Review of a film about which only I care: Revenge of the Creature

Of Universal Studios’ ‘classic monsters’, Gill-Man, the marine humanoid more commonly known by the epithet attributed to him by the title of the film in which he first appeared, 1954’s Creature From The Black Lagoon, is doubtlessly the most consistently overlooked. When Halloween rolls around, you might be able to dig up a cardboard mummy somewhere, but if you want a Gill-Man garbage bag to fill with dead leaves, you’re fresh out of luck.  Personally, I feel this is a grievous injustice, for, as a consequence of the nautical menance’s nearly total absence from popular consciousness, even I, whose affection for vintage horror is attested by my having viewed 1931’s Dracula 30-odd times, passed the majority of my life without experiencing any substantial compulsion to familiarize myself with the fiend’s filmography, to say nothing of normal people who don’t ever have thoughts to the effect of “Hey, I gotta get on seeing that horribly dated monster movie” at all, and this is, in my view, a profound shame, for, after finally seeing the three movies that spotlight Gill-Man, I swiftly developed the opinion that everyone, everywhere, should do the same. My argument as to why will focus on 1955’s Revenge of the Creature, my personal favorite of the trilogy comprised by that film, its predecessor and the original, and its 1956 sequel The Creature Walks Among Us. If you didn’t catch that, folks, yes, it’s three consecutive years of awesome, with this bad boy sandwiched in the middle: 

 

The movie’s plot is no winding labyrinth. Humanity, demonstrating a lack of foresight I wish I could claim was exaggerated, decides that to capture Gill-Man and take him to Sea World is a good idea, and in a shocking twist, turns out to be wrong. Indeed, Revenge of the Creature is the spiritual progenitor of Jaws 3– it, along with the other installments in the saga, was even originally in 3D. Its nuances, however, completely transcend this deceptively simple framework. John Agar stars as an asshole scientist who takes it upon himself to ‘test’ Gill-Man’s ‘responses to stimuli’ by poking him with a bull-prod multiple times. I find this to be fascinating implementation of the scientific method, especially on the part of a man who, given that he’s among a handful of individuals dispatched to investigate a discovery with unprecedented impact on our understanding of natural sciences, must be one of the world’s top professionals. To electrocute the sole member of a previously unknown species, an evolutionary marvel,  in order to assess how quickly it figures out that bull prods hurt seems to be a somewhat ill-conceived plan by my standard, but I only got a three on my bio AP. Regardless of what I may think, Agar is compassionate enough to earn the affection of a fellow scientist, portrayed by Lori Nelson. The pair’s whirlwind romance flourishes quickly through exchanges such as this one, sizzling with passion:

Lori: It’s nice to get away, to lay in the sun.

Agar: Strange talk coming from a dedicated scientist.  (apparently Agar thinks scientists are vampires.) Have you forgotten your mission in life? 

(Lori doesn’t respond. I can’t blame her, as I wouldn’t quite know how to do so either. Agar quickly diverts the subject from his difficulty with logic.)

Agar: I’ll be leaving soon. I’m gonna miss you.

Lori: You know, sometimes I wonder how I ever got started on all of this. Science, fish, ichthyology. Where will it all lead me? Most of the kids I went to undergraduate school with are already married and have children! 

Agar: Is that what you want?

Lori: I don’t know. I- I just don’t know. 

Agar: But surely you-

Lori: What do you want?

Agar: Well, it’s different with me. I’m a man, I don’t have to make a choice. 

Lori: But I do?

Agar: It’s tough on you gals. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, it’s just a fact.

Lori: It doesn’t seem right.

Agar: But you haven’t told me what you want, what you want most out of life. I’d like to know before I leave. It’s become important to me.

Lori: Very? 

