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Creature from the Black Lagoon

Universal Monsters
by Monkey Boy

Blahhhh it's me again! It's been 84 years but I've returned to write a review. Surely only a very momentous action figure release could draw me back into the reviewing fold, and indeed, today's subject is a doozy: the long-awaited NECA Universal Monsters Ultimate Creature from the Black Lagoon! NECA has been making Universal Monsters figures for a few years now, but they've taken their sweet time to get to the G.O.A.T. But now he's here, babies! Does he rise from the depths or sink to the bottom? Let's find out.

NECA released a lot of Universal Monsters in their Ultimates line before finally getting around to the Creature. Frankenstein, the Mummy, the Wolfman, the Dracula, the Bride of Frankenstein, the Invisible Man, a Phantom of an Opera... with them taking so long to get around to our favorite fishy boy, the anticipation was through the roof. And there was plenty of competition. Sideshow, Diamond Select, Jada Toys and several other brands had taken a shot at the Creature over the years in the six-to-eight-inch figure range. Mondo has made an excellent 1/6th scale, as did Sideshow quite some time ago. So the NECA Creach has some big, weird-shaped shoes to fill.

The Gill-man, as he's come to be known, debuted in 1954's Creature from the Black Lagoon. The iconic design was created by Millicent Patrick, who unfortunately wouldn't receive the proper credit for her work until much later. Makeup artist Bud Westmore became jealous of her work and downplayed her role, taking sole credit for the Gill-man design and ousting Patrick from Universal. She would never work in effects or makeup again, and her essential role in the Gill-man's creation has only recently been revealed, unfortunately many years after her death in 1998.

So how does NECA's figure measure up to Patrick's timeless design? Really well! Sculpted by Maarten Verhoeven and sculpting superstar Kyle Windrix, every scale, fin and flipper is painstakingly detailed. It's very screen-accurate, even including the relatively smooth and under-detailed shins. Many Gill-man figures use the same sort of plating down on the shins as the rest of the body, but the actual costume is smoothed out in this area. We really can't do the sculpt justice through words alone; it really needs to be seen in person to appreciate.

The way the sculpt works with the articulation just takes it to another level. Pretty much every joint is cleverly concealed, aside from the lower knee hinges. Everything else is expertly integrated into the layered, lobstered plates of the scaly body. The figure has balljoints on the top and bottom of the neck, peg and hinged shoudlers, double peg-and-hinge elbows, peg and hinge wrists, balljoints at the upper torso and waist, balljointed hips with thigh pegs, peg and hinge upper knee, hinged lower knee, and peg and hinge ankles with rocker motion. All joints work well and feel nice and tight. Hopefully they stay that way. The long, joined fins on his spine and thighs do tend to break up when you pose him, but better that than not moving at all, yes?

There's another point of articulation I have thus far neglected to mention, because it's technically on an accessory. The figure includes three heads: one with an open mouth, one with a closed mouth, and one with a hinged jaw that lets you display the mouth however you like. It works very well, is integrated seamlessly into the sculpt with the entire mouth/lip area sliding into the jaw behind the chin, and is definitely the head I'll be sticking with.

The other heads are nice to have, though it would have been cool if one had the slightly different eyes seen in the underwater shots in the film. Besides the heads, the figure comes with six additional hands in various grasping and splayed poses: two bent dynamically, two with the fingers flexing forward slightly, and two with the fingers flexing backward slightly (you know, like he's swimming). Most Creature figures from other companies include additional accessories, like a harpoon gun, net or some kind of base, but it's likely we may see some of that in an accessory set down the road, like we did with Frankenstein, the Mummy, and Dracula. Hopefully it will include a stand so we can suspend Gill-man in the "water" instead of just standing about.

If there's one thing I had to say I don't absolutely love about the figure, it would be the paint. It's not the application; the figure is painted very well, in a green base with a metallic sort of golden drybrushing to make the details pop. The lips are dull red and the eyes are ringed with bright blue. My issue is that the green is a very deep and quite dark shade of green. While the original film is in black and white, of course, most colorized depictions show the creature with a much lighter green skin, almost yellow in certain areas like the scales on his stomach.

Here's the funny thing though - NECA's darker skintone is more accurate to the true Creature suit's colors. We're all just used to seeing him depicted in light greens, so we've come to assume that's the real coloration. But if you look for color photos of the actual suit, you'll see it was much darker, like this toy. It's one of those cases where being truer to the source material actually makes it less recognizable due to people being accustomed to what was wrong. So your mileage may vary, but you can't really fault NECA for wanting to be accurate.

And hey, if the paint isn't your thing, the black and white option will show up very soon (like it did for me between writing and posting). There's also a glow-in-the-dark retro Remco "Famous Mini Monsters"-inspired version that predates the standard color release, but that was a San Diego-Con exclusive this year, so it's a bit tougher to track down.

This figure was a long time coming, and I am ecstatic to report that it lives up to the hype. The Gill-man is one of my all time favorite creature designs, and I have a growing collection that includes figures of all sizes, posters and artwork, masks, models, enamel pins, air fresheners, keychains and more. So the stakes were quite high for this figure. And it definitely measures up. I highly recommend picking this guy up if you have the chance.

-- 10/12/23


 
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