It Came from the ’50s: Revenge of the Creature

Revenge of the Creature movie posterThe folks at Universal Pictures must have been surprised when their 1954 schlock monster flick, Creature from the Black Lagoon, turned out to not only be good, but also a moneymaker. Turnaround was quicker back then, so just a year later producer William Alland and director Jack Arnold were able to premiere a sequel.

From a screenplay by Martin Berkeley, Revenge of the Creature follows another scientific expedition to the black lagoon. Nestor Paiva returns as Captain Lucas, the skipper of the boat the team takes. This sequence is brief. The creature is captured quickly and taken to the Ocean Harbor Oceanarium in Florida, to live out the rest of its days as the star attraction.

Meanwhile, Professor Clete Ferguson (John Agar), learns of the creature’s capture and makes his way to the oceanarium to study it. There, he takes on an ichthyology student, Helen Dobson (Lori Nelson), as his assistant. The two also provide the film’s requisite romance.

Ferguson wants to find out if the creature is intelligent. The experiments require diving into the tank where the creature is held. It’s risky work, but that’s good for the viewer. Because, beyond what I’ve already described, there is no other plot. The creature is caught and being studied, and both filmmakers and audience are waiting around for something to happen.

We all know what that will be. People will get into close proximity to the beast and get hurt. The beast will break its bonds and terrorize the tourists at the oceanarium. There’s no other way this film could go once the creature was put in its prison. The obviousness of that direction does not substitute for plot. It only serves to make it clear that this sequel is just a quick cash grab.

The creature looks pretty good, though. Its fishy face is more goofy than terrifying, and it’s obviously just a guy in a suit, but the suit is good enough that it was easy to suspend disbelief and see the creature as a real animal. Ricou Browning returned to play the creature in underwater scenes, while Tom Hennesy handled the work on land and when the creature thrashes around at the surface.

This is a fairly straightforward monster flick, but there is some sublime shitty filmmaking to be had. The creature’s appearances on screen are accompanied by a shrill musical cue that will be with me until death. Used sporadically, it could have done what scores in horror flicks are supposed to — heighten the tension. But the cue is played every damn time the creature shows its face. That brassy blat must have played a hundred times. If there had been a scene following the creature picking up its mail, the cue would have played half a dozen times.

The big problem with this film, though, is that it’s dull. Between the opening act and the finale, there’s a long stretch of the same stuff happening on screen over and over and over again. Since the viewer knows how it’s all going to play out, most of the film then becomes a waste of time. Alland and company, in pushing out this sequel so quickly, didn’t seem to take any time to figure out what the movie should be about. They relied totally on the creature being of enough interest to satisfy any demands an audience might have for story. They were wrong.

For the sin of dullness, Revenge of the Creature is cast down the Watchability Index, to spend all time at #131, between Resident Evil and Bug, or at least until I rank it somewhere else. Of final note, should one choose to watch this stinker, keep an eye out for Clint Eastwood. This was his first movie.

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