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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Revenge of the Creature (1955) review



John Agar (Professor Clete Ferguson), Lori Nelson (Helen Dobson), John Bromfield (Joe Hayes), Brett Halsey (Pete)

Directed by Jack Arnold

The Short Version: The great Jack Arnold returned to helm this action oriented 3D sequel to the classic 3D CREATURE from the previous year. REVENGE is a streamlined retread that transplants the main setting to a Florida aquarium where Mr. Gill is put on display and domesticated till he breaks his bonds, and embarks on the obligatory vengeance of the title. There's subpar acting aplenty, and familiar, future monster movie cliches once the Creature escapes, and goes about killing random people. As entertaining as this is, it's a step back in the evolutionary chain of the famous Amazonian Man-fish.

A year after the incident with the Creature From the Black Lagoon, a two-man team of scientists and a local crew make the trek to the Amazon in the hopes of finding a living, breathing Gill Man. The Creature is very much alive, and he's captured and taken back to be put on display in a Florida aquarium. The monster eventually escapes, and goes on a rampage.

CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) was such an ambitious production, and a huge hit, that a sequel was inevitable. Jack Arnold returned to the directors chair, and so did the 3D photography. Pretty much everything that made the first film so memorable encored here, too. The opening Amazon sequence crams nearly the entirety of the first picture into the first 13 minutes before switching to a modern watery setting at Marine Land in Florida. From that point onward, REVENGE OF THE CREATURE re-creates prior highlights while adding some things, and making the monster a lot more aggressive and ferocious than before.

One of the good points about this sequel is that it moves a bit faster; at least in terms of its action. Nearly everything is cranked up a notch. There's more action; the Creature is more energetic, and he causes a lot more damage what with overturning cars, killing dogs, and hurling casual passersby into trees. Ole Fish Face even moves a lot faster. In contrast, he shambled about like the Frankenstein's Monster in the first movie. The famous score is the same, and just as loud and repetitive as before, but it too is sped up a couple beats.

There are a few negatives, but possibly the most hurtful is the aforementioned rehashing of scenes from the original. There's the familiarity of the opening in the Amazon, then the carbon copy of the famous swimming scene -- although the addition of John Agar treading water with Lori Nelson successfully eliminates the sexual subtext of the first film, as I don't think the Creature was into threesomes; but he does pursue her all throughout the movie including a Michael Myers styled sequence where he watches her through her window just prior to killing her dog! Additionally, the method of "dispatch" for the monster is identical (even using the same last shot); this seriously hindering an already weak ending.

The love triangle returns, but in a more playful manner. The combativeness of Carlson and Denning from the previous movie is absent between Agar and Bromfield; they never seem to be at war with one another over Lori Nelson's character. They appear to have a genuine, and professional friendship between them -- what little screen time they share. 

John Agar is a good actor, but isn't quite the macho man that Richard Carlson was; and John Bromfield (who ends up falling into the water with the Creature half a dozen times) is a handsome foil, but not as good an actor as Richard Denning; which brings us to another of the films problems -- the acting. Other than Agar and Lori Nelson, the performances are average at best and substandard at worst. Arnold keeps the pace moving quickly, and one shouldn't expect the upper echelon of thespianism in monster movies, anyways.

John Agar was sort of a rock star in SciFi movies back in the 1950s. He headlined other monster flicks of that time period such as TARANTULA (1955) and THE MOLE PEOPLE (1956). His best performance would easily be as the scientist possessed by the giant, horny BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS (1957). He also littered his resume with some lackluster Larry Buchanan non-events such as CURSE OF THE SWAMP CREATURE (1966) and HELL RAIDERS (1968); as well as the Buchanan-esque NIGHT FRIGHT (1967). He balanced out the dreck with more recognizable features like THE ST. VALENTINE'S DAY MASSACRE (1967) and BIG JAKE (1971). You can see him in the above photo conversing with future Italian western star, American mega-movie star, Clint Eastwood in his first big screen role.

The real star of this show is the Creature, and he gets to do a lot more than he did the first time around. No longer confined to a lagoon in the middle of a jungle, he wrecks havoc at a water park, a restaurant, and a stretch of Florida coastline.

The costume itself is modified from the previous suit. The head seems more bulbous, the gills look a bit like an amphibious mullet, and the eyes bug out profoundly, looking a lot like ping pong balls. Some of the other facial features have been tinkered with, and the Creature looks to have a darker shade than he previously did, too. The differences aren't devastating, but they're noticeable, especially if you watch the films within close proximity of one another.

Like Ben Chapman before him, Tom Hennesey played the Man-fish fiend on land, and Ricou Browning encored for the vigorous underwater shots. Browning would once more turn up for the third, and last CREATURE feature, THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US in 1956. Hennesey was both a stuntman and actor. His sole work as a suit performer is likely his best remembered role. At some point in the production, there were plans to implement a female version of the Creature, but this was discarded. See photo below.

Watch for another future Italian western star, Brett Halsey (among other film and television credits) as one of the Gill Man's victims towards the end. He's holding the flashlight (whose batteries don't die at this most inopportune time), and gets mauled as opposed to his buddy who is hoisted above the monsters head and hurled into a tree!

A little side-note to REVENGE: the crew that worked on the film got together and fashioned a twenty minute spoof entitled RETURN OF THE CREATURE. It was reportedly shown at REVENGE's wrap party, and shelved until it was recently unearthed.

"[RETURN OF THE CREATURE] was made in a few days by guys who never made a movie before or after -- but everyone who's seen it, including Ricou Browning, have told me that it's quite funny. During its 21-minute running time, I laughed out loud several times. Most Hollywood comedies don't make me laugh, but this nutty thing did." -- Tom Weaver in a RobotJapan interview

In a scripting decision that may, or may not have been intentional, the script for JAWS 3D (1983) by Carl Gottlieb and Richard Matheson would seemingly cherry pick plot points from REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (not to mention GORGO [1961]). These lifted moments include the Gill Man being maneuvered through the holding tank to get air flowing through his gills, and suddenly reviving in a close call for John Bromfield; and there's the Sea World type setting where the Creature undertakes a brief portion of his rampage. In another bit of history repeating itself, both films were shot in three dimensions, and both came at the tail end of their respective 3D cycles.

As a sequel, REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (1955) is loud and cranky, and a better B movie than most. It delivers on its premise with a Creature that is far more easily agitated than the shuffling Man-fish of the much better first film. Just like the Marine Land in the picture, folks come to see the monster, and that's exactly what you get.

This review is representative of the Universal Legacy Collection DVD set.

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