Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
"LAST OF THE MONSTER KIDS" - Available Now on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Halloween 2013: September 27

Later today, I'm leaving for Monster-Mania 26 in Baltimore, Maryland. This will be my third year at the convention. I'll be blogging and podcasting about it when I get back on Sunday. I had to rush this entry out as I'll be walking out the door any minute now. Anyway, that's why they're won't be an update tomorrow. If you have a question for Adam West you want me to pass along, it's probably too late now to ask.

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

In many ways, “Creature from the Black Lagoon” is your typical fifties pulp thriller. The story is obviously indebted to “King Kong” and other jungle adventure flicks. We have a bronze-chinned scientist hero, frequently shirtless, showing off his manly chest hair. His beautiful girlfriend is a screaming damsel in distress, kidnapped by the deadly monster. The bad guy, Mark, is a belligerent asshole. The plot isn’t much more then the Creature bumbling into the characters repeatedly. The supporting cast is full of stuffy professionals and unimportant extras, little more then monster fodder. The most obvious schlocky element is the score. Every time we see the Creature, his face or claws, a three-note leitmotif blasts on the soundtrack. The viewer is hit over the head with this, blatant attempts to get teenage girls to leap into their boyfriends’ laps. In 3-D, the Gillman, harpoons, and even a cheesy rubber bat, fly towards the audience.

Yet, in many other ways, “Creature from the Black Lagoon” subverts the expectations of a fifties B-movie. I criticize Mark, the obnoxious jerk, as a shallow character. At the same time, a movie of the period making a big game hunter the villain is somewhat progressive. The hero believes man should coexist peacefully with nature. Only at the end, when face-to-face with the aggressive monster, does he fight back. When the Gillman is fatally wounded, Reed steps down, allowing the monster to die with dignity. The ecological themes were revolutionary for the time. They float below the surface, in scenes like the Gillman looking up at a carelessly discarded cigarette. Even the romantic triangle is more subtle. Julie Adams isn’t a simple object of desire for Reed and Mark. She has thoughts and opinions, a knowledgeable scientist equal to her boyfriend.

I can go on about the themes but the real reason I love the movie is because I love the Creature. He’s the most sympathetic of the Classic Monsters, more so then even Frankenstein. The Gillman is clearly reactive, his home invaded by strangers who promptly shoot him with harpoons. If you go deeper, you realize the fossilized hand discovered at the beginning is the remains of the Gillman’s previous lover. And that’s what it’s all about. The Creature wants to be loved. The overzealous score wants the audience to be frightened by the Creature swimming along side Julie Adams. However, it’s clearly poetic. The two are dancing, a romantic courtship. The Gillman doesn’t reach for her feet because he wants to attack. He’s curious, smitten, wanting to touch this beautiful angel floating through his world. It’s a shame that Kay reacts only with fear, Adams’ lungs getting a workout. That remake Universal keeps threatening to make would, ideally, play up the romantic angle, perhaps making Kay as intrigued by the Gillman as he is by her.

Visually, the Gillman is easily the best looking monster of the ‘50s rubber suit period. The design is logical, cohesive. Unlike “It Conquered the World” or “It! The Terror from Beyond Space,” the Creature looks like something that could actually exist. The air bladder in the mask, showing the monster gasping for breath on land, is another impressive special effect. Ricou Browning’s underwater performance imbues simple foot paddles with emotion and thought. The closing moments of the Creature swimming away, wounded, dying, are actually heartbreaking.

But this is a monster movie. “Creature from the Black Lagoon” eliminates many extras, the Gillman tearing through the cast like a wet, scaly Jason Voorhees. The opening kill, two ethnic diggers tossed through a tent, is as visceral as ‘50s creature features got. The underwater tussle between Gill and Mark is similarly intense. The exploitation comes through in other ways too. Of course, Julie Adams looks absolutely beautiful and her tight, white swimsuit probably ushered a generation into manhood. The camera worships her, ogling her as she swims and on the land. No wonder the Gillman falls in love with her. Who wouldn’t?

Despite his newcomer status, “Creature from the Black Lagoon” was immediately accepted into the pantheon of Classic Universal Monsters. He filled a void in the monster-verse, putting a name to generations of fish-men and lake monsters. Aside from maybe Lovecraft’s Deep Ones, the Gillman had no literary ancestors. He is strictly a son of the silver screen. It’s an iconic monster, an iconic film, and one of my all-time favorites. [9/10]

Cry Baby Lane (2000)

“Cry Baby Lane” originally aired on Nickelodeon in 2000. Odds are the movie would have been forgotten by all but the most dedicated nineties nostalgist if something funny hadn’t happened. It was never aired again. Rumor has it, the film was pulled from rotation because parents complained it was “too scary.” “Cry Baby Lane” became sought-after by Nick devotees. The widely unseen film even spawned a (shitty) creepypasta. Finally, in 2011, a copy emerged and got plastered all over the internet, prompting Nickelodeon to reair it for the first time in ten years. Because I work at my own pace, I’m just now getting around to watching it.

Too scary? Not quite. As far as content goes, “Cry Baby Lane” is on par with an episode of “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” Like that fondly remembered show, “Cry Baby Lane” has an impressively creepy opening. Frank Langella recalls an urban legend about conjoined brothers kept in captivity by their father. As with most fictional twins, one is good and other is evil. When the boys die, the father separates the children, burying the good child in the public cemetery and the evil one in an isolated grave along the titular road. The story, darkly intoned, is played over images of black-and-white graveyards, abandoned homes, torn up stuffed animals, and bloody saws. This is doubtlessly the spookiest thing about “Cry Baby Lane.”

The rest plays out more typically. After hearing about the legend from the friendly mortician, ten-year old Andrew and his older, wrestling-obsessed, borderline abusive brother decide to perform a prank séance for the girls they like. A fake séance works as well as a real one, resurrecting the spirit of the evil twin. The ghost wreaks havoc on the small town, possessing most of the residents. This is a kid’s movie so the evil manifest as petty prankery. Graffiti and mailbox tag are annoying but not exactly evil. The most malevolent actions are a burning boat and potentially deadly, if non-lethal, encounters with a bull and a harvester. Also, because this is a kid’s movie, the story is primarily concerned with Andrew proving his courage to his asshole brother.

The blatant attempts at horror fall flat. An encounter with a possessed cop doesn’t pay off. The final, underground confrontation with the evil twin is hopelessly lame. “Cry Baby Lane” is probably more valuable as comedy. The apathetic father provides a few laughs, as does the overprotective mom and lazy gravedigger. The older brother’s attempt to retell the legend while the girls interrupt him got a chuckle out of me. Other comic relief is less amusing, like the belligerent “Lord of the Rings”-obsessed kid or a giant girl-scout. The movie doesn’t address a young boy spending so much time with a strange old man, even when the kid ends up in his underwear. I guess that’s to be expected. Overall, the cult of “Cry Baby Lane” is mostly undeserved, even if that opening is still aces. [5.5/10]

1 comment: