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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