Classic monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the mummy, the invisible man, the Wolfman, and the creature from the Black Lagoon paved the path for modern horror marvels. Turning terror mainstream, these familiar faces of fear demonstrated that horror has a home in motion pictures.
Several of these favored fright feasts began life a literary horror. Authors like Braham Stoker, Mary Shelley, and H.G. Wells. Others rose from the grave as original nightmares created specifically for Universal Pictures.
Universal Studios, in 1923, took a gamble with their production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1922). “Hunchback,” which did better than other film Universal released that year, catapulted Lon Chaney into the spotlight, due the brilliant star’s passion for perfect make-up (which he did himself). To showcase Cheney’s talents, Gaston Leroux’s “Le Fantome de l’opera” novel became the studios next feature. “Phantom of the Opera,” released in 1925, also gave birth to the horror genre of fear fed films.
With the exception of an Abbott and Costello comedy, 1954 marked the final chapter in original classic monster movies for Universal Studios. “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” arriving near the end of the 1950’s 3D craze, was shown in both black and white 3D and 2D versions when it was released. An original story (not based on existing literature), Creature was turned into novel form as part of a series of stories based on Universal’s classic monsters.
Ben Chapman gave the monster life (on land) while professional diver, Ricou Browning gave “Gill Man” his underwater portrayal. Other cast members included Antonio Moreno (Dr. Carl Maia), Richard Carlson (Dr. David Reed), Richard Denning (Dr. Mark Williams), Whit Bissell (Dr. Edwin Thompson), Julie Adams (Kay Lawrence), and Nestor Paiva (Captain Lucas).
- Story ideas for “Creature from the Black Lagoon” were based on myths of a half-human/half-fish monster said to lurk in the Amazon river
- Design for Gill-Man was conceived by Millicent Patrick, a Disney animator, though makeup artist Bud Westmore stole sole credit for the work (keeping Patrick’s name off the film’s credits).
- “Wizard of Oz” veteran Jack Kevan crafted the creatures bodysuit, matching it to Chris Muller Jr’s. head sculpt.
- A mold of the Academy Award-style Oscar statuette served as the base for crafting the costume. Fins and head were added, and later, more ridges gave the monster his menacing appearance.
- Water scenes were shot in two Florida locations: Rice Creek in Palatka, near St Augustine, for above water work and Wakulla Springs, near Tallahassee, for the underwater action.
- Due to the Creature’s suit design, Ben Chapman was unable to sit during production days (standing for up to 14 hours at a time.
- Glen Strange, who took over portraying Frankenstein’s monster, declined the monster role in “Creature from the Black Lagoon.”
- The creature fossil was found in a swamp named “
- Clint Eastwood launched his movie career with a small role in the 1955 sequel, “Revenge of the Creature.”
Sequels and Special Appearances
“Creature from the Black Lagoon” received Abbott and Costello attention, but not as a sequel. Instead, the monster made an appearance in a pre-film release promotional television show, “The Colgate Comedy Hour.”
“Revenge of the Creature” (1955) also found favor with fans as a 3D monster movie.
After being altered by a mad scientist, the monster returned for the 1956 science fiction thriller “The Creature Walks Among Us.” This final chapter was not produced in with the 3D format of the first two films.
Another television appearance of the Creature arrived at the end of “Love Comes to Mockingbird Heights,” which was a first season (1964) episode of “The Munsters.” Uncle Gilbert, though dressed in a suit, trench coat, and scarf, reused the movie monster’s hands, feet and head.
Several attempts were made to reboot Gill-man but never surfaced. Most recently, Jeff Pinkner was to write the story and Will Beall to script a new version of “Creature from the Black Lagoon” as part of Universal’s “Dark Universe.” Unfortunately, this monster of a remake died with the cancellation of “Dark Universe” projects after Tom Cruise’s Mummy movie flopped.
Guillermo del Toro’s beautiful monster love story, “The Shape of Water” was inspired by his fascination with the 1954 classic monster movie.
Theme park tributes to Classic Monsters can be found Universal Studios Florida. There, Universal Studios’ Classic Monsters Cafe curates a creepy cool collection of monster-themed treasures (including several of the largest Basil Gogos prints ever created).
Artist Nathan of Luna Moon Gothic crafted a spooktacular series watercolor creations which pay homage to these classic monsters. Check out their store on Etsy to dig up your own copy of this wickedly wonderful artwork (and discover other fiendishly fun finds).
Read more about Universal Studios Classic Monsters: