And so we come to the end, and sadly a pretty poor end too!
Dr. William Barton organizes an expedition to the Florida Everglades with the scientists Dr. Thomas Morgan, Dr. Borg and Dr. Johnson to capture the Gill Man, who has been spotted there since he was supposedly gunned down by police on the Florida coast but actually survived. Barton’s wife Marcia is also along for the trip along with three other scientists. Marcia starts to be harassed by Jed Grant, while Barton is turning to alcohol in an attempt to cope with the fact that his wife, who is far younger than he, is attractive to other men. They chase and capture the Gill Man though he is totally burnt in the struggle. Rushing him to a hospital, it is discovered that not only has he survived what would seem like certain death, but has turned into an air breather through hidden lungs and maybe even a totally different and more human-like creature…..
For some reason I had had vague memories of The Creature Walks Among Us being one of those many films I snuck downstairs to see on late night TV after my parents had gone to bed, and more than that the film actually being good, but I now think I was mistaken at least on the second point. For this is a very dull, pedestrian sequel where they seem to have dreamt up an interesting, if crackpot, idea and then badly stretched it into a full length film without adding much else. Of course a slow pace can be a good thing if there’s some mounting tension, nail-biting suspense or good acting, but this film has hardly any of either, and I can imagine audiences of the time who had thrilled to the first two films being bored out of their minds. It’s only really interesting thematically and because it’s such a bleak, almost depressing affair. Very occasionally, it shows signs of being a movie that is at least compelling, if not necessarily enjoyable. But only very occasionally.
Though less information exists about this instalment than the other two, the feeling I get from The Creature Walks Among Us is that they felt that the Gill Man was limited in terms of what they could do with him, and decided to finish the series in a way that would make it very hard for it to be continued. Arthur Ross, who co-wrote Creature From The Black Lagoon returned to write this one, but Jack Arnold chose not to return after directing the first two films [I don’t blame him], feeling he had done enough with the Gill Man, so John Sherwood, an assistant director on a large number of films but an actual director of only two other features, was enlisted to direct. For the makeup that the Gill Man would sport in the second half of the film, Bud Westmore went back to the original, more human-like makeup what was originally intended for the Gill Man when they were making the first film, and used it with only minor alterations. Much of the film was shot in the same house what had just been used in This Island Earth and it even had its two male stars. By 1956 the 3D craze had passed [I wish it would now: can you tell I don’t like 3D?], so Creature was shot in 2D. With its cool poster implying that the Gill Man terrorised San Francisco replete with the words a city screams in terror and all-new underwater thrills, the film still attracted audiences though they must have felt deceived.
As with the previous entry, we open with a conversation between two scientists over ethics, and it’s clearly a hallmark of this trilogy, except that this particular movie than proceeds over the course of its duration to give us more and more of the same, and you just want to yell at the screen; “yes guys, we get the point”! We are in the Florida Everglades, though it seems like we are in the same locale as before, and once again we witness attempts to capture the Gill Man. Unfortunately, even though this takes up the first half of the film, the running time is mostly taken up with chat or endless swimming footage. A sequence where three of the team are swimming underwater and the Gill Man pursues, than overtakes, them, and it goes on forever without much really happening. Worse than that, all the shots of the Gill Man swimming are from the previous two pictures. After what seems like an eternity with hardly any tension building, there’s finally a bit of Gill Man action, though it’s pretty brief, and a bit where he picks up a boat is laughably staged, replete with stunt people who barely react to what is going on. After this we switch to a hospital and then to San Francisco, and the film starts some plotting which is at least admirable for its audacity.
Barton believes that organisms are capable of evolution on the individual scale, and if this sounds crazy, there was a 19th-century biologist called Jean Baptiste Lamarck who believed the same thing and whose theories were popular for a while until supplanted by Charles Darwin’s more believable ones. The Gill Man ends up confirming this idea when not only do auxiliary lungs begin to do the job that his burnt-off gills once did, but a second skin reveals itself after the other one has been consumed by the fire. The first close-up of his face is quite eerie and the design has a certain effectiveness, but this creature has a totally different build to his previous incarnation, he’s far bulkier and has very short arms. Worse than that, very little is done with him. He spends most of the time either strapped to a bed or trapped in a cage until, with twenty minutes of the film to go, he escapes, kills a lion [I think], trashes a room, saves Marcia from probable rape and then seemingly goes to kill himself. He clearly falls for the heroine [well, she’s not really a heroine] but doesn’t even attempt to carry her off. Just think of the potential!
Creature focuses more on its dislikeable human characters and in particular a strange love ‘square’ rather than a triangle [think about it, there’s three guys after Marcia]. Perhaps it does this to make its monster more sympathetic, but it doesn’t work. This is because the creature isn’t given enough scenes within which to be sympathetic besides gaze forlornly at the water into which he wants to go but cannot without drowning, though you can now see the eyes of the guy playing him, Don Megowan, and they have a distinct sadness which works for the character. Some of the many chats between the humans reveal some attempt at strong characterisation, particularly Barton, whose not-entirely-unwarranted jealousy of his wife gives Jeff Morrow the chance to shine in a couple of scenes, but the actor botches it because he is seemingly capable of only two pained expressions. He’s better than Leigh Snowdon, who is embarrassingly bad in a complex role that encompasses slut and saint and which a decent actress could really have made something of. Still, it’s intriguing that one is not sure if she is supposed to be sympathetic or not, and only Thomas Morgan, played with typically easy-going charm by Rex Reason, is the sole major human character that we like.
John Sherwood doesn’t seem bothered about creating any fear or excitement but cinematographer Maury Gertzman does give us some terrific shots, especially in the first half where he paints some really compelling nocturnal pictures with his camera of the undergrowth, beautifully contrasting light with dark. The music score, again credited solely to Joseph Gershensen as ‘musical supervisor’ but a joint effort between Irving Gertz, Heinz Roemheld and Henry Mancini, is quite good. It seems like the Roemheld stuff was taken from older films and Gertz, who incorporated the Gill Man theme, and Mancini wrote new music, but it works reasonably well. There’s a very pleasant, lilting theme for Marcia which is unmistakeably Mancini in the way it looks forward to the famous themes he would go on to write. Overall though this is a poor effort which at times just seems like they didn’t really care. And yet, I was rather moved by the final shot of the creature, walking into a sea which he knows he will drown in. It’s a curious but effectively low-key end to the fairly short career of a monster which is still one of Universal’s most iconic.
I hope that those of you who have been sticking with this column have enjoyed my journey into Universal horror. I am aware that I have not covered many films that, even if not considered part of the ‘classic’ Universal horror cycle, are certainly Universal horror films such as Black Friday and their two versions of The Phantom Of The Opera. I will review those intermittently at a later date. For now though, I am going to take a break, because in a few months time I will be beginning an exploration of…….yes…….you’ve probably guessed…….
HAMMER, THE STUDIO THAT DRIPPED BLOOD!