THE BEACH PARTY BLOGATHON- CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) & Night Tide (1961) : Gills-A LOVE STORY!!!

THE BEACH PARTY BLOGATHON hosted by the fabulous Speakeasy & Silver Screenings

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CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) directed by Jack Arnold

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There have been sympathetic monsters that elicit our understanding, who cause you to care about them and their ordeal whether they’re the focus of a rampaging mob of villagers with flaming torches and pick axes or scientists armed with spear guns at the ready as surrogate penises –okay maybe I didn’t think about that surrogate penis thing when I was 9, but I see it so clearly now!!!!

Back in the day of the musty cool matinee theatre’s air smelling of buttered popcorn and old leather shoes, you could slink down in your good ‘n plenty and Milk Dud encrusted red velvet seat and wish that the monster would not only get away… but that just maybe he’d get the girl– instead of the self righteous hyper-science macho hero who objectifies everything! After all, the creature is not the one invading their territory, he’s prevailed in that environment for ions, before these macho nerds came along!

As a little monstergirl I used to think, and still do… just leave the ‘Gill Man’ alone!

We can sympathize with monsters, like Victor Frankenstein’s creation, & The Gill Man from Creature From the Black Lagoon. We can find our involvement (at least I can), as one viewed with empathy toward the monster’s predicament. embedded in the narrative is a simultaneous pathos, that permits these monsters to express human desires, and then make sure that those desires are thwarted, frustrated and ultimately destroyed.

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Richard Carlson Julie Adams Richard Denning and Whit Bissell as Dr. Edward Thompson study the fossil of an amphibian man found near the Amazon.
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The crew catches something in their net… and whatever it was… has ripped a giant Gill Man size hole in it leaving behind a claw!

“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. Is not life a hundred times too short for us to bore ourselves?” Friedrich Nietzsche

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Mr. ‘It’s mine all mine” and Kay and Mr. “But think of the contribution to science!” looking at the poor trapped Gill Man-a lonely prisoner of scientific hubris and egocentric men.
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The creature trapped in a bamboo cage… floats, quietly thinking deep thoughts–while the three look on pondering what to do with him..

‘The Outsider Narrative” can be seen so clearly in Jack Arnold’s horror/sci-fi hybrid Creature From The Black Lagoon. Film monsters like The Gill Man form vivid memories for us, as they become icons laying the groundwork for the classic experience of good horror, sci-fi and fantasy with memorable story telling and anti-heroes that we ‘outliers’ grew to identify with and feel a fondness for.

As David Skal points out in The Monster Show, he poses that films like Creature From the Black Lagoon …are the “most vivid formative memories of a large section of the {American} population…{…} and that for so many of these narratives they seem to function as “mass cultural rituals.”

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Creature From The Black Lagoon is quite a perfect film, as it works on so many different levels of examining human nature and nature as human.

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When belligerent scientists and their relentless pursuit of expanding control over the natural world invade a unique creature’s habitat, forcing their domination of him- naturally he’s compelled to fight back.

In the midst of this evolves a sort of a skewed Romeo and Juliet. The Gill Man never intends to threaten Julie Adam’s character Kay Lawrence, he seemingly wants to make her his love object and maybe just maybe (idealizing of course while I imbue the ‘creature’ with a higher consciousness) the Gill Man seeks to free Kay from the dangerous men she is surrounded by. An amphibious knight in scaly armor, a rugged green scaly Adonis with limpid eyes and full lips.

The arrival of the expedition creates chaos and swampy mayhem due to the intrusion of the two opportunistic men who tote phallic harpoons around and fight with each other over questions of ethics, how to conduct scientific research and naturally who will conquer Kay– acting like spoiled children-the both. Only the Gill Man sees her beauty from a place of primal hunger and desires her above all else, perhaps with a innate sense of possessing her, but without all the cocky male posturing.

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THE LOVABLE HUGGABLE GILL MAN!! 
“I promise to keep my claws trimmed and never come to bed with cold clammy feet!”

“Yes, yes,” said the Beast, “my heart is good, but still I am a monster.” –Among mankind,” says Beauty, “there are many that deserve that name more than you, and I prefer you, just as you are, to those, who, under a human form, hide a treacherous, corrupt, and ungrateful heart.”
Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont

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“What freedom men and women could have, were they not constantly tricked and trapped and enslaved and tortured by their sexuality! The only drawback in that freedom is that without it one would not be a human. One would be a monster.”
John Steinbeck, East of Eden

“When is a monster not a monster? Oh, when you love it.”
Caitlyn Siehl, Literary Sexts: A Collection of Short & Sexy Love Poems

In trying to capture the amphibian man he is driven out of his home in the mysterious upper Amazon by these otherizing anthropologists. And so the Gill Man–being shot at by spears and besieged by sweaty men in bourgeois khakis and unfashionable swim trunks blech! –must defend his realm.

He who is just lazing around, dreaming through the sun’s rays which sparkle upon the surface of the water amongst the little fishes and coral… bothering no one. Suddenly surrounded by intruders with weapons and nets, poison and cages.

But wait, one of them is leggy and soft and looks divine in her one piece bathing suit designed by Rosemary Odell... (Brute Force 1947, It Came from Outer Space 1953, This Island Earth 1955, To Kill a Mockingbird 1962) and what a pair of eyes!

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The Gill Man goes on a mission to get the girl and so endures his attackers because he has fallen for the simple beauty of Kay Lawrence (Julie Adams.)

Though his world has become disordered, the presence of the beautiful Kay Lawrence (Julie Adams) it has awakened his sexual desire.

The film stars Richard Carlson as David Reed and Richard Denning as Mark Williams. The two men who invade The Gill Man’s quiet life and argue about what should be done with the subject of their research findings, to exploit, or study, or bring back to the states to gain notoriety and get paid lots of clams!, without an ethical thought in their curly scientific brains, forcing themselves on the creature and making him an object of entrapment & exhibition.

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“I think I love you so what am I so afraid of? I’m afraid that I’m not sure of a love there is no cure for I think I love you isn’t that what life is made of? Though it worries me to say that I’ve never felt this way”— Insert music from The Partridge Family –
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“There’s just something about an Aqua Velva Gill Man!”

The Gill Man watches from below the surface, as Kay Lawrence casually smokes a cigarette, taking long sensual puffs and throwing the butts upon the lagoon like trinkets for him to worship. He feels compelled to reach out for her but decides to be a voyeur for a bit longer.

Later the Gill Man sees Kay on the beach, the camera catches a notable deep sigh when he lays those deep green eyes on her. He moves closer. She lets out the obligatory monster movie scream queen shriek, that siren squeal, you know the kind, with the carefully place hands cupping the face in shock.

One of the men from the expedition takes a machete and tries to attack the creature, and he gets killed for his efforts. Dave and Mark hear Kay scream and approach just in time for the knock out powder they’ve placed in the lagoon to finally take effect and subdue the creature who is now out cold. He falls flat on his green gilled face down in the sand.

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Kay passes out. the Gill Man places her down gently on the sand...
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Mark (Richard Denning) can’t wait to beat the fish guts out of the creature!

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David (Carslon) has to intervene before Mark (Denning) bashes the creatures head in “Stop you’ll kill him!…”

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Once Williams (Denning) sees that the Gill Man has fallen down, he says “Got him!” then begins brutally smashing at him with his rifle, until David (Carlson) tells him to stop before he kills him. They throw a net over the unconscious creature. The scene shows the level of ferocity that man is capable of, and with this violent over-kill we on the other side of the evolutionary scale become monsters as well. It is a not so subtle contrast with the main character who is considered the ‘creature.’

Ricou Browning portrayed the creature in the under water scenes, and Ben Chapman played the creature on land. There’s wonderfully engaging cinematography by William E. Snyder. (Flying Leathernecks 1951, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt 1956)

The Gill Man has dwelt in the warm existential depths of the water… the lagoon his endless cycle of existence, thriving until he is invaded by scientific hubris. While in the lagoon he is connected to the creator of his world, remaining bound to a body of water that is symbolic of the eternal maternal womb. He is then forced out of his quiet habitual life where he then becomes ‘otherized’. With an ‘Outsider’ narrative the familiar then becomes monstrous.

Our perceptions are focused on how this ‘creature’ shatters the mold of normalcy. He transforms the ordinary world into something provocative and forces the outside world to define him, once again as with Frankenstein’s monster, he is perceived as a thing… a creature.

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A film like Creature from the Black Lagoon can suggest to us the recognition of our notions of conventional sexuality and gender as well. The Gill Man is similar to a frog yet has walks upright and has the stance of a man and possesses that archetypal ogling that shows he has sexual designs on our heroine Kay.

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Kay Lawrence: “And I thought the Mississippi was something.”

While he is placed in a role that sees Kay as the ‘object’ of his affection, he’s sort of an androgynous amphibian, and yet he suggests that  “alternatives can exist which may be more desirable”-Mark Jancovich Rational Fears American Horror in the 1950s. Jancovich goes on to say that the film is “unremittingly sexual” The film has sexual symbolism throughout, as the outside world intrudes on an ambiguous sexual being living in the womb of the water, now unleashed as a sexual peril to women. The water scenes between the water ballet swimming Kay unaware that the creature is also swimming very near to her–are absolutely visual foreplay.

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Sweaty men baring their chests, wielding shot guns and Phallic harpoons as much as possible.

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Need I say more???

The most significant scene of the film is when The Gill Man swims a slight distance away from Kay, under the murky lagoon while Kay unaware, simultaneously moves through the water embracing it’s import with pleasure and liberation. She whirls above him, barely hinting at an erotic intimacy between the two.

Under the water the creature is not a threat to Kay, he’s almost shy, as he barely touches her leg, he swims away as if he’s conflicted with uncertainty about this new experience. William E Snyder is responsible for the striking underwater footage, that creates an erotic spacial world of shimmering light.

