The following notes on Revenge of the Creature (1955) were written by David Vanden Bossche, PhD Student in UW-Madison’s Department of Communication Arts and co-organizer of the Antwerp Summer Film School. A 3-D version of Revenge of the Creature will kick off our Halloween Horror series on Friday, October 25, at 7 p.m., in our regular venue at 4070 Vilas Hall. The screening will be followed by a discussion with Bob Furmanek Founder of 3-D Film Archive, the organization responsible for the digital 3-D restoration of Revenge of the Creature. After the talk, at 9 p.m., Bob Furmanek will introduce a screening of the 1982 3-D horror movie, Parasite, also restored by 3-D Film Archive.
By David Vanden Bossche
During the thirties, Universal shaped the emerging genre of horror films by releasing a slew of now canonical titles: Frankenstein (1931) and its sequel The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) both starring Boris Karloff, The Mummy (Karloff yet again) in 1932 and Tod Browning’s iconic Dracula in 1931. By the 1950s however, monsters had taken different shapes. They became alien invaders (Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers tapped into the fear of Communism in 1956) or gigantic beasts (most famously ants in Them and the Japanese lizard Gojira, both from 1954 and premised on man’s scientific hubris and nuclear experiments leading to nature’s revenge).
When Universal released Creature from the Black Lagoon in 1954, it was thus a decidedly old-fashioned and outdated take on the genre, with 3-D as an extra element to attract the targeted teenage movie viewers. The film turned out to be a success and the studio quickly commissioned director Jack Arnold to direct a sequel. Arnold had built a career out of similar fare from 1957’s The Incredible Shrinking Man to episodes of the disco-in-space television show Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981).
Like its predecessor, Revenge of the Creature ventured into the use of 3-D to lure viewers to theatres. The use of the format became popular from the early fifties onwards, as part of Hollywood’s effort to combat the rise of television and the subsequent dwindling attendance at movie theatres. 3-D became associated with horror films and youthful audiences, even though some more prolific directors experimented with the format, as Alfred Hitchcock did with Dial M for Murder (1954). Technical limitations prohibited 3-D from growing into a real marketable asset and it faded out quickly. It only returned very sporadically over the next few decades, until it was revived on a somewhat larger scale in the early eighties, which led to horror sequels like Friday the 13th Part III: 3D (1982) and Jaws 3-D (1983). It was not until new technical developments improved the process, that a film such as The Polar Express (2004) hinted at the renewed potential of 3-D and James Cameron’s record-breaking Avatar (2009) convinced theatre chains to invest in the equipment. With some auteurs (Martin Scorsese, Ang Lee, Werner Herzog and even Jean-Luc Godard) experimenting with the format and studios still launching tentpole pictures in 3-D, it seems the third filmic dimension will stick around this time, even though recent articles have shown that its market penetration is very different in various regions of the world and definitely on the decline in the USA.
Arnold finished the 3-D sequel in quick fashion and delivered another efficient monster romp. The Gill Man is now captured during an Amazon mission and transported to Florida, where it is chained to the bottom of a pool, helplessly drifting in between dolphins and sharks, until it – obviously – breaks loose and takes a page from King Kong’s book in pursuing the blonde female scientist who was conducting the experiments. The film contains numerous endearing 3-D shots of maritime life (sometimes it is hard to actually spot the creature among all the fish that float towards the viewer). Look for a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it performance by a very young Clint Eastwood as a laboratory assistant.