The Gill-man—commonly called the Creature—is the lead antagonist of the 1954 black-and-white science fiction film Creature from the Black Lagoon and its two sequels Revenge of the Creature (1955) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956).
The Gill-man, as portrayed by Ben Chapman in Creature from the Black Lagoon
|First appearance||Creature from the Black Lagoon|
|Last appearance||The Monster Squad|
|Created by||Milicent Patrick|
Arthur A. Ross
|Portrayed by||Creature from the Black Lagoon|
Revenge of the Creature
The Creature Walks Among Us
All underwater scenes:
In all three films, Ricou Browning portrays the Gill-man when he is swimming underwater. In the scenes when the Gill-man is walking on dry land, Ben Chapman plays the Gill-man in the first film, followed by Tom Hennesy in the second, and Don Megowan in the third.
The Gill-man's popularity as an iconic monster of cinema has led to numerous cameo appearances, including an episode of The Munsters (1965), the motion picture The Monster Squad (1987), and a stage show (2009). Despite this popularity, the Gill-man appeared in the fewest movies of all the Universal Monsters.
Concept and design
|Film||Year||Gill-man on land||Gill-man underwater|
|Creature from the Black Lagoon||1954||Ben Chapman||Ricou Browning|
|Revenge of the Creature||1955||Tom Hennesy||Ricou Browning|
|The Creature Walks Among Us||1956||Don Megowan||Ricou Browning|
Producer William Alland was attending a dinner party during the filming of Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (in which Alland played the reporter Thompson) in 1941 when Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa told him about the myth of a race of half-fish, half-human creatures in the Amazon River. Figueroa spoke of a friend of his who disappeared in the Amazon while filming a documentary on a rumored population of fish-people. Alland then wrote story notes titled "The Sea Monster" 10 years later. There were various designs for the Gill-man. William Alland envisioned the Gill-man as a "sad, beautiful monster" and the sculpture of it was much like that of an aquatic development of a human. Alland said, "It would still frighten you, but because how human it was, not the other way around". Originally, the Gill-man's design was meant to incorporate a sleek, feminine eel-like figure, which did not have as many bumps and gills as the final version. The designer of the approved Gill-man was former Disney illustrator Milicent Patrick, though her role was deliberately downplayed by makeup artist Bud Westmore, who for half a century would receive sole credit for the Gill-man's conception. The Gill-man suit was made from airtight molded sponge rubber and cost $15,000. The underwater sequences were filmed at Wakulla Springs in northern Florida (today a state park), as were many of the rear projection images. Part of the film was shot in Jacksonville, Florida on the south side of the river near the foot of the old Acosta Bridge. In the underwater scenes, air was fed into the Gill-man suit with a rubber hose.
The Gill-man is fully amphibious, capable of breathing both in and out of the water. It possesses large, webbed hands with sharp claws on the tip of each finger. The Gill-man's scaly skin is extremely tough, which combined with a fast-acting healing factor, allows it to survive wounds which would be fatal to humans, such as gunshots and full immolation. It also possesses superhuman strength, which is flamboyantly displayed in the second and third films.
As shown in the third film, the Gill-man has a dormant set of lungs, should its gills be irreparably damaged. As shown in the first film, it is vulnerable to rotenone. The Gill-man is slightly photophobic, due to its murky water habitat. 35% of the Gill-man's blood is composed of white corpuscles, lacking a nucleus.
Fictional character biography
The last known surviving member of a race of amphibious humanoids which flourished during the Devonian age, the Gill-man (as christened by Dr. Thompson) dwelled in a lagoon located in a largely unexplored area of the Amazon rainforest. The creature was apparently known to the natives, as the captain of the boat Rita mentioned local legends of a "man-fish".
After having found the fossilized remains of another Gill-man, a marine biology institute funds an expedition to the Amazon in order to find more remains. Though the Gill-man reacts violently to the intrusion, he develops a soft spot for the team's only female member, Kay, and repeatedly tries to abduct her, going as far as building a makeshift dam to prevent their boat from escaping. After having killed numerous members of the expedition, the Gill-man takes Kay to his underwater lair, where he is tracked down by the remaining survivors and riddled with bullets. The Gill-man tries to escape by swimming deep into the lagoon, but dies from his injuries.