It’s almost a type of Eden, that those pesky aggressive scientific males spoil…

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We know that the creature shows a fascination toward Kay, but she sort of shares a kind of bond with him, as both are threatened by the domination of the two male scientists Mark and David. She tells the men to leave the creature alone, that it won’t bother them. Mark wants to capture the creature as proof of his discovery, rather than just study him in his own habitat. Mark also wants to possess Kay, both of them are treated as ‘objects’. There are several scenes where Kay and the creature stare at each other as if they see something in common within themselves. Harry Essex wrote the screenplay, hated the script at first so he added the Beauty and the Beast theme, to give the creature more of a sense of humanity.

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The Creature from the Black Lagoon is relentlessly sexual. Inhabited by mostly male characters, scientists who have traveled to the deep Amazon in search of undiscovered animal life. What they find instead of more fossils is the Gill Man who refuses to give up his freedom. And why shouldn’t the creature react violently to their intrusion into his quiet domain. What’s more interesting is how he quickly becomes attracted to the gorgeous Julie Adams and her gutsy character Kay, the only female on the expedition who once again looks smashing in a one piece white bathing suit and swims like she’s in the water follies. Jancovich quotes Biskind from his Seeing is Believing – claiming that the creature is “driven into a frenzy by the proximity of Julie Adams in a one piece bathing suit.” Sounds about right to me!

The Gill Man evokes our sympathy who has become an ‘object’ to be controlled, dominated and assaulted by the outside world. It’s the ‘men doing science’ who become the ‘aliens’ the bad guys, the human monsters and the creature another existential anti-hero who we identify with. It’s just a different slant on the theme of unrequited love in the the lagoon…

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 NIGHT TIDE 1961

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“Sensual ecstasy becomes supernatural terror!”

‘And so, all the night tide, I lie down by the side of my darling – my darling – my life and my bride, in her sepulchre there by the sea, in her tomb by the sounding sea.’ Edgar Allen Poe (from ‘Annabel Lee’)

“I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.”-T.S.Eliot from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.”
T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

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Directed by Curtis Harrington also being his first feature film-wrote the screenplay from his short story called The Secrets of the Sea.

I was saving this film for my Curtis Harrington feature, but couldn’t resist the chance to companion it with The Gill Man for the Beach Party Blogathon!

I must admit I was so proud of myself for having come up with the phrase “horror of personality’ as a way to describe Curtis Harrington’s work. Until I was reading a book by critic/historian Charles Derry and was shocked to find out that it was a phrase he had adopted.

Oh well… humbled by the respectful epiphany– I now defer to Derry and still stand by his assessment of Harrington’s collective body of work. I’ll at least give myself a smidgen of credit for accidentally thinking it was my theory, perhaps it’s the collective consciousness, my sharp eye or just an embarrassing coincidence.

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Curtis Harrington masterfully blends a sense of grotesqueness with his narratives that are sustained mental harassments… using visually bizarre cues or post cards from our collective psyches… From 1966’s Queen of Blood also starring Dennis Hopper to Games in 1967 with an opulent NYC apartment decorated like a macabre funhouse- to Ruby in 1977 featuring the dilapidated drive in theatre haunted by a gangster.

There are few films that tighten the jaw and spine with it’s macabre sense of irony and human frailty and also invokes the archetype of ‘the monstrous feminine’ as with Harrington’s, How Awful About Allan 1970, What’s the Matter with Helen 1971, The Killing Kind 1973, and Games 1967 starring the incredible Simone Signoret and Katherine Ross. And of course because of my love for Piper Laurie and Stewart Whitman Ruby 1977 is one hell of a grotesque yet spellbinding classic 70s horror gem.

These particular films showcase a horror that is based not on the supernatural world with the exception of Ruby, but the fractured world of the damaged mind and the violence that gets conjured up in the fruit cake factory. In short they’re about The Human Monsters.

Harrington’s films have fascinated me for years. He’s like the Tennessee Williams of auteur classic horror (leaving out his Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell 1978 eh it’s fun but not brilliant) Living as a gay man in Hollywood, he showscases a certain pathos for the struggle by women for recognition and respect.

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His leading ladies wore a pair of brass balls, even if some were a bit on the mad side. I still get shaken up when watching What’s the Matter with Helen? I saw it’s theatrical release with my mom and left the theater feeling really queasy and deeply wounded on that unknowable psyche level- because Harrington creates a world where violence and affection, annihilation and desire get muddled together and we’re left with an uncomfortable set of feelings for the protagonist who’s descent into madness is oddly passionate and ferocious. And…Shelley Winters does brutal just about the best as any other actress I can think of….

from IMDb facts:-Writer/director Curtis Harrington had a lifelong obsession with the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, which surfaced in many of his films. The story was inspired by, and the title “Night Tide” was derived from, Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee.”

Night Tide remains such a memorable cult film because of it’s ultra moody atmosphere. A dark romantic nightmare as two worlds crash together like the waves of the unquiet sea, the truth is ambiguous, but the danger is real.

