And You Thought It Was Safe(?)


Revenge of the Creature (1955)
Does this bug you? I'm not touching you.

Does this bug you? I’m not touching you.

Lest you think there was ever some magical time when sequels were automatically good, I submit this film as evidence you’re even more deluded than I am. They can’t all be Bride of Frankenstein, and I wouldn’t dare ask it of them. All I ask is that they not be dull. Too much to ask of Universal in 1955, that’s for sure. Am I being unfair? Probably. But when I get bored, I get even surlier.

I don’t know what happened in the time between this and its predecessor. Nearly everyone behind the camera returns for this second go-round. I don’t want to blame director Jack Arnold, who did competent work on an undoubtedly tight schedule. I’m tempted to blame screenwriter Martin (Green Grass of Wyoming) Berkeley, but I’m sure an army of Bronies will trample me to the dust if I say an unkind word about anyone involved with the Flicka series. So I’m forced to blame producer William Alland, who gets “story” credit on this, even though he heard the man-fish legend from cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa back in the 40s. So who really deserves “story” credit for these movies? No, honestly, I’m asking you. I’m just gonna be over here, reviewing this movie while you think up your response.

The “story” picks up a year after the events of Creature from the Black Lagoon, with Capt. Lucas (Nestor Paiva) once again steaming a pair of gringo scientists up “A TRIBUTARY IN THE UPPER AMAZON” (as the location card says). This year’s gringos are Joe Hayes (John Bromfield) and George Johnson (Robert Williams), self-proclaimed expert fish trappers from the (fictional) marine institute/theme park (or “Oceanarium,” as they insist on calling it) at Ocean Harbor, Florida. They’ve come to the titular lagoon to capture the titular creature. After some initial setbacks they take a page from the Redneck Dynamite Fisher’s Handbook and succeed, knocking the Creature unconscious with the concussive blast from multiple cases of high explosives. Continue reading



Tarantula (1955)
There goes my internet connection. Damnit!

There goes my internet connection. Damnit!

Watching Tarantula‘s opening, with its lonely shots of California’s Lucern Valley (once again standing in for Arizona), you can tell Jack Arnold really wanted to direct a Western. Of the four films he made in 1955, three were set in the Great American West and two were authentic Westerns: the one he made right before Tarantula (The Man from Bitter Ridge) and the one he made right after (Red Sundown). The blasted, lunar landscapes of the Mojave lend an expansive, mythic air to even the silliest drama, or the most serious monster picture.

Better yet, aside from some dated technobable and some really dated sexism, Tarantula isn’t even all that silly. Its got a weird, almost-retro atmosphere to it, thick as Jupiter’s but much more permeable…if you were lucky enough to grow up on Universal monster movies. (And I certainly was…can’t you tell?) All the classic horror tropes we learned to crave are present and accounted for…except for the thunderstorm and the Old, Dark Castle. We’ll excuse the thunderstorm’s absence on account of this taking place in “Arizona”…where, I suppose, a two-story ranch house is as good a castle-analogue as you’re likely to find. The only problem is, the movie forgoes focusing on those tropes in favor of building a mystery. A mystery the movie solves with its title.

I say Arnold “wanted” to make Westerns in the full knowledge that what director’s wanted didn’t really matter much in 1955’s Hollywood. Tarantula‘s no auteur‘s vision; it’s a quickly made, cheap knock-off of a rival studio’s hit from the previous year. There’d be no Tarantula without the surprise success of Them! and the parallels between the two are on fairly obvious display. Continue reading



Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Aww...they're so cute when they're passed out.

Aww…they’re so cute when they’re passed out.

I hate 3D on general principal and consider it a classless, money-grubbing gimmick, trotted out whenever panic grips the hearts of backward-looking Hollywood beancounters. I reached this conclusion early in life after coming to grips with just how awful Freddy’s Dead, Jaws 3D, and Friday the 13th Part 3D really were. But every critic has that one 3D skeleton in the closet. One black mark on their critical scorecard. One film they like in spite – or perhaps because of –  the occasional distracting bit of visual cheese.

Creature from the Black Lagoon is mine. Despite coming out twenty-three years after the other monster movies that celebrated their sixtieth anniversaries in 1991, it made its way onto VHS and into my eight-year-old-self’s collection. I can’t think of a better time to give yourself a classical monster education. And what could be more classical than ripping-off King Kong‘s “beauty and the beast” angle?

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Continue reading



It Came from Outer Space (1953)
If I had to sum up the 50s SF movie in one image...it'd probably be that trifocal eye from War of the Worlds. But this would be a close second.

If I had to sum up the 50s SF movie in one image…it’d probably be that trifocal eye from War of the Worlds. But this would be a close second.

3D is bullshit. You know it, I know it. But movie studios and the technology companies allied with them are, as of this writing, wasting billions of dollars on an international propaganda campaign to convince us otherwise. (I know – “Duh!” right? Well, since I currently can’t spit without hitting a trailer for the 3D Phantom Menace, you get to watch me vent about it.) This has happened before, but those who forget the past are condemned to…do something. I forget what just now. Strain their eyes, get headaches and have seizures if this Cal State study from last August is any indication.

Most of us are old enough to remember the 3D craze of the mid-80s. Even if we aren’t, a casual viewing of Friday the 13th Part 3-D or Jaws 3-D will tell us everything we need to know. But tonight I want to go back – way back – and talk about the wave that struck Hollywood in 1952.

A little-remembered man-eating lions epic called Bwana Devil formed the leading edge of that one. One day, I hope to read someone with a bit more clout than I correctly label Bwana Devil “the James Cameron’s Avatar of its era.” Then as now, the novelty of a “new” viewing format (which is as old as film itself, but never mind that now – 3D is the future!) allowed slack-jawed idiots to pretend the crappy, derivative film they just watched somehow “immersed” them in a “new” and/or “visionary” “experience.” Continue reading