Oct 26, 2007

Universal Monsters Part Last

In the early 50's, ticket sales were down in theaters and studios were looking for gimmicks. Cinerama movies opened in NY and 20th Century Fox was playing with Cinemascope. A 3-D process was shopped around to the studios but no one was interested except producer Arch Obeler. He released his 3-D Bwana Devil in March 1953 and the fad swept the country. Studios took a second look and put their own 3-D pics into production. Universals first choice was Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954).

Of Universal's monster stable, I always liked the Creature the best and I don't really know why. I didn't see the movie when I was a kid. (I was a big wuss and even the barely spooky movies scared the crap out of me) and I don't remember the first time I saw it on TV. It seems to be a design thing. The creature just looks ... cool. Part fish, sort of froggie with an eye for the ladies. Not your typical leading man but he has his own kind of manimal magnetism.

Although uncredited at the movie's release, there were actually two different guys in the creature suit. Six foot five Ben Chapman played the creature in all his above water lumbering while Ben's underwater double was Ricoh Browning, a five foot ten swimmer from Florida. The foam & latex monster suits were custom cast to fit each of the two men and since they weren't in scenes together, the height difference wasn't noticeable. Neither suit was equipped with an air tank so some scenes required serious breath control.

The Creature spawned 2 sequels; Revenge of the Creature (1955) & The Creature Walks Among Us (1956). In the third film, doctors operate on the Gillman, in an attempt to make him more human. They also put him in pants and a goofy padded jacket which killed the series and even though there have been 3 or 4 serious attempts to bring him back, the creature has been floating in cinematic limbo for 5 decades.

For Universal, ol' gill face is end of the line. He is the last of Universal's classic monsters and you would think the story ends here but it doesn't. America's fascination with old black & white monster movies actually increases in the 60's. Dracula and friends had one last bash before they crawled back to the crypt and what a long strange crawl it was.

NEXT: Monster kids of the 50's & 60's owe their souls to an illustrator for the New Yorker, a beautiful Finnish model, the world's first sci-fi geek and that blue glowing cyclops with rabbit ears.

No comments: