Directed by: John Sherwood
Written by: Arthur A. Ross
Starring: Jeff Morrow, Rex Reason, Leigh Snowden, and Gregg Palmer
Reviewed by: Wes R.
“We are changing a sea creature into a land creature!”
Though he re-energized Universal during a period when they were at their weakest in the sci-fi/horror genre, Gill Man paved the way for a whole new generation of monster movies. Creature from the Black Lagoon and Revenge of the Creature were both filmed in 3-D, and became instant blockbusters. Could a 3-D-less follow-up continue the streak? Once more, could Universal take the series in a drastic direction as to suggest changing the Gill Man’s very nature and appearance? In TV series’, this type of move is usually called “jumping the shark”. Would this be the entry that did just that? We do know it was the last, but that could’ve been for any number of reasons… or could it?
Yet another expedition is under way to recover the Gill Man, this time in the Florida Everglades after his escape from Ocean Harbor in the previous film. The seemingly delusional Dr. Barton wishes to somehow speed up the Gill Man’s evolution and make him more human. During the expedition, Gill Man is burned horribly and they finally capture him. Dr. Barton takes it upon himself to realize his kooky theories about making the creature more human. Yes folks, Gill Man is treated to an Extreme Makeover, via plastic surgery. His lungs are made to breathe air instead of water. Soon, his trademark fish eyes mutate somehow into human eyes as a result of the lung surgery. Of course, if the creature returns to water, he’ll drown with his newfound lungs. He is then caged in an electrified fence in California while further studies on his physical state and behavior are conducted. Soon, Dr. Barton goes insane with jealousy, thinking his wife is going to sleep with every man on the planet. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Gill Man movie if he didn’t try to escape, and escape he does.
This film is mostly a mixed bag. I didn’t really care much for the whole “trying to make Gill Man a human” plot at all, and I found myself missing his original look and actions during the latter part of the movie. The plot was just a little too loony, even fore 50s sci-fi/horror flicks. Thankfully, it only lasts a little over 77 minutes and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Some criticize the second film for being a rehashing of the first film, but I disagree. It did follow in the first film’s footsteps and gave us a lot of similar thrills, but it also gave us many more sequences of the Gill Man, and a much bigger “sandbox” for him to play in, so to speak. It did what every sequel should do. It upped the ante and doubled the scale of the previous film. This film doesn’t want to up the ante. It wants to completely change what a Creature movie is. It offers many new ideas, but none of them are really very good and none of them are utilized to their fullest. Too much “man”, not enough “gill”.
There are good moments throughout, however. I did like the small motorboat through the Everglades sequence around halfway through the movie. It was pretty atmospheric and gave a good spooky “something could jump out and get them at any moment” vibe. Once the Gill Man attacks the boat, it makes for a pretty harrowing sequence. I also liked the creepy stare through human eyes that Gill Man gives one of the doctors after his initial awakening after surgery. You knew right then and there that the film was going to be quite different from this point on. The ending is also pretty fun, once the Gill Man escapes and tries to right a few wrongs. Despite his more gentle, human nature, he’s probably stronger than he’s ever been (crumpling fences and brick columns as if he were Godzilla.
Ricou Browning returns as the Gill Man in the water, but this time yet another actor (Don Megowan) portrays him on land. The actors do their parts well, but none of them are very interesting. The locations this time around are pretty drab. We get a good look at the Everglades early on, but after that, we’re stuck in surgery rooms, aboard a boat, and in a California mansion. None of which make for the most interesting of places for Gill Man to roam around in. Of course, this isn’t your usual Gill Man film. Because of his newfound humanity, it’s not to be expected that he’ll be walking around, slashing faces, breaking necks or throwing people everywhere. We have to get used to him being a tamer beast. It’s an odd thing to ask of the audience that has grown to like and cheer for this monster creation, and I don’t think it entirely works. I do still feel sympathy for Gill Man, though, no matter how his appearance has changed.
Director Jack Arnold is sorely missed, but John Sherwood does okay, given the material. One of the screenwriters of the original (Arthur A. Ross) returned to pen the script, but it’s still a bit of a mess. The main problem is that its structure is awkward. With such a short running time, Gill Man doesn’t even get converted to a man until over halfway throught the movie. I think a lot of the ideas the film presents us with would’ve worked out better had they had more time to realize them. We don’t really get to experience a whole lot of Gill Man “walking among us”, really. I did appreciate how long he kept his original appearance at first, but after seeing how the rest of the film played out, I think it definitely would’ve worked better if we’d spent more time with him outside the water. The time we do get to spend with him outside the water, he’s far too meek and unlike the Gill Man we grew to know and love in the first two movies. Far too much time is spent on the failing relationship between Dr. Barton and his suspicions of his wife’s infidelity. It was an odd choice of sub-plots and by the end of the film, it completely consumes the on-screen action, making the entire film as un-interesting as that sub-plot was.
The Creature Walks Among Us is a fun entry in the Creature cycle, but definitely the weakest entry. I still recommend it for those wanting an entertaining evening of 50s sci-fi/horror, but there are much better films deserving of a look before you get to this one. If you’ve seen the first two, you have to watch this one to see how the series concludes. This probably wasn’t the best way they could’ve concluded the series, as it’s a slightly depressing entry in the franchise. I suppose I can appreciate their actually giving a franchise a definite ending, as opposed to leaving things open for a sequel (as they did for several Dracula and Frankenstein films). At least Gill Man can rest easily knowing that his series is over and that he can retire. With the ideas presented to us, there is a better film somewhere underneath. Too bad the filmmakers couldn’t realize it to its full potential. Still, it’s worth a watch for Universal and 50s sci-fi/horror aficionados. Rent it!
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