Creature From the Black Lagoon is a Universal Horror film from 1954 and one of the key components of the "Universal Horror" canon. In the heart of the Brazilian Jungle, a scientist named Carl Maia finds a unique fossil which suggests an amphibious, transitional creature. After showing it to his colleagues at the Brazilian Marine Institute, an expedition is organized to go find the rest of the fossil. Little do they know that a live specimen of the creature, the Gill Man (or "Devonian Man") lives in the waters, who's highly territorial, lonely and intelligent, and has no intention of letting any of them leave alive.
Creature From the Black Lagoon has two points of inspiration. In 1941, producer William Alland attended a dinner party where he heard about the folklore of humanoid aquatic creatures in the Amazon River. This story Alland reworked into a Beast and Beauty proto-script that would later evolve into Creature From the Black Lagoon. It is not known which creature Alland exactly heard about. Among others, he could've heard about the yacuruna or the boto. The twist to the script's final form came when in 1952 the coelacanth was confirmed to be a thriving species still. The 1950s being the era of scifi, this discovery inspired the final script's origin for the creature as an aquatic lifeform from ancient times.
Notable for its beautiful underwater shots that are even better in the 3-D version, artful full-body submersible costuming for Gill Man, location filming (in Wakulla Springs, Florida rather than Brazil, but still good) and the quick, graceful swimming of Gill Man. The latter is courtesy of Ricou Browning, an Olympic Swimmer, who played the creature in the underwater scenes only. Above water, the creature is a slow, waddling horror, but has titanic strength and jaguar-sharp claws to make up for it. Also notable for being very suspenseful and restrained compared to other B Movies, only showing Gill Man's hand and silhouette at first, and teasing the audience with having him stalk the female lead underwater almost shyly.
Had two lackluster sequels, Revenge of the Creature (1955) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956). Guillermo del Toro wanted to do a remake but Universal refused, and most of his ideas went into The Shape of Water (2017).
There's also a musical based on it, as well as a pinball machine.
Many films copied the idea of Creature From the Black Lagoon, possibly more than any other Universal Horror film. There's Monster From the Ocean Floor, The She-Creature, The Monster of Piedras Blancas, The Alligator People, Creature from the Haunted Sea, during the days of the beach party genre The Beach Girls and the Monster and The Horror of Party Beach, and Blood Waters of Dr. Z. Universal's own Monster on the Campus also takes a few cues from Creature From the Black Lagoon.
Not to be confused with the manga and anime Black Lagoon.
- Alas, Poor Villain: Unusually for a '50s monster movie, the Gill Man's demise at the end of the film is portrayed as tragic.
- And Another Thing...: During his conversation with Kay before the Gill Man escapes, Thompson says this very line but gets interrupted when the creature busts free. In the Novelization, he gets to say the full line and reveal exactly what that "other thing" was (specifically he voices his concern that Mark is taking advantage of Kay).
- Artistic License – Paleontology:
- The Gill Man, being a clawed, super strong, bipedal amphibious creature, doesn't resemble any kind of Devonian lifeform whatsoever.
- There's a line suggesting that there were giant rats in the Devonian period — two hundred million years before the first mammals, give-or-take.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Captain Lucas is a perfectly friendly man, but if you try to overrule his authority as captain he will pull a knife on you.
- Big "NO!": Kay lets out one when Gill Man tries to capture her.
- Boisterous Bruiser: Captain Lucas is a burly man with a larger-than-life personality.
- Cigar Chomper: Captain Lucas is frequently shown with a cigar in his mouth.
- Damsel in Distress: Kay becomes the object of the Gill Man's desire and repeatedly has to be rescued from him by her male colleagues.
- Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe: Dr. Thompson prefers to smoke from a pipe.
- Does Not Like Shoes: Kay goes barefoot in her shorts and halter-top at the climax of the movie, probably to appear more vulnerable and sensual.
- Doomed Hurt Guy: Averted with Thompson, who manages to make it to the end of the movie.
- Egomaniac Hunter: Mark is more interested in hunting and killing the Gill Man for personal fame rather than studying it for scientific purposes.
- Evolutionary Levels: The Gill Man is referred to as a "missing link" between fish and human, wrongly implying that there is a fixed, linear progression from the former to the latter.
- Well, surely the one gorgeous female member of the scientific expedition would make sure to pack a skintight swimsuit, so that she can go swimming in a South American jungle swamp that could not possibly have any weird bugs or parasites (or gill men, for that matter).
- Richard Carlson and Richard Denning were both in very good shape and spend a lot of time shirtless in swimming trunks.
- Special mention should go to Julia Adams' outfit at the climax of the film (halter-top, shorts, bare feet), which is almost as provocative as her skintight white swimsuit.
- Fish People: The Gill Man is described as "the missing link" between man and fish and looks like a mixture of both.
- Get a Hold of Yourself, Man!: Lucas gives a slap to the sobbing Zee after Gill Man drags his brother Chico underwater.
