Creature from the Black Lagoon – Jack Arnold – 1954

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The Gill-Man is God's loneliest creature

This film feels like two different movies stitched together and brought back to life. The underwater photography, done by James Havens, is beautiful. Lilting, dream like camera movements, with a strange eye that paints the water as a completely different world from the surface. Bubbles, oblique shadows, and balletic physical action blend to create a creepy and sad nether realm. Of course, this quality is directly referenced by the main character, as almost any subtext always had to be brought out into the actual dialogue in 50s Sci Fi/Horror.

Drifting through the Unconscious

The other face of this film is a classic square-jawed scientist 50s Sci Fi movie, with a great ambiguity as to man’s ability to understand the mystery of nature. This was the same year as “Gojira”, “Them”, and countless other imitators were seriously questioning man’s place in the universe. You see, when you’re told that “they” are building a better world for Tomorrow, but “they” use that genius to build hydrogen bombs, one starts to question the ability for scientists to come to grips with the Mystery of Life. This crack team traveling into the remotest regions of the jungle is the Psychoanalyst, journeying into the unconscious looking for monsters from the Devonian period that are crippling society today, but incapable of reconciling with the darkest impulses of our animal mind.

Traditional Masculinity has difficulties in the Black Lagoon

The film never interacts with its monster in a meaningful way, and although he’s portrayed sympathetically, there isn’t anywhere near a ‘Frankenstein’ level of cross-identification. In the end the story is more about controlling one’s Id, represented through the psychologically linked Dr. Williams (the business man) and the Creature. They both want what they can’t have, embodied in Kay Lawrence and the feminized, empathic sensibility she represents. Dr. Reed shows several times that his variety of masculinity is significantly different than Dr. Williams, and from start to finish the film feels like a textbook example of the crisis that traditional male roles were going through in the early 50s. Unfortunately the movie chickens out by the end, and the Phallus destroys the Other with little self reflection, but like most horror films, there’s a lingering ethereal presence outside the diegesis. The monster always lives on, in the realm of the sequel and the psyche.

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