‘Creature from the Black Lagoon’ – beauty and the beast on Criterion Channel

Jack Arnold’s horror classic Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) spawned not one but two iconic images: the web-foooted humanoid gill-man with a hankering for human women, and leggy, luscious Julia Adams, the object of his desire, swimming the lagoon in a luminous white bathing suit. Not since King Kong has the “beauty and the beast” theme been portrayed in such sexually charged (though effectively chaste) terms.

Richard Carlson is the expedition leader on trip up the Amazon to find the missing link but the hunters become the hunted when they find an amphibious creature and it falls in love with Adams. The jungle setting turns from exotic to treacherous when the creature blocks their passage and strands them in the wilds.

Arnold turns what is effectively a B movie plot—an expedition in the jungle captures a creature and it escapes to wreak havoc and kidnap the team’s sole woman—into a moody, stylish low budget feature. Much of the film is shot underwater, where the murky dark is animated by shimmering shards of sunlight, creating images both lovely and alien (the studio-built cave sets of the creature’s underground lair are far less naturalistic but serve their purpose).

Like most of Arnold’s fifties genre films he’s saddled with a less than magnetic leading man (in this case the colorless but stalwart Carlson) and a conventional script, but he overcomes such limitations by creating a vivid and sympathetic monster (helped immeasurably by a marvelous suit of scales and fins) and establishing a mood thick with atmosphere.

Richard Denning, Antonio Moreno, and Whit Bissell costar.

The film was originally shot in 3-D and you can see it that way on some Blu-ray releases.

It also spawned two sequels: Revenge of the Creature (1955) directed by Arnold and starring John Agar and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956) with Jeff Morrow and Rex Reason.

Black and white

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Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Creature from the Black Lagoon [Blu-ray]
Creature from the Black Lagoon [DVD]
Creature From the Black Lagoon: Complete Legacy Collection [Blu-ray]
Creature From the Black Lagoon: Complete Legacy Collection [DVD]

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The Creature From the Black Lagoon: The Legacy Collection features all three films and alternate 3D versions of Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Revenge of the Creature, plus commentary on each film and a bonus documentary.


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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