A year after the events of the first film, the Gill-man is shown to have survived and is captured by different scientists. He is sent to the Ocean Harbor Oceanarium in Florida, and quickly becomes a huge tourist attraction. He is studied by an animal psychologist and his ichthyology student. The psychologist's attempts at communicating with the Gill-man are hampered by his attraction to his student. The Gill-man breaks free from his tank and escapes into the ocean. It is not long before he begins stalking the ichthyology student and kidnaps her at a boat party. The Gill-man is soon tracked down by police and again gets shot multiple times, forcing him to flee into the ocean. He again tries to swim away and supposedly dies from his wounds.
After living for a short while in a Florida river, the Gill-man is found again, and after a vicious struggle, is accidentally immolated. The Gill-man's injuries are so severe that his scales and gills fall off, forcing his captors to perform surgery on him to prevent suffocation. X-rays on the creature show that he has begun developing a land animal's lung structure, so a tracheotomy is performed, opening an air passage to the lungs, transforming the Gill-man into an air-breathing, nearly human animal. Dressing him in a suit made of sail cloth, the Gill-man is taken to a California estate, where he is imprisoned within an electric fence. Though they initially try to integrate the Gill-man into human society, one of its captors frames it for a murder, and the Gill-man ultimately escapes into the ocean.
Producer Gary Ross said in March 2007 that the Gill-man's origin would be reinvented, with him being the result of a pharmaceutical corporation polluting the Amazon. "It’s about the rainforest being exploited for profit," he said. In 2009, however, the proposed director, Breck Eisner, dropped out of the project.  As of 2016, the proposed remake has not been made.
Creature from the Black Lagoon is one of many films featuring the Universal monsters that will be receiving a reboot as a part of Universal Pictures' shared film universe titled Dark Universe. The series brings Universal's monsters into a modern-day setting, and begins with The Mummy (2017) and will continue with Bride of Frankenstein (2019). The Creature from the Black Lagoon has a story written by Jeff Pinkner and a script written by Will Beall. The Mummy alludes to the existence of the Gill-man when Nick Morton meets Dr. Henry Jekyll at Prodigium's base in London and one of the objects has the Gill-man's hand in it.
Creature from the Black Lagoon novelization
The 1977 novelization of Creature from the Black Lagoon by Carl Dreadstone offers a completely different origin for the Gill-man, who in this version of the story is a hermaphroditic giant, almost as big as the Rita itself, weighing in at 30 tons. This Gill-man is both cold-blooded and warm-blooded and also has a long whiplike tail. The gigantic creature is dubbed "AA", for "Advanced Amphibian", by the expedition team members. After slaying most of the team members, destroying a Sikorsky helicopter, and kidnapping Kay more than once, the Gill-man is killed by the crew of a United States Navy torpedo boat.
Time's Black Lagoon
In Paul Di Filippo's novel Time's Black Lagoon, the Gill-man is depicted as descending from a race of extraterrestrials who came to Earth during the Devonian period on a giant spaceship called The Mother. The Gill-People have the ability to communicate telepathically among themselves and among the human characters. Alphas such as "Fleshmolders", "Mudshapers", and "Fishcallers" are highly telepathic individuals in their tribal communities.
The Gill-man itself is a degenerate member of this race, descended from an individual who explored deep in the ocean and became exposed to archaeobacteria, becoming deformed and insane, driven to infect others with the disease. Eventually, there were no healthy Gill-People left, and the race's numbers dwindled over the epochs to one individual in the 1950s, which is the one that appears in the original films.
Theme park attraction
The Gill-man was the star of Creature from the Black Lagoon: The Musical, a live performance show that once was added to the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park in Los Angeles, California. It debuted on July 1, 2009, and replaced Fear Factor Live. It closed down for good on March 9, 2010 and was replaced by Special Effects Stage, which opened three months later on June 26, 2010.
