Universal Pictures is one of my personal favorite distribution and production studios of all time. Their logo: the spinning earth with the giant UNIVERSAL text spinning across it is as iconic to cinema as it can possibly get. The studio’s lineup of horror monsters remains timeless, and I believe it will continue to be recognizable for centuries. The Creature from The Black Lagoon, or as he has been commonly nicknamed, “The Gill Man,” is the last character introduced into the menagerie of Universal’s Horror Icons. When presented in pop culture – either through Universal’s own advertising or the 1987 cult classic, The Monster Squad, – the Gill Man is presented standing tall and slimy, right next to horror icons such as Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and his bride, the Invisible Man, the Mummy and the Wolf Man.
One might say though, that he’s the odd Gill Man out of that bunch. The Creature from the Black Lagoon was introduced in 1954, almost 20 years after the rest of the monsters received their horror debuts. Because of this late entry, he was never seen in any of the countless monster mash up’s Universal produced during the 1940’s. There were only two sequels produced in the 1950’s: Revenge of the Creature, and The Creature Walks Among Us. Unlike Dracula and The Mummy, which have been remade multiple times, Creature has never been recreated. Outside of appearing in the previously mentioned Monster Squad, along with the Gill Man’s striking resemblance to the creature in the upcoming Guillermo Del Toro film, The Shape of Water, his appearance in contemporary films are quite seldom, but the image of his razor sharp webbed hands, as well as the dead and wide look in his eyes, are still instantly recognizable to the masses. What made the monster in director Jack Arnold’s original film stand out in cinematic history?
I believe the Gill Man is so iconic because he is the perfect representation of the time during which he was created. In the 1950’s, the American people were experiencing a common paranoia. They were afraid that one day, they would look out of their windows and bear witness to a flag with a hammer and sickle rising above a flagpole, or even worse, a mushroom cloud. They weren’t as scared of magical curses or the supernatural. Instead, it was the threat of nuclear annihilation, as well as men tampering with the laws of nature and facing dire consequences that was much more plausible and became the looming fears of the people. These fears were reflected in much of Science Fiction and horror films at the time, especially by Universal with radioactivity and nuclear power being the cause of giant bugs and arachnids (Them! and Tarantula), the hubris of man harnessing the power of science and creating horrific results (The Fly), and Alien invaders arriving to exterminate us all (It Came from Outer Space).
The Creature from the Black Lagoon exemplifies this era because it is the classic cautionary tale of man’s hubris: reaching far outside his grasp and facing dire consequences. The ill-fated crew of the Rita learn this lesson the hard way when they explore The Black Lagoon itself, a place where no man belongs, and their curiosity gets the best of them as the Gill Man kills them one by one, not by malicious intent, but simply protecting his home. The Gill Man represents what happens when we go too far in over our heads. I’m not personally against scientific discovery and further exploring and understanding the planet we occupy, but Dr. Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park put it best: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
Jeremy is younger than he looks, and has passionately studied the art and craft of filmmaking for as long as he can remember. He is currently a freelance wedding videographer, and is also heavily involved in Competitive Fighting Games. IG: jeremyko95