Released on home video just in time for Halloween, Creature Feature: 60 Years of the Gill-Man, a feature-length documentary by Sam Borowski and Matt Crick, examines the everlasting popularity of one of monsterdom’s most beloved characters, the Gill-Man from the 1954 Universal horror classic, Creature From the Black Lagoon.
At the time of its release, Jack Arnold’s Creature From the Black Lagoon was presented in anaglyphic 3D (utilizing red-and-blue lensed glasses), and was at first heralded as something of a novelty, a fad for its time, with movies in direct competition with television. But even after two sequels and countless homages in other films, the title character, the Gill-Man, remained a fan favorite and pop cultural touchstone. The upright amphibious being had been designed by 2D artist Milicent Patrick in sketch form, then realized as a full head-to-toe articulated mask and suit by top Universal craftsmen, including legendary sculptor Chris Mueller, Jr. and suit supervisor Jack Kevan, all working under the auspices of makeup department head Bud Westmore. Given its careful attention to detail, the Gill-Man stood tall with other classic Universal horror characters including the Frankenstein Monster, The Mummy, and The Wolf Man, and has been an evergreen Halloween character in printed, mask and costume form.
After 10 years of filming, editing and scouring through 60 years of archival material, Borowski and Crick licensed film clips and audio and compiled interviews with fans and participants alike. One interviewee, the late Ben Chapman, played the first Gill-Man for the character’s land-based scenes, shot on Universal’s backlot, and the beauty to the Gill-Man’s beast, actress Julie Adams, provided background on her scenes, especially notable in a famed white bathing suit. Separately, swimmer Ricou Browning doubled Chapman for the Gill-Man’s underwater sequences, shot in the clear marshes of Wakulla Springs in northern Florida.
In the annals of horror, Creature From The Black Lagoon is still lauded as one of Universal’s top achievements and the best of such pictures to roll out after World War II, making it a natural for an affectionately told documentary. “This has been a labor of love,” said Borowski, who wrote and produced the film. “Matt and I have been working at this for a little more than a decade, and, it only seems fitting that it drops on both DVD and Blu-Ray at Halloween.” The film, which was directed by Crick, was originally the brainchild of Borowski and Chapman at the time of the original film’s 50th anniversary, before Borowski pitched the film to Crick, who jumped at the idea. A lifelong Creature fan, Borowski enlisted the help of associate producer Eric Rosenberg, and the three set out to make the definitive documentary about the Creature From the Black Lagoon and the impact of the Gill-Man, still revered in fanzines, at conventions, and in merchandised products and memorabilia – often in the hands of “professional fans” and collectors.
With a comprehensive scope, Creature Feature tells the detailed story behind the creation, marketing and distribution of Universal’s entire Gill-Man trilogy and includes clips from all three of the films. One can see future Oscar Award-winner Clint Eastwood in his first speaking role as a lab assistant in Revenge of the Creature and hear about the Gill-Man’s connection to Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch.
Narrated by two-time Emmy Award-winner Keith David, the 74-minute Creature Feature also features interviews with Oscar Award-winner Benicio Del Toro, himself a serious fan of the Gill-Man and the Universal classics; Adams’ swimming double, Ginger Stanley, and the shooting script’s screenwriter, the late Arthur Ross, father of screenwriter-director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, The Hunger Games). Rounding out the package is a horde of enthusiast-friendly bonus features, including the Gill-Man’s first public appearance on TV’s The Colgate Comedy Hour with Abbott and Costello.
As with any immersive documentary, the filmmakers must live with the material in every imaginable method for a very lengthy period, mandating their devoted attachment to their subject. “The motivation behind this tremendous undertaking was quite simple really: The Gill-Man is one of my all-time favorite movie characters and my favorite character in the horror genre,” Borowski revealed. “That’s why I wanted to commemorate the 50th and then the 60th anniversaries with this film. I’m a huge fan of the Gill-Man, who I think is one of the most influential movie characters of all-time. If not for a Creature From the Black Lagoon, would we have had an Alien or a Predator? How many creatures have taken their look from the original Gill-Man? What about movies such as Jaws that emulate other elements [of the original Creature film] such as music and cinematography? Creature From the Black Lagoon just might be the most imitated movie of all time, and our project shows why.”
Director Crick, a Midwesterner also based on the East Coast, echoed Borowski’s passionate sentiments. “I wanted to create the best documentary I could about this wonderful and visually iconic Universal character,” said Crick. “For Creature Feature: 60 Years of the Gill-Man, I spent hundreds of hours editing, pouring over images and video, adding additional music, re-mastering much of the soundtrack, and making the color and interviews the absolute best. When I met Sam Borowski back in 2001 on a chilly Staten Island night, and he told me of his passion for filmmaking and his interest in the Universal monsters, I knew a documentary on the Creature and its fandom would change my life.”