In popular culture
- The Gill-man appears in the Rankin/Bass Productions Halloween film, Mad Monster Party?, as one of many monsters invited to Baron Boris von Frankenstein's monster reunion party. It also appears in the Rankin/Bass TV film Mad Mad Mad Monsters as one of many monsters invited to Baron Henry von Frankenstein's wedding of the Monster and his newly-created Bride.
- In an Abbott and Costello sketch on TV's The Colgate Comedy Hour, the Gill-man appears in a haunted house after the Frankenstein Monster faints at the sight of Lou Costello.
- The Gill-man reappears in Fred Dekker’s The Monster Squad, where it shows little interest in human females as opposed to its classic counterpart. Instead, it allies itself with Count Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, the Mummy and the Wolfman in order to secure a magical amulet which will allow them to conquer the world. After snapping the necks of several policemen, the Gill-man is killed by Monster Squad member Horace, who shoots it with a shotgun. For its appearance in The Monster Squad, the Gill-man was redesigned by Stan Winston in order to merely suggest Milicent Patrick’s original design, due to licensing issues. The Gill-man was the first costume portrayal of Tom Woodruff, Jr. who would later work prominently in the Alien film series.
- The Gill-man appears in the novel It by Stephen King. The shapeshifting entity that haunts Derry, the city where It takes place, takes the form of the Gill-man to hunt a young boy named Edward Corcoran. It succeeds to kill Edward by ripping his head off.
- A monster resembling the Gill-man appears in the Jonny Quest episode "The Sea Haunt".
- The Gill-man appears as "Uncle Gilbert" on The Munsters.
- The Gill-man's appearance was used for the Swamp Creature in Lego Monster Fighters.
- The Gill-man is one of the monsters which become part of the composite creature Monsterex from Archie Comics' Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic series.
- A creature which closely resembles the Gill-man appears as one of the candidates fighting at Villain-Con to become Scarlet Overkill's new henchman in the 2015 animated movie Minions. The creature's name is Frankie Fishlips and is voiced by Andy Nyman.
- Monsters resembling the Gill-man make background cameos in the 2012 animated movie Hotel Transylvania and its sequels.
- A creature resembling the Gill-man, also discovered in a South American swamp, is featured in Guillermo del Toro's 2017 film The Shape of Water. Del Toro conceived of the film after being briefly involved in a remake of Creature from the Black Lagoon. The movie's novelization, written by Daniel Kraus, names the creature Deus Brânquia (Gill-god in Portuguese).
- The basic appearance of the Gill-man was used for the character design of:
- The Lakelurks in Fallout: New Vegas
- Ragon from Ultra Q and Ultraman
- Digon from Ultraman Dyna.
- The Survival Game Don't Starve features monsters called "merms" that heavily resemble the Gill-man, due to being humanoid creatures with amphibian and fish-like features. Upon death they drop froglegs and fish.
- Cultural impact of Creature from the Black Lagoon
- Deep Ones – similar monsters created by H.P. Lovecraft in his classic horror tale The Shadow Over Innsmouth
- List of piscine and amphibian humanoids
- Swamp monster
- Universal Monsters
- Ferrari, Andrea (2003). Il Cinema Dei Mostri. p. 287. ISBN 88-435-9915-1.
- Rouin, Jeff (1977). The Fabulous Fantasy Films.
- "The Gill-man's movie trivia". Ben Chapman Family. July 2008. Retrieved 6 April 2016.
- Cieply, Michael (2007-03-12). "On Screens Soon, Abused Earth Gets Its Revenge". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-01-10.
- Billington, Alex (2009-05-27). "On Screens Soon, Abused Earth Gets Its Revenge". firstshowing.net. Retrieved 2016-01-02.
- Jody Duncan and James Cameron (2007). The Winston Effect: The Art and History of Stan Winston Studio. ISBN 1-84576-150-2.
- "The Night of Monsterex". Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures Special #3 (Winter 1992)
- "Del Toro Talks Black Lagoon Influence On "Shape" - Dark Horizons". darkhorizons.com. Retrieved November 20, 2017.