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The Creature from the Black Lagoon

Universal Monsters Minimates
by yo go re

Gill-man, the titular entity from the Black Lagoon, is sort of the baby brother in the Universal Monsters pentaverate: not only was he the final one introduced, the other four monsters all have much older roots; other than the South American "river monster" legend producer William Alland supposedly heard at a party, the Gill-man has no historic antecedent. Gotta admit, he looks pretty damn iconic, though!

The creature was originally introduced to movie audiences in the 1954 horror classic "The Creature from the Black Lagoon". He was discovered on an expedition to the Amazon led by Dr. Carl Maia. The journey turns out to be deadly for many in the expedition - and maybe even for the Creature itself!

I was surprised when Poe recently admitted his love for the Creature from the Black Lagoon, but I probably shouldn't have been: we all know how Poe adores H.P. Lovecraft, and the Gill-man is straight out of The Shadow Over Innsmouth. He may not have the literary or historic pedigree of Dracula or the Mummy, but what the Gill-man trades on, like Lovecraft's horror or a Republican's election campaign, is the fear of the unknown, the terror of that which is different.

We've already talked about the design work that went into the final Gill-man design, with Millicent Patrick doing the work and Bud Westmore taking the credit. The figure uses the standard Minimate body, then has fully sculpted hands and feet, plus a chest cap and head piece to add all the scaly details. The hands and feet have extra "fins" sculpted to them to give the impression of more detail on the limbs, but since they don't actually hug the body, the result is mixed. In particular, the leg's natural tendency to overhang the feet slightly means that those extensions get pushed far from the figure.

The colors on the Gill-man are good, with a yellow-tinged green for the majority of the body and a lighter green for the gills, fins, and even the palms of his hands. His belly is closer to yellow than any of the other paint, and his little claws are white - something not even the eyes can claim. His lips are pink, a rare shock of color on this otherwise-monotone figure.

The film's credits don't list anyone as playing the Gill-man, which is silly - two different guys played him! 6'5" Ben Chapman, a former Marine, wore the suit for all the on-land scenes; 5'8" Ricou Browning, an Olympic swimmer and creator of Flipper, did the underwater work. Of course, if you ask Chapman, he'll tell you that he's the real Gill-man, and Browning was just his underwater stunt double.

In order to make sure the creature suit was visible underwater, Browning's version was painted a lighter color. I don't know if that's what Art Asylum is going for with the second Gill-man figure in this set, but there's no denying that it is lighter than the first one - it's glow in the dark! The mold is the same, and many of the painted details are retained, but the entire figure is molded from gitd plastic. No Minimate has ever been molded from that before, so this is potentially going to be popular just for that.

Looking at the bullet-shaped head on the Universal Select Creature From the Black Lagoon, it swiftly becomes apparent what this figure's face is missing to really help it nail the likeness: although it has the froggish mouth, it lacks the big rounded jowl. The suit, by the way, didn't have an air supply: browning would breathe through a hose, then had to hold his breath for up to four minutes.

Dr. Carl Maia sought the assistance of longtime friend, Dr. David Reed to discover the origins of the mysterious fossilized hand he uncovered. In his pursuit of the truth, Dr. Reed's curiosity and ambition almost cost him the life of his girlfriend Kay Lawrence.

That bio comes from the two-pack version of Dr. Reed, available at Toys Я Us, in case you're wondering; if you get this four-pack at your local comicshop or from an online retailer like Luke's Toy Store, you'll find only the one all-purpose bio we quoted at the top.

Dr. Reed was played by Richard Carlson, generically handsome man of the '50s. He served in WWII, and had trouble finding work afterwards, but found great success in the B horror flicks. Is the Minimate's likeness good? Well, it's hard for me to say: Carlson isn't as recognizable as, say, Lon Chaney Jr., but it seems true enough. He has a new, old-fashioned haircut, with a firm part on the left side.

All his accessories are brand-new, as well. First of all, he's got new feet: the figure shows him in his swimming gear, so his feet are molded with flippers; they still have the holes in the bottom, so you'll be able to use a Minimate flight stand to make him "swim," and the sculpt is so good that they even remembered to do the straps around his heels. Dr. Reed has a simple black belt with a knife in one side, and he's wearing a surprisingly complex scuba tank. The set includes a second hair piece, this one with a built-in dive mask that's been painted with his eyes (since it would be tough to make a clear version at this scale). Finally, he's armed with a harpoon gun, the exact kind seen in the film. Granted, it's hard for him to hold it in both hands, but it is possible.

The final figure in this set is exclusive: while the other three can be bought in the TRU two-packs, this one is available nowhere else. Just as in the Wolf Man set, the exclusive is the hero's girlfriend: Kay Lawrence. She was the one who made the Creature realize that humans might be good for something other than murdering. The famous scene of them swimming together, with Gill-man in the weeds on the bottom of the lagoon and Kay floating above him, was intended by director Jack Arnold to suggest sex.

Also intended to suggest sex? The white swimsuit Kay wore. Obviously it was more flattering on a human woman than on this Minimate, but what hey, are you going to do? Since the movie came out in the '50s, movie codes at the time demanded it be a full suit instead of a bikini, but the thing did its part to fully accentuate her figure. Rowr!

Kay was played by Julia Adams (who later went by "Julie" Adams, though her real name was Betty), who moved to Hollywood from Arkansas and once appeared in six Westerns in a period of just five weeks. The figure's likeness is good, comparing this Minimate to photos from the film, and her dark hair is a new piece. It does sit a bit too low on the head, though, so either it will make her face down, or her shoulders will push the hair up.

All Minimates share the same body with different paint decos, and they all move at the same 14 points: neck, waist, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees and ankles. That's a lot of movement for a 2" figure, and all the joints are useful - no duplication or "glory" joints.

The Creature From the Black Lagoon came out in 1954, but it wasn't the typical monster movie of the era - this was a human-sized beast, not a giant atomic monstrosity meant to be a standin for audiences' Cold War fears. This allowed him to interact directly with the humans he threatened, and made him a fine - if late - addition to the Universal Monsters pantheon.

-- 10/27/10

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