My current book project has me watching The Creature of the Black Lagoon again. One of the Universal monsters—indeed, arguably the last of them—the Gill-man fascinated me as a child. There was a strange contradiction here. The creature had evolved in the Devonian Era and remained unchanged into the 1950s. But the movie opens with a voiceover of Genesis 1.1. There’s a mixed message here, appropriate for scriptural monsters. Watching the film again brought back many of the innocent perceptions of youth, as well as the trajectory of my own life. I don’t often get to the theater to see horror movies anymore, but at the same time the Universal monsters aren’t quite the same thing as modern horror. As a genre it had to evolve.
Strangely, as a fundamentalist child, the evolution aspect didn’t bother me. I was after the monster, you see. The backstory was less important. Growing up, at least in my experience, means that the backstory becomes more essential. It has to hold together. There are, of course, inaccuracies in the story—many of them, in fact. Still, within the first three minutes Genesis and evolution are thrown together in a happy harmony that belied what I was being taught at church. The Gill-man is a monster mainly for being a creature out of time. When modern humans invade his lair, he defends his territory. The story might’ve ended there, had he not spied Kay. He doesn’t so much want to kill her as get to know her better. For a movie posthumously rated G, it has a body count. Five men die but the Gill-man apparently just wants to evolve.
There’s been a recent resurgence of interest in Creature from the Black Lagoon with both the publication of The Lady from the Black Lagoon and the death of Julie Adams this year. The Gill-man seldom shows up in the same billing with Dracula or Frankenstein’s monster, or the Wolf-man. He’s a bit more inaccessible in his watery abode. Both cold and hot-blooded, he represents how science and Scripture might get along, at least on the silver screen. The film holds up remarkably well, if a modern viewer can handle the pacing. Underwater filming was pretty new back in the day, and watching humans swim in many ways suggests the truth of evolution in its own right. These aren’t the childhood observations of the movie, but rather the reflections of a guy wondering if there might not be some hidden wisdom in the monsters of yesteryear.