Welcome to week five of Lockdown Movie Musts! Featuring weird subgenres of yore that'll take your mind off, well, (*smashes head on wall*) you know...
This week, we’re creepin’ and crawlin’ through swamps and a surprising amount of radiation to get better acquainted with the underwater creatures of 1950s B-movies.
The rational place to start, of course, is with the most famous of them all: 1954’sCreature From the Black Lagoon. It’s a movie that starts with lofty ideas (a depiction of the Big Bang!) and descends quickly into racist nonsense (why do all these indigenous people have hair like Moe from the Three Stooges?). Then come a series of appearances by the aforementioned creature that revolve entirely around his webbed hand. (It reaches out of the water in a claw position! It touches the riverbank in slow motion for no reason! And, faced with the sight of a Moe haircut, it attacks!)
The plot involves a team of explorers who are hanging out in the Amazon investigating a fossilized version of The Webbed Hand that presumably came from the creature's great-grandad. What follows is a gratuitous amount of scuba diving (presumably because it was only invented 12 years before this movie came out) and human behavior that is increasingly hard to justify.
There the creature is, just swimming around, trying to deal with his woeful inability to successfully grab women’s ankles. Meanwhile, the humans are casually tossing cigarette butts into his lagoon and wondering why their repeated attempts to hurt or trap him are making him angry. It’s impossible not to side with the creature on this one. The moral of the story is clear: humans are awful.
1957’s Attack of the Crab Monsters makes for far less emotional viewing because it makes absolutely no sense. Sure, radiation has made a bunch of giant googly-eyed crabs. And sure, a team of humans wants to investigate. But get this! In this movie—and please bear with me—when a human gets eaten by a crab, the crab then magically absorbs the personality of the human and can suddenly transmit their voice and thoughts. Long-distance, sometimes!
At one point, an on-screen botanist tries to make sense of this by saying: “Once they were men, now they are land crabs.” Sure, bro, but what’s with the ghost-in-the-crustacean stuff?
Also on the confusing front—and this is definitely a side-note—there is only one woman on the team of explorers here and her eyebrows appear to have been stolen from a ventriloquist’s dummy.
Anyway, just like those eyebrows, Attack of the Crab Monsters tries way, way too hard to justify itself. It could learn a thing or two from our next pick, a 1959 movie that answers the question: What would it look like if a man turned into an alligator, but still managed to keep his snazzy, high-waisted, 1950s pants on? It’s The Alligator People!
It all begins with Joyce, a woman whose husband, Paul, ditches her literally an hour into their honeymoon. She responds to this by going on a cross-country hunt to track him down. (Have some pride, woman! Just get an annulment and put on some Ariana Grande, already!)
After arriving in the butt crack of Louisiana, Joyce casually jumps into the truck of a man with a hook hand who enjoys running over alligators and saying menacing things about swamps and quicksand.
(Can we just take a timeout here to talk about the fact that, if you were a child growing up anytime between 1920 and 1990, quicksand was presented in popular culture as a constant, imminent threat. Why don't we ever hear about quicksand anymore? It used to be freakin’ everywhere.)
After arriving totally unannounced at Paul’s family’s house (rude much, Joyce?), Joyce meets Paul’s mom, who has an accent that can’t make up its mind about whether it wants to be Southern, British or Mrs. Doubtfire. Also, Joyce finds a local doctor who dresses like Colonel Sanders and has been doing dodgy experiments on gravely injured people using radiation and alligator DNA. Turns out—*dun-dun-duuuuun!*—Paul is one of them! And now his face is falling off! Or getting scaley! Or both depending on the makeup that day!
I don't want to spoil the ending, but Beverly Garland has to do a surprising amount of stunt work with living, snapping alligators, and the alligator-man in the pants is a thing of majestic beauty that you’ll never forget.