Book Review: Creature from the Black Lagoon by Vargo Statten
When marine paleontologist Dr. Carl Maia’s expedition into the Amazon rain forest discovers a unique fossil, which looks like a webbed hand, he asks for a full expedition to the area by his colleagues at the Morajo Institute of Marine Biology. He is joined by the institute’s money-conscious director, Mark Williams, ichthyologist David Reed, research biologist Kay Lawrence, and Dr. Thompson, whose specialty is not obvious. They engage Captain Lucas and his river boat, the Rita, complete with crew.
Back at Dr. Maia’s base camp, the expedition is shocked to discover that the guards have been killed, apparently savaged by a wild beast. There’s no sign of the animal itself, and it does not seem to be around while they look for fossils. Coming up empty, they decide to head down the nearby branch river, which the natives claim runs into a place called “the Black Lagoon.” It’s supposedly a place from which no man returns.
As it turns out, there’s a bit of truth to that story. For within the Black Lagoon lurks a creature, a surviving member of a species from the Devonian era. And it’s not fond of visitors….
The 1954 movie Creature from the Black Lagoon was a huge hit for Universal Pictures, spawning two sequels, the last of their monster franchises. For the movie’s international debut in Britain, they hired Vargo Statten (pen name of John Russell Fearn) to write a novelization. Unlike other novelizations, which generally have to work off an early script, Mr. Fearn was able to use the finished product, making the book very faithful to the film. The book was considered a superior example of the type, and has become a collector’s item, running in the thousands of dollars.
This is the first American reprint, and Dreamhaven Books has done it up well, with a new cover, an introduction explaining the background of the film and book, many movie stills and production photos, and a biography of Vargo Statten.
The actual reprint part is relatively slim, as was the custom for paperbacks of the time, and sticks very closely to the movie with additional dialogue. The plot works well enough, but you shouldn’t think about the science too hard. Many of the scenes are cinematic in nature, and at times the reader will need to pay close attention to follow the action.
The book shares with the movie a heavy dose of Fifties sexism and gender politics. It’s suggested to Kay, for example, that “science” and “feminine” are contradictory personality traits. She’s constantly being told that things are too dangerous/tough/frightening for a woman. And Kay seems to enjoy two handsome fellows quarreling over her.
Meanwhile, Dr. Williams and Dr. Reed suffer from toxic masculinity; fighting over Kay’s affections, competing over what to do about the creature, and rushing to the attack when running away would have been wiser. Dr. Williams uses his position as Kay’s boss to pressure her into not completely rejecting his romantic advances.
And then there’s the poor lonely Gill Man, who wants Kay for…something, it’s not quite sure what. If only these other dratted humans would go away! Yes, the Gill Man is a monster that kills several people due to them invading its territory. But we can sympathize with its wish not to be captured for Science! and put on display or vivisected.
This is a fun read with good extras, and I highly recommend it. It’s a must-have for the Gill Man lover in your life. Please consider buying it directly from Dreamhaven Books to support small press.