow and predictable. For the sci-fi fan, there's really no "science" in the fiction. It's a monster movie.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very nice comment. My thoughts to the tee. Undecided if someone should try again. Maybe a monster by another name?