Return of the Gill-Man

The Creature may finally be taking another swim in the Black Lagoon. First seen in Universal’s 1954 3-D classic,  THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, the Gill-Man appeared in two sequels, RETURN OF THE CREATURE (1955) and THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US (1956) before disappearing from the screen for over five decades. The remake was in development, with a script by Gary Ross, when the writers’ strike put it on hold. Now that the strike is over, director Breck Eisner hopes to put finishing touches on the script and get the movie before the camera as soon as he finishes another remake, of George Romero’s 1973 film THE CRAZIES.

Julia Adams and Ben Chapman in CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON.

Talk of a new CREATURE film first surfaced in 1983, when Hollywood – much as it had done twenty years earlier – went through a brief 3-D craze (COMIN’ AT YA, JAWS 3-D, AMITYVILLE 3-D, SPACE HUNTER, METAL STORM). At the time, there was talk of Jack Arnold (who helmed the original) returning to the director’s chair. Sadly, that never came to pass, and Arnold died in 1992.

In the ’90s, there was talk of John Carpenter helming a remake. While working on MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN (1992), Carpenter was looking forward to putting the Creature back in the Black Lagoon. He was talking to Rick Baker about designing a new Gill-Man I asked him about what I saw as the major stumbling block for any remake: The original is protected by its own naivete from having to consider the implications of the Creature’s sexual interest in Kay (played by Julia Adams). As Denis Gifford drolly noted in his wonderful boo, A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, the makeup designers gave the Creature “a fierce fish-face, fins and flippers, but no visible reason for abducting swimsuited Julia Adams.”

In the post-HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP era, recreating that naivete is impossible, and exploring the issue is exploitative and/or ridiculous. When I asked Carpenter about this, he explained what his approach would be:

“The original movie’s pretty dated now, but I stll love it. One of the things I’m going to do is make the Creature more human. He thinks. The conflict is not necessarily having him kidnap the girl, as in the original; it’s the creation scientists who want to get rid of him because he’s proof of evolution. It’s a slightly different story, updated. It wouldn’t be a cheap film, but it wouldn’t be this size [i.e., MEMOIRS].”

Carpenter’s CREATURE never evolved past the development stage; instead, he wound up doing a new version of VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1995) for Universal Pictures. Eager to exploit their classic movie monster, the studio went on to do a big-budget version of THE MUMMY (1999) and the overblown monster mashup VAN HELSING (2004) before returning their attention to the Gill-Man.

The concern among fans is whether the new CREATURE will stay true to its horror roots, or will it morph into an action-adventure movie in order to attrack a wider audience? Shock Till You Drop caught up with director Breck Eisner while he was promoting his episode of the upcoming NBC series FEAR ITSELF. Eisner promises that his version will offer updated action and thrills but that it will remain faithful to the tone of the original.

The new Creature has been designed by Mark McCreery (JURASSIC PARK) and will be realized with computer-generated and practical effects by Spectral Motion. It sounds as if, like Carpenter before him, Eisner is wrestling with the problem of bringing the Creature up-to-date for modern audiences, while avoiding the camp potential in having a slimy monster lusting after a beautiful, bikini-clad woman:

“For me tone is the most interesting thing a filmmaker has and so the Creature is a creature, it’s not a monster. That’s my number one thing about the movie. We’re not going to turn him into a monster. He’s still going to be empathetic, he’s still going to be deadly, he’s still going to have a misguided means of expressing his interests in a woman, but it’s uniquely the Creature. It’s empathy for a deadly creature and tone plays a big part of that.” Still, Eisner knows full well Universal is aiming for summer movie fare so, “it will deliver of action and excitement, but I want it to be scary. The Creature was scary when it first came out in ‘54 – it’s not scary today – but that’s what updating means to me, updating the tone of the original.”

About the Author

Steve Biodrowski

Cinefantastique's Los Angeles Correspondent from 1987 to 1993 and West Coast Editor from 1993 to 1999. Currently the webmaster of Cinefantastique Online, I also run a website called Hollywood Gothique that covers Halloween Horror and Sci-Fi Cinema Events in the Los Angeles area.

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