Revenge of the Creature - Sci-Fi Classic Film Review
There's not a lot of "revenge," actually
The spectacular Gill-Man has been captured at last and sent to the Ocean Harbor Oceanarium, where the daring Joe Hayes keeps him under control and the scientists Clete Ferguson and Helen Dobson attempt communication. Alas, the Gill-Man doesn't take too kindly to captivity, and after he makes his inevitable escape, he stalks the Florida coast, waiting for his moment to snatch Helen and kill anyone who gets in his way.
This sequel was produced and released within a year of the original Creature from the Black Lagoon, with both William Alland and Jack Arnold returning as producer and director, respectively. It was once again done in 3-D with promises of a unique plot rather than a simple rehash. I'd never seen it before this review, and I went in with relatively high expectations. Unfortunately, Revenge of the Creature is a good example of a bad sequel.
There are positives, however. For one thing, the setting is original, with the creature transported from the depths of the Amazon to the glitz of the Oceanarium, a fictional tourist attraction modelled after Marineland, where it was filmed. Though I can't help but draw parallels to Jaws 3-D (and there are a lot of them, so many I wonder if Jaws 3-D was trying to be an homage), the story clearly wants to elaborate on the creature and his behavior in a setting where far more potential victims watch from mere feet away. Unfortunately, it doesn't come up with anything new or interesting for the Gill-Man to do, instead going back to his falling into insatiable desire for the female lead.
This love triangle drags the movie down
There is some good underwater photography, now in clearer waters with more exotic fish, but it comes across as a bit too antiseptic and boring, especially after the Gill-Man was captured so easily and quickly in the opening moments of the film. Despite one or two genuinely suspensful moments, until the Gill-Man actually escapes over half-way through the movie, he never represents a legitimate threat, only able to hurt those who are dumb enough to get in the water with him and behave like idiots.
I'll give the movie credit for attempting to inject science into the story, and there are moments where characters deliver lines that would have been educational for younger audiences. Unfortunately, none of these tidbits of scientific information seem relevant to the story, nor do they pay off in any meaningful way. Spoiler alert: in the end, the creature isn't defeated by science or knowledge, but by bullets.
Proof that Clint Eastwood was created in a lab
The unnecessarily drawn-out romantic subplot involving the two leads doesn't help, either. The actors, John Agar as Clete and Lori Nelson as Helen, aren't very good and have very little on-screen chemistry. The story also insists on pitting John Bromfeld's Joe Hayes against Clete in a cringe-worthy bit of competition for Helen's affections that goes nowhere. The two men are completely interchangeable--they even look similar--and no amount of trying to force one into the role of scientist and the other into a macho fish wrangler seems able to turn them into distinct characters the audience can care about.
This is where my inner writer gets frustrated. These individual pieces--the Gill-Man wanting the girl and two men vying for her romantically--could have fitted together perfectly as a thematic commentary on sexual relationships, even under the simplisticity of a 1950's popcorn flick. I'd almost want to see this movie remade today in order to take advantage of that angle*, because unfortunately, Revenge of the Creature completely misses the opportunity, unable to even commit to any romantic tension. It's clear from the start that Helen has no real interest in Joe, so he becomes more of a pathetic figure we are greatful to see depart the film.
*And now I understand why Guillermo del Toro made The Shape of Water.
The best part of the movie, if you can sit through it long enough
I genuinely believe Arnold to be a good director, but he is at his strongest as a creator of spectacle, not subtext. Like the Gill-Man, he is out of his element trying to shoe-horn a character-driven melodrama into his creature feature, and he can't seem to find a way to make it fit in with the Gill-Man antics. This is probably why the best part of the film is undoubtably the final act, where we get out of the daylight and into the night, where the Gill-Man is finally free to have his rampage in the shadows.
This part manages to recapture some of the magic of the original and mix it in with some tropes modern audiences would ascribe to a slasher film. However, even in this third act, things move along at a painfully slow pace, as though the filmmakers only got the movie to feature length by putting in as much B-roll as possible. Still, it proves that, at least in the hands of Jack Arnold, the Creature from the Black Lagoon works best as a straightforward horror villain, not the subject of a scientific investigation or the disruptor of a saccharine love story.
-e. magill 5/6/2021
SPECIAL THANKS TO MY PATRONS: