Archive for Creature

KAMONGO is Swahili for Lungfish: A Scientist looks at Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

Posted in Horror with tags , , , on July 24, 2012 by MONSTERMINIONS

There’s a scene in Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) where Kay Lawrence (Julie Adams) is discussing evolutionary throw-backs and blurts out the name Kamongo as fortification that an amphibious man might exist. When I was a kid I always thought that the writers had screwed up. After all, I couldn’t find “Kamongo” in the Encyclopedia Britannica and it wasn’t in the Time Life nature books, and I never heard of Marlin Perkins wresting one either.

I was sure they were talking about the monstrous living-fossil fish Latimeria, also known as the Coelacanth. Latimeria is a Lazarus Taxon —a group of organisms that disappears from the fossil record, only to reappear again later. The Coelacanth is a living fossil and it fit to a T what smoking hot ichthyologist Julie Adams was talking about. Much later, in graduate school, I took an ichthyology class for giggles (and because the girls in the class were all scuba divers with hot bodies) and found out that the Kamongo did and does indeed exist. It’s the local name for the African lungfish (Genus Protopterus, containing 4 species). Kamongo is the equivalent to the colloquial “Grinnell” that American southerners apply to the ancient Bowfin fish (Amia calva). They’re considered a food fish. Here’s an image of a fellow getting ready to filet a Kamongo.

Lungfishes are an interesting group of organisms. They are successful vertebrates stemming back to the Early Devonian Period (approximately 410 million years ago). The Marbled Lungfish (P. aethiopicus) has the largest genome of any vertebrate on the planet (133 billion base pairs). There’s also an Australian Lungfish (Genus Neoceratodus) that is related to the Coelacanth in being in the very ancient group Sarcopterygii (fleshy finned fishes). African and Australian Lungfishes are examples of convergent evolution —two groups possessing the same biological traits in unrelated lineages. Perhaps there is a proto-lungfish in the fossil record that links the two.

The concept of convergent evolution brings us to the story of the Gill-man. Could an amphibious fish-like humanoid exist? The Creature is an interesting fellow. He’s bi-pedal, possesses cephalization (has a distinct head), has bilateral symmetry, uses tools, “remembers the past and more,” and has a crush on Julie Adams. These are traits of humans and perhaps earlier hominids. He also possesses a hard dermal (possibly ossified) outer layer, splayed webbed feet and hands, gills and protective covering on his eyes (nictitating membranes like a shark or crocodilian). These are fish-like traits. The Gill-man is essentially a fish that convergently evolved like a man. His ancestors would be fleshy-lobed fishes like the lungfish and Coelacanth.

Creature from the Black Lagoon is a well-made and beloved 50’s classic. I think it is also intelligent. Carl Maia (Antonio Moreno) plays a geologist. He refers to limestone deposits, which is exactly where fossils might be found. He offers up the idea that fluctuating water levels may have eroded away the Gill-man fossil and transported it downstream. I’m not sure why the lagoon is downstream, unless the river is impounded. I also like the crew. Like all good seamen, Capt. Lucas (played by the incomparable Nestor Paiva) is improvisational and comes up with a unique way to deal with the Gill-man. Rotenone!

In the film, the crew of the Rita just happens to have some Rotenone (I think Lucas is a poacher), but it is actually derived from several plants. The fuzzy, ubiquitous weed Mullein (Verbascum thapsus), shown in my half-dead lawn, contains trace amounts of rotenone and coumarin (now you can go knock off your spouse).

Rickard Carlson is also believable as ichthyologist David Peel. The writers give him a few dumb comments: “….could it belong to a pleistocene man?”. Nope that’s clearly the claw of an amphibious bi-pedal fish-man. I also laugh when I see schools of fishes in the crystal clear Amazon tributary —look quick for the bullheads swimming about! And then there’s that ubiquitous Australian Kookaburra that got lost in the Amazon Basin!

Colgate Soakys

Posted in Collectibles with tags , , on May 20, 2012 by MONSTERMINIONS

Who remembers Colgate Soakys? I do!  They contained bubble bath soap.  Here is a set of the Universal Monster Soakys I spotted at the Motor City Comic-con.  These things are so cool.  The Gill-man today goes for $150 or so with the cardboard base.  I resisted…

Creature (2011)

Posted in Horror with tags , , on October 4, 2011 by MONSTERMINIONS

I’m a sucker for bi-pedal monsters rendered from rubber or latex suits. The list is endless, including numerous low-budget men-in-gorilla-suit films of the 30’s and 40’s. Then there’s Gojira (1954), Jû jin yuki otoko (Half-Human, 1955) and other Japanese monsters. The 50’s gave us The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), The Abominable Snowman (1957), It the Terror from Beyond Space (1958), The Monster from Piedras Blancas (1959), and The Alligator People (1959). Then there’s King Kong (1976), Alien (1979), Humanoids from the Deep (1980), Predator (1987), the underrated Pumpkinhead (1988), and several films from 1990 to 2010. And now this latest film from The Bubble Factory and director Fred Andrews titled Creature (2011), and playing in select theaters.

In an opening scene reminiscent of Jaws (1975), Creature begins on location with a woman disrobing and taking a nude dip into the murky waters of a cypress swamp. A monstrous gator enters the water. Something attacks her from below. Was it a gator or something else?

Three bickering couples (Niles, Emily, Oscar, Karen, Randy and Beth) are on a road-trip to the Big Easy and get lost in rural Louisiana. One of the girls notices several small churches are closed. They pull over to Chopper’s gas station and curio shop (“aint got no gas”) run by Sid Haig, who plays quirky rednecks to the hilt. Numerous newspaper clippings citing a mine collapse, sink holes and swamp monster sightings hang on the wall. The guys insult the locals and laugh. The locals warn of their local ways and legends. The guys grab some Abita Beer (Abita Springs, LA) and split. They decide to check out a local swamp house. Chopper exclaims to his redneck inbred buddies, “We gonna be alright boys… Ya just gotta have faith…”

On the road, Oscar tells the swamp legend of Grimley, who committed incest, lost his bride to a giant gator, sought and killed the monster reptile and consumed human flesh. Grimley changed and mutated and became one with the alligator. He becomes Lockjaw. After some drinking, pot-smoking, a killer lesbian scene, some more sex, and a few deaths our road-tripping friends encounter the legend of Grimley (Lockjaw).

As movies of this sort go, Creature moves along at a decent pace, the story is a bit familar, but the monster delivers. On-location shooting in rural Louisiana also contributes to the eerie feel of the film. Lockjaw the swamp monster reminds me of a cross between the Spiderman villain/symbiote Carnage and It the Terror from Beyond Space. There’s a dash of The Alligator People in Lockjaw too. He sounds a bit like the Predator. I’d say the film offers one of the better-designed monster suits in recent history. The cast and acting is decent and Sid Haig’s presence certainly helps the film. He’s fun as the local hoodoo keeper of the faith.

Keep an eye out for Creature. This film reminded me of the superior Pumpkinhead (1988) with minor touches of Predator (1987). This is perfect Halloween fare and a bit of a throwback. It’s nice to see an authentic monster —not something rendered in a computer.