Friday, March 06, 2009

THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US! But not for very long. Universal-International's 1956 sequel to the sequel to THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON has never exactly set the critical world on fire (even though they manage to set the Gill Man himself on fire) and I have always basically written it off. When the wonderful Legacy Collection DVD came out -- ooh, 5 years ago or so -- I of course watched it once again (as well as the original classic and the first sequel REVENGE OF THE CREATURE -- which, if you think about it, is just a retelling of KING KONG). Naturally the original CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON is a stone cold winner; REVENGE and WALKS AMONG US have always been "also rans" as far as I was concerned. Especially the third film which frankly pissed me off because of what they did to the Creature in it. For those not in the know, they basically pseudo-castrate the Gill Man; in other words, they mutilate him so that the familiar Creature we love is gone and we get some "more humanoid" version which, besides eliminating the iconic look of the Gill Man also makes the Creature look positively ordinary.
For those not in the know, a group of scientist (once again) decide to head out to the Gill Man's stomping (or is that splashing) grounds in order to capture him and generally piss on his cornflakes. Why the hell can't they just leave him alone?!? This goes a long way toward making the Creature very sympathetic (as in the first CREATURE film which took its cue from Boris Karloff's sympathetic performance as the Monster in FRANKENSTEIN). Among the busybody scientists are Dr. & Mrs. Barton (Jeff Morrow and Leigh Snowden), good guy he-man Dr. Thomas Morgan (Rex Reason) and oughta-get-slapped-upside-the-head he-man Jed Grant (a slimy Gregg Palmer). You know the drill. The group of scientists head out on a boat, hunt down the Gill Man, shoot milk (OK they call it "rotonone" or something) to drug the Creature and capture it. Of course, they fail. Then, as the Creature quite impressively jumps out of the water and into the group's boat, somebody throws a gasoline torch at him and the poor Gill Man is on fire once again. The Creature collapses and the scientists grab him and take him back to civilisation (didn't they learn anything from the LAST movie?!?!). The poor Creature is so badly burned that his gills etc. are singed away and the scientists have to operate in order to convert the Creature's lungs so that he may breath air instead of water. Of course, this effectively cripples the Gill Man (in my eyes, anyway -- sure, he'll probably die if they DON'T operate but, since we know the monster's gonna die anyway by the end of the film, it might've been kinder. Actually, it WOULDA been kinder if they had just left the poor Creature the hell alone in the first place). Anyway, through bits and bobs of the plot involving Dr. Barton's intense jealousy of anybody even glancing at his wife, the Creature gets framed for various mayhem he really doesn't have anything to do with. Jed Grant gets a little too "attentive" to Mrs. Barton so Dr. Barton decides to bop him on the head and throw him to the caged Creature so that it'll look like ole Jed was killed by the vicious monster. The Gill Man, meanwhile, justs wants to be left alone in his damn cage and decides he's having none of this noise so he busts out and rampages through the house -- eventually killing the unbalanced Dr. Barton -- freeing up the now-widowed Mrs. Barton to make kissyface with Tom Morgan. Then it gets REALLY sad as the poor Gill Man walks to the ocean, stands looking at it for a moment and then walks into the sea -- effectively committing suicide because the humans messed up his life so much! There are truly few more heart-breaking moments in horror movies.
Luckily for the Creature, there were no more sequels -- GOD knows what worse tortures they could've had in store for the Gill Man if they had continued. THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US, as much as it pisses me off, ain't actually THAT bad of a movie. It's not GOOD, by any means! But it's probably watchable -- as long as you're not looking for too much action (which there ain't) or a good script (which there ain't). The principals in the cast are really excellent. Classic monster fighters Rex Reason and Jeff Morrow, of course, can also be seen in the much better film THIS ISLAND EARTH. Little known actress Leigh Snowden is also superb; the scene in which the Gill Man rampages through the house and corners her and Rex Reason in a closet finds the actress really selling hysterical terror; not over the top but believable. Gregg Palmer is also good as the slimy creep; the actor excelled in villain roles later in his career. In WALKS AMONG US, the actors really save the film as they are eminently watchable. God knows the script ain't helping. Sadly, by this time Universal had let go most of its "under contract" character actors as the studio system was facing tough times -- so there aren't the usual sea of familiar and beloved faces populating the lesser roles. John Sherwood's direction is fairly pedestrian and doesn't do much to up the horror quotient but the beautiful, crystal clear photography by Maury Gertsman in exemplary. The entire film looks quite nice while the underwater photography is even better than the original film. Particularly nice is the sorta "underwater ballet" scene when Leigh Snowden gets "the rapture of the deep" and twirls deliriously among millions of sparkling air bubbles -- each one showing up distinctly. Ricou Browning can be seen once again as the "swimming" Gill Man -- in fact, a lot of unused footage from the first CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON film is employed as well as a brief snippet re-used from REVENGE. The "land" Creature -- after he has been mutilated and operated upon -- is played this time by Don Megowan; no stranger to monster movies Megowan starred the same year (sans makeup) in THE WEREWOLF with Steven Ritch as well as later appearing as the Frankenstein Monster in the Universal/Hammer co-production pilot episode of TALES OF FRANKENSTEIN with Anton Diffring as the batty Baron. Megowan here manages to convey emotion even through the rigid and undemonstrative new Creature mask.
There are a few good scenes in the film; even though it mostly consists of scenes between "talking heads". A LOT of talking heads. The aforementioned underwater scenes go on a little too long, it must be admitted, however the "rapture of the deep" sequence aforementioned is a stand-out. Also mentioned before was the terrific scenes where the Gill Man leaps out of the water onto the boat as well as a truly exciting final sequence involving the Creature's rampage through the house; the Gill Man crashes aggressively through a door in order to get at Jeff Morrow. Frankly the cast and cinematographer deserve a better movie to be in. Not to mention the viewer deserves a better movie to watch! However, an EXTREMELY forgiving and patient viewer will probably find something worthwhile in THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US.

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