Monday, October 28, 2013

THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US (1956)


The general critical consensus is that these films declined in quality with each sequel, marking THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US the worst of the lot. While neither follow-up goes in the direction I'd have liked, at least the third film has a very strong premise at its core. Dr. William Barton (Jeff Morrow) assembles a group of experts to find and capture the Gill Man, still believed to be loose in the Florida Everglades. This team includes levelheaded Dr. Thomas Morgan (Rex Reason) and hotheaded muscle Jed Grant (Gregg Palmer). All seems fine until the doctor's reason for wanting the creature is revealed to be a half-baked idea about using his ability to breathe underwater for space travel! Suddenly we're in mad scientist territory and I'm thrilled! Of course, along for the hunt and serving as bait is Barton's trouble-making trophy wife Marcia (Leigh Snowden), adding just the right touch of beauty to offset these beasts. They track our web-footed buddy using some mildly ridiculous science fictional sonar equipment and corner him in a small lagoon. They render the Gill Man unconscious but not before the poor fellow gets 3rd degree burns over most of his body. In short order the creature's outer layer of skin and gills are peeled away to reveal a more human-like epidermis; a pair of vestigial lungs have started to operate. Dr. Barton takes this as proof of his crackpot ideas even as Dr. Morgan explains that this is not evolution in action. Unfortunately this debate never goes much further as Barton's baseless, paranoid jealousy of his wife rears up to bring a violent end to the tale. 

A more focused — if stranger — sequel than Revenge, I find Creature Walks Among Us to be a bit better and a lot more interesting. The story goes in a new direction that may seem just as crazed as Barton's theories but it adds some fascinating ideas to the mix. The first two films had already posed the question of just how near to human this beast is on the evolutionary ladder and now the third offers some answers. The heart of each of these movies is the tragedy of the poor Creature's situation and this film brings down the curtain in a very sad final moment, giving us one of the most haunting images from any monster movie. This poignant moment is an almost perfect heartrending ending to this beauty and the beast tale. Drawn to a vision of loveliness he is destroyed by those who don't understand him and in the end he can't even hope to return home.

Technically the film is on par with the first two getting away with using a few alternate shots of the underwater creature from the first movie. Direction is good and sometimes quite clever, the cast is once again strong and the monster suits are just as well done as before. The new look the Gill Man has in the latter half of the film is nicely done giving the impression that his step up from water to land animal is difficult and uncomfortable. His labored breathing reminded me of the first breaths of a newborn shocked into awareness of a cold, unforgiving world. Maybe it's taking the analogy too far, but perhaps the Gill Man trilogy can be seen as the story of the Creature's birth from the womb of the Black Lagoon to his first steps into Man's harsh domain.


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