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It’s a hallucinatory journey of alienation, otherness and a female object that is surrounded by a saturnine cloud of mystery. The film is also a highly psycho-sexual piece of poetry which weaves through it , a mythological motif and a substance of Freudian paranoia. The pacing and performances are cautious and awkward, creating a disorienting and offbeat quality to the sense of mystery. Night Tide with it’s eerie and vague allusions to ‘the sea people’ becomes uncanny as reality and otherworldly elements intersect, and dream sequences become nightmarish as Johnny falls asleep on the couch and dreams Mora as a mermaid whose metamorphosis into a great octopus with tentacles that entrap him–as it tightens its grip he begins to scream. Perhaps this is symbolic of Johnny’s latent fear of female oppression, or female empowerment.

Also traces of the use of ‘otherness’ appear particularly when the old woman in black continues to plague and frighten Mora, beckoning her to come back to the sea. The sea witch comes from an old world culture that threatens the mythological American dream.

People have compared it to Val LewtonsCat People 1942,  Linda Lawson as Mora the mermaid also embodies a dangerous feminine power that frightens and transforms her into a ‘creature.’ Lewtons’ work also dealt with the idea of an ethnocentric America that feared people of a different culture. The dread of difference essentially.

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Using Lewton’s principles of laying out a realistic landscape, with it’s vivid and arousing depictions of the funhouse pier and it’s pleasure-seeking attractions, centered around mysterious forces that are mostly explained by rational answers. (Mora’s guardian, Capt. Samuel Murdock had planted the siren story in her young impressionable mind) And digging even deeper, you might even feel that Capt. Murdock has an unhealthy love for the girl he raised, and this is why he discourages men from spending time with Mora. He wants her all for himself. It’s the ambiguity of the narrative that gives the film it’s eerie unsettled experience.

Both characters, Mora and Johnny are archetypal ‘loners’ and outsiders, both experiencing life through the lens of alienation…

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Other comparisons have been made to Carnival of Souls 1962 due the atmosphere of a decadent and broken down carnivalesque landscape. Night Tide feels odd and surreal in the way that Carnival of Souls is painted, which incidentally was actually released a year later.

David Raskin (Raskin did the score for film noir masterpiece Laura 1944) is responsible for the musical journey that accompanies the fabulist tale, creating a stark and meditative score that is both haunting and poignant. At times incredibly whimsical as in a reverie. The use of flute, bells, and other percussive instruments like the delicate xylophone to enhance the fantastical moments– all these instruments help tell the story. It creates a post-modern symphony underscoring the mystique of Night Tide.

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Dennis Hopper is a lonely sailor, Johnny Drake who is fresh scrubbed soft spoken and squeaky clean– yet he wears a very tight fitting white naval uniform (made for Hopper specifically for the film.) Johnny is on leave in the seedy coastal town of Little Venice.

He comes to a small beach community where he falls for a mysterious young Greek girl named Mora played by Linda Lawson (Let’s Kill Uncle 1966, Sometimes a Great Notion 1970) who earns a living as a side show attraction at an amusement pier as a living mermaid in a tank of water.

The main premise of the story focuses on ‘otherness’ and alienation and an unattainable longing–the meat of the story relates to Johnny who is drawn into a strange hallucinatory journey where he is told that the mysterious Mora is a siren who will inevitably lure him to a watery death. Night Tide also addresses the theme of the monstrous feminine.

Luana Anders   (A.I.P. & Corman regular) is Ellen Sands the nice girl next door who falls for Johnny and is horrified and jealous by his attraction to Mora. Marjorie Eaton plays Madame Romanovitch the fortune teller and Marjorie Cameron plays ‘the water witch.’ Gavin Muir is the quirky, constantly heavily stewed Capt. Samuel Murdock who relates the strange tales to Johnny Drake and warns him of the danger he is in.

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The film has a very striking opening sequence with vivid tones of bleached out white, at times a white as soft as milk, as Johnny explores Venice beach while on leave. The first scene is quite unique as he stops into a photo booth to take a series of selfies. The contrasting use of bright light and utter blackness is an imaginative way not only to bring us into the story but to show Johnny’s lightness of being, his facial expressions manifesting his youthful adventurous spirit.

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“Sea-Noir” or “Fish-Noir”

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He goes into a jazz club, the film takes on then–the appearance of noir, with the musicians pouring forth a modern rhythm, hip people in black sit around in a room filled with smoke and modern noise. Johnny notices Mora sitting by herself, her long wavy hair gives her the look of a regal otherworldly figure. He tries to strike up an awkward conversation.

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Suddenly the sinister women in black credited as ‘the water witch’ comes over to the table speaking a different language Mora becomes truly frightened. Johnny wants to know what the old woman has said but Mora gets up and leaves the bar, running through the night streets. Johnny stares at the woman in black first, then he pursues Mora. He asks to see her again, she says it’s impossible. Johnny in his genuinely soft spoken voice convinces her. She asks “Would I be safe with you?”

Mora lives in the Merry Go Round, upstairs. When Johnny sees where she lives, he gets as excited as a little boy. Hopper does an extraordinary job playing an innocent.

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There are such strong elements of Noir in Night Tide which are folded into the fantastical story of modernity meets myth

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Before she goes inside he says, “Do you live inside a wooden horse?” the comment aimed at showing that Mora might be too good not to be a fantasy.

Flutes and the fairy tale tintinnabulation (love that word-couldn’t resist) of a toy piano sparkles behind the darkness-a lyrical love song that belongs to the night, as Johnny balances on the rails of the Merry Go Round like a tight rope walker… this solitary young man is filled with joy and new found love.

Night turns into day, and we’re back at the Merry Go Round costs 15c by the way.

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Again the day light is a bleached out white. A striking contrast from the interior shots masterfully shot on a very low budget -by cinematographer Villis Lapenieks. The lighting and the camera work are exquisite. Touching upon so many elements of the noir sensibility of shadow and light. With the uncanny and queer atmosphere that accompanies the best classic cult horror films.

The Carousel attraction opens up and Johnny meets the Merry-Go-Round Operator, Ellen’s granddad (Tom Dillon) He tells Johnny that nobody realizes how special the horses are. Hand carved from Bavaria. Ellen shows up (Luana Anders) she seems to be fixated on Johnny. The love triangle begins, though Johnny is already enchanted by Mora.

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When Johnny mentions that he’s there to meet Mora, Ellen’s grandfather reacts strangely. But Johnny ignores him and walks up the stairs looking for her apartment. If you look closely you’ll see Bruno VeSoto smoking a cigar as the guy bumping into Johnny, he grunts on the way down the stairs.

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Upstairs where Mora has her room, she has prepared an interesting breakfast for Johnny. One very unappetizing fresh killed mackerel- head included on a bed of seaweed.

Too bad Johnny is starving but he’s too polite to say anything he just picks at his plate. He asks her what she does for work. “I’m an attraction… a mermaid…. half woman half fish…”
“I wear an artificial fish tail and I lye in a tank that looks like it’s filled with water and people pay 25c and come and look at me…. and that’s how I make my living.”

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She shows him some shells and things, telling him that she collects things from the ocean.

Then he tells Mora about his childhood. That his father left him and his mother when he was very young. He was very close to her. And when she died it gave him the chance to see the world, so he joined the navy.

Seagulls start hovering over their breakfast. Mora tells him that they get bolder every day. One day, one will get too close. And sure enough a seagull lands on her lap, it allows her to hold it as she gently strokes it’s feathers and tells it that she won’t hurt it. Johnny is just amazed. He asks her where she learned how to tame animals like that. She says probably on the Island where she was born.

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The scene fades, and the carnival music plays, as the camera pans around several gold gilded mythological automatons in order to accentuate the atmosphere of the fantastical, a motif that is resurrected in Harrington’s Games 1967.

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“The Strangest creature in captivity!!!”

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When Mora goes to change into her costume, Johnny is introduced to Captain Samuel Murdock, who wants to exchange sea stories from one sailor to another. Murdock tells him that he was with the British navy until he retired and got his own ship. It was on one of his voyages that he ‘found her.”

You know you may be interested in that story it’s a very unusual one.” says Capt Murdock

Murdock might not be Mora’s biological father, but he’s the one who found her as an orphan on the Island of Mikonos and brought her back to the states and cared for her. She knows he’s lonely and is her only real friend and father figure.

Johnny goes in to the exhibit and watches her seemingly under water as she combs her hair that covers her breasts. The mood, the lighting and the mystical melody that is pervasive through out the film create a very evocative and quite original story. Seeing Mora thrills him, as the camera lowers itself to her glittering scaly mermaid tail…

Fade to black

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Later… Johnny and Mora go out to the beach near the rocks. She tells him that she loves the sun, the moon and the stars and the sea but she is also afraid of the sea.

“I guess we’re all a little afraid of what we love” -Johnny tells her.

There’s a beach party that night One of the musicians playing the bongos asks Mora if she’s going to dance for them. And so she begins to move so fluidly, as sensual as an ethereal spirit moving with the moonlight, with a primal energy and a feminine force. Johnny doesn’t seem to like it at all, since the other boys and men just appear simply mesmerized by her.

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Here the camera begins a dizzying spinning viewpoint as Mora moves faster and faster. The mysterious woman in black draws closer…. it’s a very chilling scene.

The woman in black or sea witch wears a veil around her face that seems almost like a shroud of seaweed. Her eyes like two piercing slits -unemotional-they sit in her eyeliner blackened sockets. As the musical score’s use of quickening bells and bongos strike with such force. Mora sees the woman in black, instantly shudders as she collapses, then the old woman disappears like a wraith in the night.

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Johnny has coffee with Ellen and the fortune telling gypsy Madame Romanovitch (Marjorie Eaton.) Lt. Henderson comes to ask Ellen and her grandfather if they’ve seen anything new or unusual. Ellen’s granddad asks if he’s come across any new clues.

When Johnny asks what that exchange was all about, she tells him that it was Lt. Henderson of the Venice Police who had come to ask about Mora.

