“Revenge of the Creature” (1955)

by A.J. Hakari

"Revenge of the Creature" poster

 

The Gill Man has been referred to as Universal’s answer to King Kong, a comparison with which I’d have to agree. Like the real lord of the apes, this hybrid of man and marine life isn’t the product of mad science or an active force of evil; he’s an evolutionary aberration just doing his own thing, and those unlucky enough to taste the business end of his claws were usually interlopers messing up his home. The similarities become clearer still once you stack 1954’s Creature from the Black Lagoon against its first sequel, Revenge of the Creature, to form one mega-movie with a Kong-like narrative. But I wouldn’t advise having a marathon anytime soon, as the original Black Lagoon‘s awe, mystery, and memorable imagery make it too daunting of an act to follow. With so much time to kill before it’s allowed to unleash its titular terror on his first panicked mob, Revenge of the Creature does a lot of walking around in circles with its story, leaving little room for enough monster action or pseudo science to prevent viewers from tuning out.

Deep in the Amazon, there lives a being that time forgot. He’s the Gill Man, a link between humanity and its sea-dwelling ancestors that was thought for the longest time to be only a myth. He evaded capture in the previous Black Lagoon excursion, but as this adventure opens, he’s not that lucky. A group of scientists manage to track the Gill Man down and stun him into submission, before hauling his comatose carcass back to a Florida marine park. There, Dr. Clete Ferguson (John Agar) and young researcher Helen Dobson (Lori Nelson) are eager to study the creature and explore all that makes him so strangely similar to us homo sapiens. But there’s a little matter of what the Gill Man has to say about all this, and he’s none too appreciative of being ripped from his homeland to get poked and prodded. Driven by his growing fixation on Helen, the beast sets to work breaking free of his aquatic prison and embarking on a quest to make sure those land-lubbers get good and terrified.

Revenge of the Creature ultimately falters as a proper Black Lagoon continuation because it never expands upon its own mythology. Not that it had to completely lift the shroud of secrecy draped over the Gill Man’s origins, but to give viewers a greater peek into his past than before would have given the movie at least some angle to work from. Instead, for a film with two protagonists whose job it is to see what makes the big green lummox tick, Revenge of the Creature is in no hurry to explore the mystery. There could be a thrilling little ride to be made from the idea of the Gill Man experiencing culture shock upon being hauled to civilization, but until he makes his great escape in the third act, expect to endure a good hour’s worth of him puttering around a big tank while the human characters make dinner dates. The pacing really is that leaden and filled with all manner of uninvolving busywork; Agar is just another bland hero scientist, Nelson is just another pretty face to spend most of the climax unconscious, and their banter throughout the picture is about as lively as a mayonnaise trough.

At the very least, though, Revenge of the Creature avoids botching its monstrous main attraction. Tom Hennesy lumbers about just fine as he plays the Gill Man on land, but Ricou Browning returns to portray the creature in his underwater digs and once again does terrific work. Browning fights Gilly’s restrictive confines with a series of little body movements (like swatting other fish away from his food at the park) that endow him with more personality than the script does. Plus, it’s simply satisfying to see the bewebbed one go on a tear through touristy Florida, toppling cars and chucking dudes at palm trees (an effect that’s laughably cheesy but still kinda awesome). Though nowhere near as lush as its predecessor’s was, the underwater photography is pretty nice, and scattered throughout the movie are a small handful of amusing little asides. They can be few and far between, but when you see moments like Nestor Paiva reprising his role as Black Lagoon‘s wisecracking tugboat captain or a very young Clint Eastwood making a silly cameo as a lab assistant, a smile on your mug is all but guaranteed.

As iconic of a monster as the Gill Man would become over the decades, Revenge of the Creature really doesn’t do him much justice. Even the following year’s The Creature Walks Among Us, inferior though it may be, took the character in a different direction, as opposed to this movie leaving him treading water. Oddly enough, Revenge of the Creature makes you feel what it’d be like to see a being such as the Gill Man stuck in a SeaWorld type of environment — it’s sad, it’s stifling, and in the end, you’d rather he be swimming free in his home turf.

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