Creature From The Black Lagoon

Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Richard Carlson, Julie Adams, Richard Denning, Antonio Moreno
Extras: Commentary Track, Documentary, Photo Gallery, Trailer, Cast & Crew Biogrpahies, Production Notes

Jack Arnold is the undisputed king of 50s science fiction movies with his imaginative stories and the great execution of his films. Movies like "It Came From Outer Space", "Tarantula", or "The Incredible Shrinking Man" have not only influenced a whole generation of filmmakers, but also generations of viewers to this date. Interestingly not one of his over 50 movies and television shows has so far made an appearance on DVD – until now that is. Universal Home Video is now presenting "Creature From The Black Lagoon" as part of their "Classic Monster Collection." The film marks the bridge between the horror era of the 30s and 40s and the beginning of the atomic age, which produced many of the most-beloved science fiction classics.

During an excavation in the Amazon, scientists find the fossilized claw of a creature that seems to have been walking upright, yet at the same time was evidently amphibian. Intrigued, a small expedition is initiated to the Black Lagoon where the scientists hope to find more of the fossil’s remains. As soon as they enter the murky waters of the lagoon it becomes clear however that at least one specimen of the creature seems to be alive still. Trying to find the "living missing link" the scientists carefully explore the waters of the lagoon without success. Only when Kay, the scientists’ beautiful assistant enters the water for a swim, the creature is lured out of its hiding and attracted by the woman. Following her every move from under the water, the creature becomes enamored with the young woman and tries to take her with him.
Soon the scientists exchange their research ideals for lethal harpoons and begin a relentless hunt for the creature. But it seems impossible to defeat the creature on its own home turf.

Beautifully photographed and with an inventive story line for the time, "Creature From The Black Lagoon" manages to make the creature sympathetic despite its dangerousness and monstrous exteriors. The film makes a statement about the fact that humans are recklessly intruding into a world they don’t belong using their supremacy as an excuse to hunt and kill everything in their path. "Creature From The Black Lagoon" is a social commentary as much as it is an action filled horror film – but then again most classic horror films are.

Featuring a great cast and a truly memorable creature, the film impresses with its visual eloquence and the poignant portrayal of its characters. The under water scenes are breath-taking and gripping, giving viewers the feeling to really dive into another world. Look out for the almost ballet-like interaction of the creature with Kay, mirroring her movements under water in a series of beautifully composed shots. Although the creature itself is obviously a man in a rubber suit, the sleek body language and movements of actor Ricou Browning give it character and a distinctive personality. It has ultimately ensured the creature’s longevity and a secure place in the Olympus of classic horror monsters.

Presented in its original 1.33:1 <$PS,full frame> aspect ratio, "Creature From The Black Lagoon" makes a great impression on this DVD from Universal Home Video. Although the source material shows some signs of age and wear, blemishes are generally negligible and mostly limited to slight registration problems causing the image to jitter and the occasional scratch mark. These signs of wear vary noticeably between reels, some of them being almost devoid of marks, while others show them a little more. Real damage is not evident in the print, which gives you the chance to see the movie in the great presentation.

Shot in black and white, "Creature From The Black Lagoon" carefully uses light and shadow, almost like German expressionist movies at times, to create an atmosphere of eerie unease. At the same time, the film is oftentimes drenched with sunlight to create a stark contrast to the murkiness of the waters below where the supposed danger lurks. The DVD perfectly restores this visual presentation of the movie with deep blacks and good highlights. The contrast of the film is perfectly reproduced bringing back the entire beauty of Jack Arnold’s visual intentions. Whether it is the bright daylight scenes on the boat or the backlit silhouettes under water, the DVD always manages to create an image that is absolutely pleasing. Some slight grain is evident in the material, no doubt a result of the film’s considerable age, but it never becomes distracting and actually adds to the overall charm of the film. The compression is very good and no signs of <$pixelation,pixelation> or other compression artifacts are evident in the presentation.

The DVD contains a good mono audio track that is also free of notable defects. The background noise and hiss have been carefully eliminated from the audio track, while leaving all the high ends nicely intact. As a result, dialogues are nice and crisp, easily understandable, and without sibilance or distortion. The music is also nicely presented in the music with the menacing shrill theme of the creature nicely piercing through the rest of the music.

The DVD also contains a <$commentary,commentary track> by film historian Tom Weaver who has previously appeared as the commentator on "The Wolf Man." Once again, Weaver is very well prepared and extremely knowledgeable about the film. Unlike many of the other classics, this film has the benefit that a number of cast and crew members form this production are still alive, which makes unearthing and verifying information much easier. Weaver’s insightful commentary offers new perspectives on the movie at times, while also out lining facts about the production. At times interpreting scenes for the viewer, at others recalling quotes from the filmmakers and the cast, the commentary manages to create a very good image of the film’s production and the vision Jack Arnold brought to it.

What would fans of classic horror do without David J. Skal? The question becomes even more imminent while watching the bonus material found on this release of "Creature From The Black Lagoon." Especially the documentary "Back To The Black Lagoon" is an exciting journey back in time to the production of the movie. Hosted by David J. Skal this documentary covers an immense amount of material. Skal has even been able to bring original cast members in to participate in the documentary. As a result it is filled with great anecdotes by leading actress Julie Adams, and the two creature actors Ricou Browning, who played the creature in all the underwater sequences, and Ben Chapman, who played the walking creature. But also crew members share their memories as well as historians who have been following the film for the past 50 years. I found especially Paul Jensen’s remarks about the environmental sub-current that can be found in the film very intriguing. But that’s not where it stops. The documentary also covers the sequels to the original movie in quite some length, creating an overall and rather complete look at the "Creature from the Black Lagoon."

A beautiful gallery of art is also included on the disc. Starting out with a variety of colorful poster art from the movie followed by colorized lobby cards, foreign poster art, publicity stills and eventually production photographs, once again Skal has managed to create a nicely flowing 10-minute presentation of images surrounding the film that is fascinating. The release also contains general production notes, cast and crew biographies and the movie’s original trailer.

"Creature from the Black Lagoon" is a fascinating movies and one of the few early horror creatures that became truly iconic over the years, just as Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy and the Wolf Man have. This DVD contains a beautiful presentation of the movie that makes watching it even more enjoyable. Too bad that the polarizing 3D presentation the film had during its initial theatrical run cannot be reproduced on DVD or any other home video format for that matter. It must have been quite an experience to see the creature in 3D! Once again it shows that this DVD has been created by people who have a lot of appreciation for the movie and especially David J. Skal’s documentary is a highlight of the disc. Time to wet your gills, my fellow horror friends. Make sure to secure your copy before the creature from the Black Lagoon appears and snatches it away from you!