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Ellen “You’re a stranger here and I guess you don’t know what everybody here…” Suddenly Madame Romanovitch breaks in, “Ellen. dear you’re meddling.

She defends herself, “But I think he oughta know, I think somebody oughta tell him don’t you dad?” He answers, “Why sure certainly no secret… in the past two years Mora’s had two boyfriends and they’re both dead now!”

Johnny asks if the police think it has something to do with Mora, but Madame Romanovitch tells him that there’s nothing to prove it not a shred of evidence and that it’s probably a most unfortunate coincidence.

Ellen who is obviously smitten with Johnny, interjects that they were both nice boys. They hung around with her and then they disappear until a few days later when their bodies washed up on shore… drowned. Ellen is obviously jealous of Mora’s ability to attract men. She tells Johnny that even if she didn’t cause their deaths Mora still brings bad luck.

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Madame Romanovitch tells Johnny to stop by so she can read the tarot cards for him, for they will tell him a great deal.

Once again, Johnny chases the woman in black… the music suddenly stops and we are left with only silence. The quiet is really effective and spooky. He spies a rocking chair moving by itself, eerie as no one is sitting in it, yet it keeps tipping back and forth. Johnny continues to search for the woman in black. He comes across a little girl in the streets playing with her dolls. He asks if she has seen the old woman in black but tells him ‘no.’

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THIS LITTLE INDEPENDENT GEM, DESPITE THE LOW BUDGET IS METICULOUS TO DETAIL, QUIRKY IN ALL THE RIGHT PLACES AND BEAUTIFULLY FILMED!!

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Johnny meets with Captain Murdock (Gavin Muir) who is Mora’s stepfather and subsequently is told tales of the Sirens which is a scene with wonderful little details like being shown a dismembered Arab hand, one of many trophies of the Captains.

Captain Murdock is well versed in Greek mythology, literature and the origins of language. Murdock had found Mora on a Greek island and gave her the name which is derived from the Greek name ‘Moira” who was one of the Fates… which translates to a destiny that is doomed by fate. The Sirens of myth having lured their lovers upon the rocks to their deaths.

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Johnny goes to Captain Murdock’s home. Murdock says “What I want to tell you is difficult to put into words, certainly into words that you would understand. However I can put the basic fact quite bluntly. You are in grave and serious danger as long as you continue to see Mora.” “I’m in danger from you?” Johnny asks

Captain Murdock answers -“No certainly not.” Johnny starts to get frustrated-“Then what are you talking about?”

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“Mora my dear friend… Mora” Johnny angry -“You must be crazy!” Murdock is getting potted as he drinks bottle after bottle, he downs his booze. “On the contrary I’m quite sane and Mora is quite dangerous to you.”

“In what way?”

Murdock tells him -“Well, should we say that she suffers from a certain compulsion, which might cause her to take your life”

Johnny-“You trying to tell me that she’s insane?” Murdock continues-“Not precisely but it might be if you thought she were…Oh I wish you’d take my word for it. Break off this acquaintance before it’s too late… you’re a nice young fellow I wouldn’t like to see you get hurt.”

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Murdock sends him to the cabinet to get him more liquor. As he directs him to where it is, Johnny sees a hand preserved in a bottle. He nearly falls as he is stunned.

“Oh don’t be alarmed that’s just a little Arabian souvenir… the hand of a thief…. rather gruesome but logical don’t you think?”

Murdock says he got it from “a sultan in Marrakesh who knew he liked to collect odd things….”  (a hint… Like Mora?)

Murdock proceeds to ask Johnny if he’s read the Greek Myths and that he must certainly know the legend of the Sirens.

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“Well the sirens were a strange race of sea people -half human half creatures of the sea. The female of the species were known popularly as mermaids. That means women of the sea.”

Johnny tells him, it’s like the show he and Mora put on. He says exactly but that’s a fake a side show illusion. “You wouldn’t believe that they may actually exist.”

“Where do you think myths come from? Do you think they’re just made up? They spring from truth.”

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What does this have to do with Mora?” Johnny losing his patience. Capt Murdock says, “She was a sweet little thing, she lived here with me… I found her on an island  I didn’t know then what she was to become.

Curious Johnny asks-“Become?”

“I didn’t know then that she belonged to that ancient race… She’s a monster!”

He warns him to stop seeing her…

We are left to wonder as the narrative is so ambiguous as to whether Capt. Murdock is simply a jealous old man who covets Mora’s affections– warding off any other man who would take her away from him? Or is he telling the truth about her origin. There are so many other people who believe the story to be true. Can it be collective paranoia or does Capt. Murdock’s expertise in world travel and knowledge of mythology support the feasibility of Mora being one of the race of sea people?

“Look just tell me one thing, Captain Murdock, there’s a woman that’s been bothering Mora, now I think she’s here. I just want to talk to her that’s all.”

“Women, there isn’t any woman.” he says in a drunken stupor his eyes closed., mouth hanging lazily open– “I’m all alone.”

