CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON

It’s 1954 and I’m 6 ¾ years old when my older brothers come to me with the big news: We’re going to a movie out of town! This is a very big deal, because we lived in Florence, Wisconsin, a little town located about one hundred miles north of Green Bay and the nearest theater other than the local Towne Theater was fifteen miles away in either direction… in another state! Florence is located on a section of Highway US 2 that briefly crosses from Michigan and back into Michigan again just long enough to slow traffic down a bit. Sort of like a speed bump.

In those days, movie theaters had to wait—sometimes months—to show a new movie, because there were only a few prints available and they had to be shipped from one town to the next. Everyone waited their turn according to the size of the market, which meant that we were going to see a new movie several weeks before it would show locally. That was a very big deal.

Even bigger, my brothers told me we kids were going to get to pick which movie we’d see. That never happened, so it was important we were all on the same page when we voted. I should point out that my brothers were 11 and 12 years old at the time and, in the days before we ever saw a television, their favorite pastimes seemed to be digging pit traps for their little brother in the backyard or using me for a knife throwing target or some other variation of “Let’s kill Michael”, so I should have had some inkling of what was coming. But, hey, I was 6 ¾. By the time I reached 7, I was a lot smarter.

They said, “We either get to see ABBOT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (I wish I could locate a suitably horrific font with bloodcurdling letters to give you an idea of their delivery of that last word) or THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (again, there is no font to express the gentle sweetness in tone).

“What’s a Franken-whatever?” I said.

“He’s a MONSTER (again the horror lettering) made out of dead bodies! And he kills little kids and rips their heads off and drowns ‘em!”

“Well, what’s a creature?”

“Oh, it’s like a little animal. You know, like in Walt Disney.”

Yeah. Right.

So there I am, being nudged forward to cast my vote. “Mom, I wanna go see the Creature from the ‘Goon.”

Mom looks at me and raises a suspicious eyebrow in the direction of my brothers. “Oh, really?”

A couple of hours later, I’m sitting in the dark watching Julie Adams swimming in the tranquil, clear waters of the Black Lagoon. I should point out that in those days I thought movies were all real—Roy Rogers lived “out west”, which meant about 50 miles west of my hometown; Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers met for the first time and they could dance and sing the same song and—)

BWA-BWA-BWAAAAAAAAAH!

HOLY CRAP!!! I don’t know what the hell that thing is, but I’m not sticking around to see if it eats little kids. I’m out of the theater like a shot, hiding behind the counter at the concession stand.

About five minutes later my dad comes to check on me and coax me back into the auditorium. Reluctantly, I went. All was well for about five min—

BWA-BWA-BWAAAAAH!!!

By the time the movie was over I had gotten to know the girl at the concession stand on a first name basis and devoured a free box of popcorn, a coke and a fistful of candy.

Dad finally came to get me, thinking it would be cathartic for me to witness the demise of the creature. When they gunned him down, I was still a little doubtful.

“Dad, what kind of gun did they use to kill the creature?”

“A .30-30.”

“Dad… what kind of gun do you have?”

“A .35 Remington.”

“Is that bigger than a .30-30?”

“Oh, yeah. Way bigger.”

“Could it kill a creature?”

“Oh, yeah.”

Somehow, I managed to survive the trauma–and my brothers—and The Creature From the Black Lagoon remains my favorite old monster movie. To me it’s the scariest and best of all the Universal monster films.

Nowadays, though, I have a different perspective on the lovelorn creature thanks to my friend Doug Jones’ performance in Guillermo del Toro’s beautifully rendered film THE SHAPE OF WATER. If they don’t have movies or television under the rock where you’ve been living, it’s the story of a mute cleaning lady who falls in love with an amphibian creature being held captive in a secret government research facility. And there’s a little bit of Fred and Ginger for good measure. Without speaking, Doug and Sally Hawkins give a new meaning to communication in an age when people sit across from each other at dinner and text back and forth. It’s a sweet, stirring performance that makes you wonder what might have happened if only Julie Adams had kept her mouth shut instead of screaming her lungs out.

But I must confess, to this day, I still sleep better knowing there’s a .35 Remington under my bed.

 

–Mike

 

© Mike Grell 2018

 

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