Thursday, 30 July 2009

Revenge of the Creature (1955)

Revenge of the Creature was the first of two sequels to The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Although it was made in 1954 and bears a superficial resemblance to other movies of the 50s that mixed sci-fi and horror elements The Creature from the Black Lagoon was really a throwback to the golden age of Universal monster movies. Like the best of those movies It has a monster with whom we can feel a fair bit of sympathy, and it proved to be a substantial hit for Universal.

In this sequel the gill-man has been captured and taken to an oceanarium in Florida to be studied by eager scientists. Scientists like Professor Clete Ferguson (John Agar). Of course you weren’t a real scientist in those days unless you had a beautiful female assistant, and that’s where Helen Dobson (Lori Nelson) comes in. Naturally the hunky professor falls in love with the glamorous blonde Helen, but he has a rival in the form of the man who captured the creature, the equally hunky Joe Hayes. He also has another rival, but he doesn’t know it yet. It’s strange that he doesn’t realise this, because it’s a well-known fact that all monsters have a serious weakness for beautiful human females, especially if they happen to be blonde as well. The monster escapes from his tank and runs amok. He kills a number of men, but he spares a woman and her child. Like the classic Universal monsters he has a human side as well, and is capable of feeling compassion. He’s also capable of other human feelings, because when he tracks down the luckless Helen he doesn’t kill her but carries her off. This was the 50s so it couldn’t be explicitly stated that his motivations were sexual but the hints are fairly obvious.

Jack Arnold, who directed the first Creature film, returns for the sequel and does a more than competent job. The cast is adequate, with Lori Nelson being an appealing heroine. The underwater sequences are skillfully executed. Like the first picture it raises disturbing questions about who is really the monster (the scientists’ ideas about studying the creature seem more akin to torture than to genuine scientific investigation consisting as they mostly of delivering electric shocks to the unfortunate gill-man with a cattle prod). So why does Revenge of the Creature fall rather flat? The main problem is the change of locale. Not only does Florida lack the mystique of the exotic Amazon setting of the first movie, it also fatally weakens the menace of the gill-man. Let’s face it, he’s not a particularly terrifying monster. He doesn’t have supernatural powers, and he’s the size of an average human. What made him scary in the first film was that he was on his home ground, able to exploit his knowledge of his home territory, and those hunting him were a handful of people isolated in the middle of the jungle. But when you put him in the contemporary United States, it’s hard to see him as much of a threat. You can’t help feeling that one cop with a gun should be sufficient to deal with this particular threat to civilisation.

There’s some breathtakingly sexist dialogue, with Helen’s two admirers not just discussing her like she’s a piece of livestock they’re negotiating to buy, but doing it right in front of her. But it was the 50s, and that’s what you get in 1950s movies. The scientists are extremely unsympathetic in other ways. The degree of callousness that they display towards the gill-man must have shocked even 1950s audiences, but it does serve to make the creature as much a victim as a monster and I would assume that was the intended effect. While it’s nowhere near as good as the first film it’s still quite entertaining.

The Legacy Collection DVd looks superb, and features a reasonably interesting commentary track with Lori Nelson and a couple of horror movie experts whose names I’ve forgotten.

And look out for Clint Eastwood making his movie debut, providing the comic relief as an inept lab assistant!

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