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Mora tells Johnny that the story is true, that the old woman in black is waiting for her to re-join them. But he tells her things like that just don’t happen. Mora insists, “You think you’ve discovered reality but you don’t even know what it is” Johnny-” Then you mean that everything Sam told me is the truth?”

Mora tells him somberly, “Almost everything.” Johnny asks her “Will you just tell me how you know!”

Mora “Because I feel the sea water in my veins. Because I listen to the roar of the sea and it speaks to me like a mother’s voice. The tide pulls at my heart and the face of the moon fills my soul with a strange longing.”

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While Johnny is deeply in love with Mora… Ellen has fallen in love with Johnny.

Dennis Hopper (as Johnny Drake) and Luana Anders (as Ellen Sands) in NIGHT TIDE by Curtis Harrington

Johnny is warned throughout the film of mysterious drowning deaths, that seemed to be linked to Mora, since two past boyfriends drowned when they were with her. Even Madame Romanovitch pulls the tarot card The Hanged Man, and tells him he is in great danger.

This does not discourage Johnny Drake as he falls deeply in love with the mysterious and intoxicating girl, who herself –believes she is truly a descendent of an ancient race of sirens who must return to the ‘sea people’

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Notice the outstanding use of light that seems to be fluid– as if the walls are reflecting back water...Lapenieks and Floyd Crosby do such a sensational job of framing the eerie story.

 

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When Johnny goes to Mora’s apartment we hear water running. She tells him that she is taking a bath and that he should rest on the couch. He lies down and falls asleep.
Mora walks out in a towel dripping wet, she walks slowly to the couch where Johnny is resting. She touches his face and runs her hand through his hair. He begins to look down and sees that she no longer has two legs but one large shiny scaly mermaid tail
then johnny becomes engulfed by tentacles as Mora has now transformed into a giant octopus. Hallucination or dream?

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He wakes up in a sweat, the bath water is still running but Mora is missing. He follows a trail of wet footsteps down the corridor until he’s outside by the ocean. She calls for him, frightened by the incoming tide. He picks her up and carries her to safety. Mora tells him that they were calling to her….

Playing out the dynamic of the doomed sailor Johnny Drake is a figure whose love of Mora might very well doom him to a watery grave.

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Johnny Drake is filled with innocence and a shy and wholesome kindness. Hopper’s performance is more restrained than his more iconic roles like acid dropping biker/hippie Billie in Easy Rider 1969 to the more volatile 1989 Blue Velvet’s psychotic bad boy Frank Booth!

Night Tide is a film you must experience if you’re fascinated by early 60s horror/fantasy that started to break out of the Hollywood mold. I won’t give away the ending either… for now let Johnny and Mora walk off beyond the hungering sea.

Is Mora from a lost clan of sea people, an imaginary mermaid that Johnny might of dreamed up or hallucinated or maybe she actually is a siren…!

Source Edited by Amy Greenfield -From Curtis Harrington: Cinema on the Edge-From the chapter Rembrandt Fucked the Maid

Hopper loved this black and white, filmed in the streets fantasy/horror picture. He praised the cinematography by Villis Lapenieks  (The Hideous Sun Demon 1959, The Little Shop of Horrors 1960, Queen of Blood 1966)

Dennis Hopper had said that Harrington was great to work with, and since he was in every scene he actually helped with the blocking so aside from his performance as Johnny Drake he helped with the creative process as well.

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A creative process that had much to do with the cinematography and the use of light. The very first scene when Johnny goes into the photo booth the scene frames how his face is lit up and then darkness overtakes his face and then he’s lit up and then dark eclipses his face again. Hopper mentions in his interview with Amy Greenfield “Within a man of light, there’s only light. Within a man of darkness there’s only darkness”  The use of the duality of spirit wasn’t a conscious decision but he attributed it to the process of making art.

Amy Greenfield in an interview tells Hopper –“You move so beautifully in Night Tide, on the commentary track when Curtis asks you why you wanted to do the underwater scene yourself you said your mother was a swimmer and ran a swimming pool in Kansas where you grew up.”

Hopper tells her that he isn’t a professional swimmer. Then she comments- “But you move like a dancer… you look like Gene Kelly when you run after Cameron.”

It’s true, to watch how Hopper moves through the film with ease, he does come across very rhythmic and agile, he’s sort of at his most attractive. Well… he ain’t so bad here either!!!

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Harrington had been working inside the studio system as 20th century fox’s Jerry Wald’s assistant and he wanted to break out and do this art film.

Curtis Harrington and Dennis Hopper had been friends so Hopper sort of just fell into the role. On revisiting this incredible poetic film —Night Tide 1961 which was actually filmed three years before it’s release but didn’t find it’s distribution until ’61, is not only an artistic vision of hallucinatory horror/fantasy, but a breakthrough indie film that re-invents some of the best elements created by great auteurs like Lewton who understood the light and dark duality of the mind and the fine line between landscape of the uncanny and the real world…

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Notes from Curtis Harrington’s fantastic biography Nice Guys Don’t Work in Hollywood: The Adventures of an Aesthete in the Movie Business.

Harrington had wanted Peter Lorre to play Captain Murdock but he didn’t feel the pay was worth it. He found Gavin Muir who had appeared mostly in B pictures, and did a fantastic job as a crusty old sailor and torrid history buff who’s superstitious and drunk most of the time.

Marjorie Eaton was filling the key role as the fortune teller. “Her own eccentricity as a person came across beautifully in film.”-Curtis Harrington

Cameron Parson who was the woman in black or sea witch inspired Harrington to say “She was such a striking visual presence…”

He chose the incredible composer David Raskin who had done the music to film noir essential Laura 1944 to score Night Tide. He managed to create an extra divine layer of oddness and whimsy to the film.

Time Magazine wrote about the film “emits an uncommon glow of freshness and imagination.”

Night Tide is an otherworldly fairy tale/ horror story which is both subtly disorienting and queerly romantic as a powerful female energy which might morph into a dangerous mythical / cryptozoological seductive menace to men both intoxicating and terrifying…

“Temptress from the sea…loving…killing!…Was she Human?-A Unique Experience in the Weird and Terrifying!–Lovers caught in a dark tide of sinister TERROR!

 Your Everlovin’ MonsterGirl –and that’s no myth!!!

 

 

8 thoughts on “THE BEACH PARTY BLOGATHON- CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) & Night Tide (1961) : Gills-A LOVE STORY!!!

  1. Fabulous, Jo! This is a terrific post.

    Firstly, I liked the points you raised re: Creature from the Black Lagoon. The first time I saw this film was at a midnight showing at an art house theatre that was PACKED. (The Gillman was definitely the audience’s fave part of the movie.) Such a fun screening! But I digress… On the surface, it seems a bit odd for Julie Adams to form a bond with Gillman, but it works for the reasons you describe. Which is actually kind of progressive for a 1950s film, no? You presented a terrific analysis.

    Secondly, I’ve not seen Night Tide (I think I’ve seen only 50% of the films you present here, come to think of it), but the screen shots are beautiful. It looks very atmospheric. It sounds like one to add to my Must Watch list.

    Thanks for coming to the Beach Party Blogathon with the Gillman and Mr Hopper!

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    1. Ruth I am so glad that you appreciated it’s campy yet serious look at a classic B movie from the 50s and a gem of an independent horror/fantasy from Curtis Harrington. I think when we’re young we identify with the creature but probably don’t truly understand why we’re rooting for him… it isn’t until you take a second look and lived a little to see how people or ‘creatures’ can be otherized. And of course the Beauty and the Beast theme goes a long way! I I know I usually put a lot of images in my posts, but I just get captivated by the visual narrative. I try not to spoil the ending most of the time… Thanks so much for inviting me to the beach bash… I really really loved this one, and by the way, every time i read one of your pieces — I always get inspired by your writing and the films I haven’t seen so it’s mutual…!
      From The Last Drive In, we say Thanks from your Ever Lovin’ MonsterGirl

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  2. I love that you always introduce me to a slightly left-field film that I know I’ll love – and these ones look no different. Fingers crossed that I can find them in the UK! I’m not sure if it’s quite the right word, but there’s always a sort of wonderment around this genre – maybe it’s something to do with the sympathetic portrayal of monstrosity and the fact that you’re never quite sure if it’s a man’s world or a monster’s….

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    1. Hey there! I’m pretty sure wonderment is a word but if it’s not it should be… I bend language all the time when I want to say something really specific and wonderment is such an expressive word. So you’re across the pond. England is the one place I’d leave NY for. Thank you for the compliment, I’m always interested in the blog post from Girls Do Film as well. I would think that you could get Night Tide in the UK, he’s very quirky and they’ve released a cleaner version with Harrington’s commentary on it. I’ll be getting that one soon. I’ve always been drawn to the sympathetic monsters, the way they stand out as ‘the other’ outside of society. We can relate to them because at times everyone, I would imagine everyone, has felt as an outside… at some time in their life. I hope you get to see these films. The Gill Man is just a hoot to watch as a classic B movie from the fabulous 50s and Night Tide is a treasured oddity! Cheers Joey

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  3. Yes, there can be doubt about the sexual nature of CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. Those underwater shots of the stunning Julie Adams and the Gill Man watching her are about as sexual as mainstream sci fo got in the 1950s. I don’t see the Gill Man as a knight who is freeing Karen from boring human relationships. His urges are of the primal variety and they are what propel the film. Very interesting review!

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    1. Hey Rick, I know the “knight” was just a funny side view of the film, once Julie Adams belts out the cliched scream queen in peril number , the romance went out of the relationship! But I”m a romantic so I thought I’d have fun!

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  4. Hi, still catching up on the blogathon posts :) nice idea to pair these as the themes are so similar, just the “creatures'” gender flipped. Beauty and Beast vs siren but lots of things in common too, so this was a great read. Also both of these movies have great cinematography, as you point out and show with the great screenshots, you’re very right about Night Tide’s noir look. Thanks as always for joining us in these events, wouldn’t be the same without you! Cheers

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