Documentaries (as with any film category) vary in quality when it comes to various subjects, whether it be historical overviews, biographies or propaganda. I'm pleased to report that the latest on the Creature from the Black Lagoon (from Shadow Play Enterprises) is one of the best to emerge, paying comprehensive homage to the Gill-man and his creators.
However, much of its historical content has been covered before in articles, books and Universal disc supplements. What distinguishes director Matt Crick's "Creature Feature: 60 Years of the Gill-man" is the fan appreciation. "Creature Feature" is to "Creature from the Black Lagoon" what "Trekkies" is to "Star Trek": a celebration of a phenomenon that refuses to die and only gets bigger with the passing of time.
As scripted by Sam Borowski and narrated by Keith ("The Thing"/"They Live") David, the celebration initially recounts how Jack Arnold became assigned to direct due to his success on "It Came From Outer Space"; how Arthur Ross made the Gill-man sympathetic and less bestial; how such prestigious stars as Richard Carlson, Richard Denning, Julie Adams, Whit Bissell and Antonio Moreno became part of the tapestry. It also grants proper credit to Millicent Patrick for designing the Creature and Chris Mueller for sculpting the costume; and we shouldn't forget those courageous men who articulated our star: Ben Chapman and Ricou Browning in the original; Tom Hennesy in "Revenge of the Creature"; and Don ("Tales of Frankenstein") Megowan in "Creature Walks Among Us."
To the filmmakers' credit, the late Chapman covers a large sum of the documentary, culminating in a convention re-teaming with Browning. The cheerful Julie Adams is also present throughout the proceedings. Each appears sincerely appreciative of being part of the franchise and the admiration awarded them.
The featured fans are quite diverse. Some are celebrities, like Benicio ("The Wolfman") Del Toro and character actor, Daniel Roebuck. Some are Gill-man historians, like David Schow and Bob Burns. Others are exclusive Creature collectors, like Johnny "Arizona Gill-man" Gilbert and Scott "Gill-Boy" Erhard.
The stories shared add to the sentiment, from Gilbert reminiscing on his yearning for a bendable Gill-man from the Easter Bunny to Chapman's encounter with Marilyn Monroe and the sly way his movie persona was revealed to her through Peter Lawford.
The documentary also highlights the Gill-man conventions. One scene, featuring Ed Bowkley (the Creature from the Black Lagoon Yahoo Group President) and his tribute tattoos, is worth the price of admission alone, as is acclaimed makeup artist, John Goodwill, transforming an audience member into a Gill-woman. As a special treat, the Wakulla Springs, Florida convention, which caps the film's later half, offers a boat tour where the first two chapters were filmed, its lush scenery seemingly unchanged since the mid-fifties.
On the whole, "Creature Feature" is a tender-loving essay on how we attach the best moments of our lives with those things--or more precisely, those creatures--that impact us when we're young. Those impressions, like the Gill-man, are part of who we become, defining our sense of wonder and appreciation for the unique and wonderful. "Creature Feature" captures that fondness with care and grace: a sentimental journey designed to supplement one's most cherished, monster memories.