Monday, 20 February 2012

The Creature Walks Among Us (1956)

The Creature Walks Among Us was the third of Universal’s gill-man movies, a series that started so promisingly with The Creature From the Black Lagoon in 1954 and then went downhill fast.

There were quite a few 50s sci-fi/horror movies where the monster turns out to be not entirely evil, or not entirely to blame, but there are none with quite such a sympathetic monster as The Creature From the Black Lagoon. That element remains in the sequels. The big problem with The Creature Walks Among Us is that very little of anything happens. There’s not even plot to sustain a 60-minute movie, and it runs for nearly 80 minutes.

A expedition sets out for the Florida Everglades to find the famous gill-man. It’s led by Dr William Barton (Jeff Morrow). Perhaps rather unwisely he agrees (reluctantly) to allow his wife Marcia (Leigh Snowden) to accompany him. Their marriage is not going well and it’s soon obvious that one of the other expedition members is intending to make a play for her. This domestic drama occupies more of the film’s running time than the monster.

The monster is captured of course, but he’s been badly burned. His gills have been destroyed. The scientists now make a lucky discovery - the creature has lungs as well. If they can get his lungs working they can save him. What they don’t realise is that once he starts using his lungs he will start losing all his aquatic features and mutate into a land creature! Yes, it’s very silly, but the science will get even sillier. We are treated to some truly extraordinary scientific nonsense. We are informed that no new type of living creature has appeared on Earth for 400 million years. We also learn that if we can increase the red corpuscle count that will automatically change the creature’s genetics.

This type of ludicrous technobabble is the reason I watch science fiction movies! For me this is one of the movie’s saving graces.

Of course once the creature has completed its mutation into a land creature a problem arises since it can no longer survive in its original aquatic environment.

The scientists spent a great deal of time debating whether nature or nurture is the reason for the creature’s savagery, although it really isn’t particularly savage. It seems to be adapting fairly well to captivity. While the creature is doing OK, that domestic drama mentioned earlier is starting to get out of hand. The creature will become the unwitting victim, caught up in Dr Barton’s increasingly desperate attempts to hold on to a wife who clearly wants out.

The special effects and the makeup effects are good and the underwater sequences are impressive (although some are in fact out-takes from the first movie).

John Sherwood as director is competent if uninspired. The acting is reasonably good.

The problem is the script and the lack of action. There’s virtually no action at all until we’re almost 40 minutes into the movie. There are some decent ideas but they’re not sufficiently developed. The result is a movie that is just a little too dull.

The final scene however almost redeems the movie.

Universal’s DVD presentation is faultless and includes a commentary track.


The Vicar of VHS said...

I have defended this one in the past, and will do so again. :) I agree that compared to the first two films it's a different creature altogether (ba-dump), but I sort of admire the wish to try something new instead of the old "Captive Creature Runs Amok" trope. What struck me viewing this on the Universal legacy set was how the Creature becomes the externalized id of all the characters in the movie. I've seldom seen a group of more hormone-driven, anger-management-needing characters in a classic horror flick, and the Creature is the hulking, physical expression of all their worser instincts. Think about it--whenever someone gets lusty, or angry, or just cranky and rude to everyone (and this happens a LOT in this flick), the creature immediately goes nuts and starts breaking/killing things. And this even before the jealous main baddie decides to use Gillman as a murder weapon.

I also liked the opening scene where the creature is burned, because we get to see some of the Gillman's enormous strength as he tosses the boats around like toys. And that last scene...I don't mind telling you I got teary.

Anyway, maybe I'm just cookoo for the Creature and thus too willing to forgive and rally behind a bad entry in the series. But I still love it.

Shaun [The Celluloid Highway] said...

Dreadful end to the series...If you haven't already Doom check out THE MONOLITH MONSTERS, which was directed by John Sherwood from a screenplay co-written by Jack Arnold. The most idiosyncratic sci-fi film of the 1950's, and quite brilliant as a result.