 

They almost kiss then, but a dog comes up and ruins it. Outside of the apathy towards institutionalized sexism, I’m actually kind of feeling Agar here, as I’m also with a girl who doesn’t know what she wants and thinks she shouldn’t have to make choices, but even in spite of this shared plight, I’m still feeling a bit more sympathy for Gill-Man. Dude’s been ripped from his home, put in a tank, tortured for a reason he probably can’t deduce any more than I can, and now he has to listen to this retarded approximation of flirting. Needless to say, he busts out, without expending much effort, and makes his way into the nearby ocean. However, rather than ‘go back to the Amazon’ as the brilliant men who have studied him imagine he will, the Creature elects to carry out some eponymous Revenge and go fuck with Agar, coming upon the good doctor as he stands on a pier, engrossed by his indecisive paramour’s inarticulate ruminations.

Lori: You know, scientists are funny. We probe and measure and dissect, invent lights without heat, inspect a caterpillars’ eyebrow. But when it comes to really important things we’re as stupid as the caveman.

(Great set up for a Geico ad, if nothing else.)

Agar: Important?

Lori: Mhm. Live love. Makes the world go round, but what do we know about it? Is it a fact? Is it chemistry, electricity? (Electricity?) Once, when I had a crush on the captain of the football team, I looked it up in the dictionary, and love, according to Mr. Webster, is ‘a feeling of strong personal attachment, induced by sympathetic understanding.’ Have you ever heard such nonsense? 

(Pretty moot question when posed to a guy who said “I’m a man, I don’t have to make decisions.)

Agar, in reply, demonstrates his literacy by quoting from a poem he once read. He recites,

“Love is such a mystery/I cannot find it out/For when I think I’m best resolv’d/I then am most in doubt.”

Research has confirmed that this verse was indeed penned by someone other than Revenge of the Creature’s screenwriter, namely a Sir John Suckling, author of “I Prithee Send Me Back My Heart”, which reads in its entirety: 

“I PRITHEE send me back my heart, 
    Since I cannot have thine : 
For if from yours you will not part, 
    Why then shouldst thou have mine ? 

Yet now I think on’t, let it lie : 
    To find it were in vain, 
For th’ hast a thief in either eye 
    Would steal it back again. 

Why should two hearts in one breast lie, 
    And yet not lodge together ? 
O love, where is thy sympathy, 
    If thus our breasts thou sever ? 

But love is such a mystery, 
    I cannot find it out : 
For when I think I’m best resolv’d, 
    I then am in most doubt. 

Then farewell care, and farewell woe, 
    I will no longer pine : 
For I’ll believe I have her heart 
    As much as she hath mine.”

I guess no one wants to be Mrs. Suckling. At least he has his knighthood, though I imagine the Queen cracked up during the conference thereof. Not a Suckling fan, the Creature grabs Agar’s girlfriend and runs off with her for a while, but is promptly shot rather unceremoniously by a cop, as the devoted and compassionate Ichthyologists look on.

I’ve read that Gill-Man’s aesthetic is based on the notion of the Uncanny Valley, which is essentially the idea that we are most frightened not by that which is totally alien to us, but by that which most completely approximates humanity without fully achieving it. I don’t disagree with this idea- I envision a remake of Revenge of the Creature wherein the title character looks just like a guy with webbed fingers and a skin disease, to accentuate what uncompromising jackasses comprise the human species. In fact, he’ll even talk, saying things like “Hey, could I go home now?” and “That hurts! Cut that shit out!”, but the Agar surrogate will continue to assault him with the bullprod as though his pleas for mercy and understand are unintelligible grunts. I often wonder why I’m not making multi-million dollar Hollywood movies right now. In conclusion, I think I’ve seized upon the reason for which Dracula has appeared in more movies than any single character excepting Sherlock Holmes while Gill-Man didn’t even get to be one of The Munsters. In Dracula, we see what we want to be- rich, sexy, capable of transforming into mist, always one step ahead of the inept losers who attempt to come between us and our multiple brides- while in Gill-Man we see what we are- lonely, ugly, and wet.   

– Gothicus Maximus

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One Response to “Review of a film about which only I care: Revenge of the Creature”

  1. […] gloriously out-of-place, the sensation inspired by a young Clint Eastwood’s small role in Revenge of the Creature, or by David Duchovny’s voiceover work on the video game Thirteen. I project that Repo!: The […]

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