Retro Review: ‘The Creature Walks Among Us’

In 1954, Universal Studios introduced what would be the last monster in their famous stable of Universal Monsters in The Creature From the Black Lagoon. They followed it up with the sequel Revenge of the Creature, and in 1956 capped off the trilogy with The Creature Walks Among Us.

Following the events of the previous film, the Gill-Man is known to be lurking somewhere in the Florida Everglades. The ruthless Dr. Barton puts together a party to capture the Creature once and for all. Accompanying this team is his tenacious wife Marcia who naturally catches the attention of the monster who is eventually captured. During these events, the Gill Man is horribly burned forcing the scientists to perform an experimental operation which leads to him losing his gills and developing lungs instead. While Marcia and the other scientists try to help him adapt to life on the land, the water continues to call to him. As this continues, Dr. Barton’s mental and emotional state cracks, blood is shed and the Creature is blamed. In a tragic climax, the Gill Man has grown weary of living among humanity and prefers to drown in the watery world he knows.

The director who had so far helmed the series, Jack Arnold did not return to finish things off, leaving the director’s chair empty for his assistant John Sherwood. Since he was a limb from the same filmmaking tree as it were, the Creature Walks Among Us remains in-line stylistically and tonally with the previous two entries. Since this was the only Creature movie not filmed in 3D, it must have made things easier for the rookie director. Naturally there are some pitfalls, for instance, the famed dramatic Creature score does not hit as hard when he is transformed into a lumbering land-walker. The first act of this movie also features the final turn of swimmer Ricou Browning as the man who donned the suit to play the monster underwater. As per usual, Browning’s gracefulness under the sea is truly something to behold. In our current era, there undoubtedly would have CGI utilized for these shots, which means there is a lost art to combining his underwater movements expertly shot by cinematographer Maury Gertsman.

Actors Jeff Morrow and Rex Reason are top billed as rival scientist, echoing their roles in the previous year’s This Island Earth. Despite this positioning, it is Leigh Snowden who truly steals the spotlight as far as the human stars go. In the original Creature from the Black Lagoon, female lead Julie Adams bucked the norm and was portrayed as a character who was far more than the standard damsel-in-distress/scientist’s girlfriend. Snowden seemingly brought things full circle as she demonstrated action chops and gritty toughness on the same level as her male co-stars. Of course the true “star” of the Creature Walks Among Us, is naturally the Creature. Like all of the Universal Monsters, he has always been portrayed as a sympathetic character, and this film takes it to another level. He has now been ripped from the underwater world he has known all his life and is now having to integrate with humanity on some level. Despite being confined in a large rubber suit without the ability to speak, actor Don Megowan does a great job conveying the sadness and confusion of the Gill Man in this new state. It is heartbreaking, but understandable that he would choose to die in a watery resting place than live with the awfulness of humanity.

For most, this movie marks the end of the Universal Monsters franchise which unfortunately does not give the legendary series the high it truly should have gone off on. But on its own the film stands quite capably. While it is nowhere near the classic the original film was, the Creature Walks Among Us is far better than you probably expect. The character arc of the Gill Man comes to a fitting yet tragic end to cap off the trilogy. This film also solidifies that the new wave of the horror genre was going to carry a heavy science fiction influence.