- Green Aesop: A rather more subtle one that you wouldn't expect from a '50s monster movie. The first film's message appears to be about conserving by not interfering with it, exemplified by the conflict between the two male leads. One insists on killing the Creature and bringing its body back to America, while the lead scientist wants to let the Creature live in peace and study it. There's a scene where the heroine casually throws a cigarette in the water, and the creature looking up at it floating on the surface. The Creature only attacks because it feels provoked by these strangers messing with him and his territory, and the man trying to kill him only makes things worse, so there's the added aesop of "violence begets violence." This was an intentionally done by one of the scriptwriters as a not-so-clear way of teaching the audience to not be cruel to those who are different.
- Harpoon Gun: Mark attempts to kill the Gill Man with a harpoon gun.
- Informed Attribute: Kay is allegedly a scientist, but seems to be treating the expedition like a pleasure cruise. For a few moments she'll talk about scientific theory as well as the men do, but when they're managing the boat or their findings she's usually standing on the side looking pretty.
- It Can Think: Gill Man shows off his intelligence when it blocks the path out of the lagoon and sinks one of the boats.
- Jungles Sound Like Kookaburras: The distinctive cry can be heard throughout the film which is set in the heart of the Brazilian Jungle.
- Leg Focus: There are many lingering shots of Kay's legs, and her wearing a swimsuit cut straight up to the thigh was completely intentional. note
- Leitmotif: Gill Man's theme tune is a three-note key "Dun-dun-DAAA!"
- Male Gaze: At one point when Kay dives underwater her ass fills the entire screen for several seconds.
- Man-Eating Plant: Vargo Statten's novelization adds a scene with a flesh-eating underwater tree that attacks David and Mark while they're scuba diving.
- Man on Fire: Dr. Thompson sets the Gill Man on fire with a well-placed lantern strike when it attacks him.
- Mars Needs Women: The Gill Man, being the last of his kind, becomes fixated on Kay because he desires a mate.
- Monster Misogyny: Inverted. Throughout his three movies, the Gill Man mostly kills men, but doesn't hurt women and even befriends one of them. This is discussed in the Vargo Statten Novelization where they basically conclude he's gentle with Kay because she's female and he considers all human males a threat to his possession of her.
- Non-Malicious Monster: The Gill Man is a terrifying, highly territorial predator, but in the end, he's only defending his habitat from intruders.
- Novelization: Two:
- The first was by J.R. Fearn under the pseudonym Vargo Statten. It was published in the '50s and is faithful to the film except for a scene wherein David and Mark get attacked by a giant man-eating underwater tree.
- The second is by Walter Harris writing under the pseudonym "Carl Dreadstone," which barely resembles the film. Not only are several characters renamed (some slightly, others very drastically), but everyone besides David and Kay who survived the movie dies, and the titular monster as a Godzilla-sized aquatic hermaphroditic pig-lizard referred to as AA for "Advanced Amphibian." In addition to numerous King Kong metaphors, Harris adds a subplot involving the expedition getting captured by a hostile Indian tribe, a scene where "AA" battles a helicopter, and a changed ending wherein the monster needs to be killed with a Polaris missile from a Brazilian Navy torpedo boat (!).
- People in Rubber Suits: The Gill Man is portrayed by several actors in rubber suits. While the underwater shots of him look quite impressive thanks to Ricou Browning's movements, the costume is considerably less convincing on land.
- Pun-Based Title: Its working title, The Black Lagoon, was a pun on the novel The Blue Lagoon.
- Red Shirt: Luís and Tomás receive very little characterisation before being killed by the Gill Man, as do Zee and Chico.
- Scenery Porn: The underwater shots were not only impressive for their time, but hold up remarkably well despite the film's age.
- Science Hero's Babe Assistant: Kay is the only woman on the scientific expedition and spends most of her time swimming in a not especially practical tight-fitting swimsuit (with plenty of shots of her butt) before being menaced by the titular creature.
- The Smurfette Principle: Kay is the only female member of the expedition to find the Gill Man.
- Spiritual Successor:
- The film can be seen as a successor to "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", which also features an ancient race of human-fish hybrids. Some subsequent Cthulhu Mythos writers have written Innsmouth stories inspired by or that make reference to Creature from the Black Lagoon.
- It is also a spiritual predecessor to The Shape of Water, which was specifically written to be a more sympathetic portrayal of the Gill Man in which he actually does get the girl.
- Stuff Blowing Up: The opening narration plays while explosions simulating Earth's creation happen.
- Swamp Monster: Gill Man is the Trope Codifier and Trope Maker for the Fish Person variant, being a humanoid fish monster and the titular antagonist of the film.
- Sympathy for the Devil: Despite the fact that the Gill Man is responsible for multiple deaths and attempted to kidnap his girlfriend, David treats him with a great deal of sympathy throughout the film and mourns the creature's eventual, apparent death.
- Touch of the Monster: An alternative poster shows Gill Man holding the beauty this way.
- Unlimited Wardrobe: Kay wears different outfits in every scene, unlike all the men wearing almost the same things every day.
- The Watson: Captain Lucas needs the basic concept of geology/paleontology explained to him. The screenwriter must not have thought the audience would understand why, in the simplest terms, there's any reason to dredge up old rocks.
- What Measure Is a Non-Unique?: That the Creature is the last of his kind is regularly given as a reason why he shouldn't be destroyed.