When it comes to classic Universal Monsters, I consider them to be a sort of "Sinister Six" (mostly based on my childhood enjoyment of 'Monster Squad'). These characters consist of so many that I've covered in these reviews; Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Wolf Man and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. This review finally brings that group together, but isn't it surprising how long it took to get here? It's been over 20 years since 'Dracula' started it all (speaking for the Bela Lugosi role)
It's funny, I always thought I'd be into the Creature, but it turns out that for me, he's pretty well dead last on the list of six (the Wolf Man is #1 in my books). This may be unpopular opinion, but I found this movie to sort of drag, and I'm not sure I quite got it. I think for its time, it may have been trying to show off some underwater camera work, the same way 'The Lion King' recently showed off how far we've come with CG. And let me tell you, there is a LOT of underwater footage in this - all speechless, all often over the top music (though it fits just as often as it doesn't). I think for me it's just date, although I must admit, it's pretty crazy to see how well underwater actor Ricou Browning can swim with that rubber suit.
An Amazon expedition lead by Dr. Carl Maia (Antonio Moreno) uncovers the unusual skeletal remains of a hand with webbed fingers. Further research indicates that this hand could provide a link between land and sea animals. This leads to Dr. Mark Williams (Richard Denning) funding a return expedition to attempt to uncover the rest of the skeleton, upon the request of his employee, Dr. David Reed (Richard Carlson); a friend of Carl's. The expedition gets underway, and consists of David, Carl, Mark, a Dr. Edwin Thompson (Whit Bissell) and Kay Lawrence (Julie Adams); David's girlfriend and colleague.
As the search for the skeletal remains continue, the group has to brave the terrain of the Amazon which is problematic enough. Little do they know, however, that this mysterious hand will ultimately lead to a strange fish-like creature, credited as "The Gill Man" (Ben Chapman by land, Ricou Browning by sea) who, though curious at first, soon develops a temper against these humans for attacking him out of shock. In your own way, you can't really help but feel for the Gill Man, considering how humans react to him. This makes the creature yet another very sympathetic monster, much akin to something like Frankenstein's monster; he's misunderstood and curious, but if you mess with him, he'll just kill you.
It's not really much of a surprise to see that this is seemingly another movie about judging a book by its cover. This time around they could just do it underwater, and that does add an interesting dimension to things. There are certain scenes that are creepy for anyone who is already iffy about swimming. Perhaps the best is when Kay takes a dip and the Gill Man is just checking her out, swimming below her. After all, that's usually what the fear of swimming seems to be about - what might be below you that you can't see. It even gets to me sometimes. So in that regard, it's relatively effective for the time. I just feel like the general plot is a bit of an old-news thing, even for the time.
I will give the film some respect though, as a lot of those underwater shots came out very nicely. Once again, I have to give it up to Ricou Browning for enduring that whole ordeal of swimming in that suit. So the underwater stuff really drags, but at the same time, it's just interesting enough. It was like being at the concert of someone you're only a semi-fan of, waiting for that one song you really like, but it never gets played. Despite that, you sort of mildly enjoy yourself, wishing it was better, but able to walk away content. I think for me, it's just another dated monster movie, and the concept has since been done better. I just needed to wrap up the "Sinister Six" of classic horror.