Revenge of the Creature (1955) *1/2
Director: Jack Arnold
Runtime: 1h 22m
The similarities between the Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and King Kong (1933) go deeper than I first expected. Not only does the creature have an improbable (and quite frankly absurd) romantic attachment to a human woman, but in the sequel we see him snatched away from his home in the Amazon, and brought to civilization where he’s exhibited for profit, by human protagonists of questionable morality. Moreover, by midway through Revenge of the Creature, the audience will be so solidly on the creature’s side as to be genuinely pulling for him to best his land-bound rivals. Unfortunately, the similarities don’t stop there. The Creature’s first sequel is also a rushed hack-job that came out barely a year after the original was released. To be fair, Revenge of the Creature is still better than Son of Kong (1933), but it still falls far short of it’s illustrious precursor.
David Reed and Mark William’s expedition to capture the creature may have failed, but the story of a humanoid fish has managed to capture the imagination of some more adventurous scientists and feckless corporate profiteers. Ocean Harbor, an ersatz Sea World, figures that a live gill-man exhibit will really pack in the tourists, in addition to offering some possibilities for unprecedented biological research. A second expedition is promptly dispatched, under the leadership of Joe Hayes, once again employing the riverboat of captain Lucas. This expedition is considerably better equipped for the task at hand than their predecessors, which is only natural given the fact that Reed and Miller thought they were going to be digging for bones, not capturing an freakishly strong and impossibly durable fish-man. Hayes opts to blow the gill-man out of the water using dynamite (please don’t try this at home kids). The blast is enough to knock the gill-man into a coma, allowing Hayes and his crew the chance to transport him to Florida. One can only hope that real scientists use a bit more discretion when capturing living specimen of endangered animals.
Ocean Harbor calls Professor Clete Ferguson away from his busy work researching chimpanzees and mice, to give him first crack at examining the gill-man. Once there he immediately begins a tiresome romantic subplot, falling for a master’s student named Helen Dobson. Hayes, being younger and more strapping than the old academic, feels obligated to turn Ferguson’s flirtation into a love triangle. Who will Helen choose? Who cares? Besides, the more compelling love story is the creature’s unrequited lust for Helen (love quadrangle?). This, like everything in Revenge of the Creature, is handled much more clumsily than the same monster-human romantic fixation was in the predecessor. Still, even though Revenge of the Creature is both a less competently made film and less visually interesting film than it’s predecessor, the shots of the creature gazing longing at Helen though the portholes of it’s tank are nonetheless striking.
Unfortunately, these sequences are the exception. On the whole though, this film is downright ugly when compared with Creature of the Black Lagoon (1954). It doesn’t help that the lush forests of the Amazon River (really somewhere in Florida, but it was very convincing) have been replaced for the most part with the concrete tanks of Ocean Harbor. The underwater photography, which I praised in my review of the original, has also become noticeably uglier. Gone are the crisp shots of the inky abyss, instead we have murky water; seriously, the keepers at Ocean Harbor should clean their tanks more often, they’re literally dirtier than the Amazon River!
Once they have laid the groundwork for their romantic entanglements, Ferguson, Hayes and Helen begin to research the creature in earnest. However, their research takes a rather more sadistic turn than I expected. The poor creature is electrocuted, starved, and drugged pretty much nonstop for the next thirty minutes of the film. To make sure the creature can’t get loose or harm one of it’s tormentors, the researchers chain him to the bottom of the pool. The parade of indignities heaped on the creature, combined with the generally boorish and disinterested performance of the main characters, will shift almost all audience sympathies over to the monster. Personally, I couldn’t wait for the creature to break free of his restraints and start enacting his terrible vengeance on the humans who wronged him. Only problem, is the vengeance is way too short (barely a third of the film’s runtime) and far too mild mannered to be genuinely cathartic. Oh well, at least he shreds one of the boring male protagonists before he’s eventually driven off.
The creature himself is looking rather shabby compared to his previous iteration. The body of the monster suit is still impressive (and has been modified to hide an air tank making for longer more in-depth underwater sequences) though a touch shabbier than the original costume, but the monster’s new face is abhorrent. The original creature mask looked mysterious, dangerous, but nonetheless contained a glimmer of sympathetic humanity in its dark eyes. This version adds in fake eyes that make the monster look perpetually surprised. Underwater it’s at least passable thanks to the low visibility, but as soon as the creature surfaces it becomes very difficult not to laugh at the goofy expression. Director Jack Arnold would have been well served by taking a page out of The Monster of Piedra Blances (1959)’s playbook and keeping the creature’s face off-camera as much as possible.
So the monster suit is lousy, the acting subpar, and the visuals marked worse than it’s predecessor. Never mind all that though, you know what Revenge of the Creature has in spades? Trained animals. Seriously, most of this film’s budget must have been blown on dolphin and chimpanzee rentals. What’s more, none of the animals have any relevance whatsoever to the plot. Still though, as far as filler goes I’d much rather watch an adorable monkey, or a dolphin preforming tricks, or hell even a plain old golden retriever than the usual shots of nothing much happening in boring locations. That is not to say that Revenge of the Creature doesn’t have its fair share of that kind of filler too, just that it could have been a whole lot worse. Given the phoned-in nature of the human actors performance (to say nothing of their director) the animals only come out looking stronger and more charismatic than ever. Other than the animals the film’s only highlight is a brief, and remarkably goofy, cameo by an unbelievably young Clint Eastwood.
On it’s own merits, the Revenge of the Creature would still be a bad film, though it becomes really intolerable only when compared to its more luminous predecessor. In some ways it is a surprise that Revenge of the Creature falls so far short of Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). Sure, it was fairly rushed but it’s obvious that Universal was throwing a decent amount of money at the project, at least a comparable sum as the first movie. Director Jack Arnold was also kept onboard, and one would think that having produced one classic gill-man movie Arnold might be able to deliver at least a watchable second. Unfortunately, it seems like Arnold is a filmmaker who needed his heart to be in a project if he was going to have any chance of turning in a watchable film. I suspect that along with Tarantula (1955), Arnold’s heart simply wasn’t in this project. Instead he was just fulfilling contractual obligations to Universal. It’s a pity; in more interested hands the story of a monster reeking it’s terrible vengeance on the modern society that had locked it up and tortured it could have been fascinating.