Universal Monsters in Review: Revenge of the Creature (1955)
The safe word today is, science runs amok! A familiar theme with Universal Monsters. And come to think about it, nearly all of the monsters, at one point or another, have been tethered to mad science. Even Dracula, who in Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein, ole Draco mixes himself up in some strange business with bolts and laboratories, in an attempt to resurrect the infamous monster in his own image. And lets not forget the amazing Werewolf of London, to which the werewolf curse is passed on to a botanist who then attempts to use science to cure himself. The main theme people typically walk away with is that science never solves anything, but that doesnt sound right, does it? No, science in itself is not the enemy, nor is nature singularly the enemy either. Maybe we can look from the perspective of the characters, and with those characters, sure, nothing ever seems to go right. Considering, if science is by definition man’s way of understanding nature and the world around him, mankind sure seems to always blunder any attempt to understand his world. The more these characters force to understand nature, the more we get the impression that maybe there are some things we shouldn’t know. Last night, during my first screening of Revenge of the Creature, the running thought in head during the duration of the film was basically the idea of man attempting to concur nature, and failing, because nature is something that cannot be tamed or easily categorized (yup, borrowed that one from Fox Mulder). And perhaps there are some things mankind should not know, or perhaps is not ready to know. The Gill-Man returns in form with some excellent script writing for this round-about sequel to Creature of the Black Lagoon. I found myself routing for the monster, especially due to its mistreatment and shameful exposure for paying customers of the Ocean Harbor Oceanarium, which became, for a time, the new Freak Show. Well, I think we’ve all had enough of my own ramblings, lets see what our esteemed guest has to say regarding, Revenge of the Creature.
Revenge of the Creature
By: Jeffery X. Martin
It’s not easy being the missing link. People keep trying to capture you for research, and there’s no Anti-Vivisectionists League for bizarre aquatic creatures. If they can’t capture you, then they just try to shoot you. Tranquilizers, bullets, anything that can be fired out of a gun, humans will shoot it at you, just because you’re different. Oh, and forget dating. It’s one thing to have psoriasis or contact dermatitis, but full-on scales and gills? No woman puts that on her list of likes.
The end of The Creature from the Black Lagoon shows our old buddy, the Gill-Man, in precisely that situation. He’s been dynamited, shot, and after eons of hunting for a nice girl, he finds one. But as soon as he tries to take her home, the humans get all twitchy. They take the girl back, and they shoot the Gill-Man a few times for good measure. That’s a bad day, y’all, and if I were he, I would want revenge, too.
In 1955, the Gill-Man returned in Revenge of the Creature. There’s not much actual revenge in the movie, but the story of the Creature does take an interesting turn. Although we were led to believe the creature died in a hail of bullets at the end of the first film, that’s not the case. He is captured with ease back at the Black Lagoon and taken to the Ocean Harbor Oceanarium, a waterpark much like Sea-World. Scientists there hope to study the Gill-Man and find out what makes him tick.
This goes exactly as well as you think it will.
Revenge of the Creature is a low-budget production. It stars John Agar, and that makes it feel even more low-budget than it actually is. He’s not an actor normally associated with high-quality work. He’s handsome, all right, but what did it get him? In this movie, he’s nothing more than a giant chin and hormones, as he tries to get into the pants of the “lady doctor,” played by Lori Nelson.
Nelson’s character finds herself in one corner of a love square between John Agar, the Creature’s caretaker, Joe Hayes (John Bromfield), and the Creature himself. Every main male character in the movie (including the Creature) is a sexist schmuck, attempting to mold Nelson into some kind of precious doll that needs to be protected. Never mind that she’s a brilliant student of ichthyology, perfectly capable of taking care of herself. There are so many “step aside, little lady” moments in this film, she may as well be doing the Electric Slide instead of walking.
Joe and John Agar fight over her. The Creature and Joe fight over her. John Agar and the Creature fight over her. No one wants to fight alongside her, or get to know her as a human being because that would make their testicles fall off.
The main point of the film involves the scientists’ attempt to communicate with the Creature. I’m not sure why this is important. It’s not like the Gill-Man has read any good books lately and would love to discuss them. Their big idea for communication is teaching the Creature involves shocking him when he does something wrong. This kind of Pavlovian conditioning elicits responses, but that’s no more communication than someone grunting when they stub their toe.
At least the Creature still looks cool. In a movie filled with wonky science and terrible human relations, he’s the high point. He’s got those huge eyes, webbed hands, and the tendency to open his mouth wide, gasping for air, when he’s on land. He’s a scary monster, difficult to humanize, because you cannot tell his intentions from his face. He can’t raise an eyebrow, give a sly glance, or smirk. There’s no way to tell what he’s thinking, which may make the Gill-Man the scariest of all the Universal Monsters.
It’s a shame this sequel isn’t better. It feels cheap and the script is shallow. If anything, it feels like Jaws 3-D was a remake of Revenge of the Creature. In a lot of ways, if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen the other. While the shark is an eating machine, the Creature just wants to fertilize some eggs and go back home. Maybe, in that way, the Gill-Man is also the most human of all the Universal Monsters. The Frankenstein Monster and Dracula have their own particular pathos. It’s part of why we love them. The Creature from the Black Lagoon has no personal demons to be dealt with, no extended back story. He has aught but the instinct to survive.
This singularity of vision makes the Creature hard to love, but easy to fear. It certainly makes him worthy of a better sequel. This isn’t it.
Jeffery X. Martin, or Mr. X to you, is the published author of several stories that are sure to shock, including those in the Elder’s Keep universe and Tarotsphere. He also published a fantastic tale in The Black Room Manuscripts. You can find his work on Amazon. When Mr. X is not writing creep mind-benders, he’s the host and/or contributor to several podcasts and blogs, including, but not limited to, Pop Shiftier and Kiss the Goat.