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Villain Overview
In the beginning, God created the Heaven and the Earth. And the Earth was without form and void. This is the planet Earth, newly born and cooling rapidly from a temperature of six thousand degrees to a few hundred in less than five billion years. The heat rises, meets the atmosphere, the clouds form and rain pours down upon the hardening surface for countless centuries. The restless seas rise, find boundaries, are contained. Now, in their warm depths, the miracle of life begins. In infinite variety, living things appear, and change, and reach the land, leaving a record of their coming, of their struggle to survive and of their eventual end. The record of life is written on the land, where fifteen million years later, in the upper reaches of the Amazon, man is still trying to read it.
~ The opening narration for The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

The Gill-man (also better known as the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Swamp Creature and the Amphibian Man) is the titular character and main antagonist in the 1954 classic sci-fi film The Creature from the Black Lagoon and its two sequels from 1955 (Revenge of the Creature) and 1956 (The Creature Walks Among Us).

He is the last of a race of amphibious humanoids that existed back in the Devonian age and resided in a lagoon deep in the Amazonian rainforest.

Gill-man has since become an iconic Universal monster, and although never reaching the status of Frankenstein's Monster, Count Dracula and others, it is still shown alongside his fellow monsters every time the line-up makes an appearance in media.

On land, he was portrayed by the late Ben Chapman in the first movie, Tom Hennesy in the second and Don Megowan in the third. Throughout all three movies, Ricou Browning portrayed the Gill-man underwater.

Appearance

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Gill-man in color.

Not since the beginning of time has the world beheld terror like this!
~ The tagline for Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Since the movie was filmed in black and white, most people aren't aware that the creature's true coloration is green, to better camouflage itself with the similarly colored waters of his lagoon. Much like many species of fish, he has pronounced lips and scales all over his body, as well as gills located on the sides of his head which is directly connected to his neck.

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An artistic representation of Gill-man's size.

He is substantially taller than the average human male, and although never accurately measured, it is stated to be around 7 to 8 feet tall (half a centimeter more than that of the average male adult, according to Dr. Borg and the Ocean Harbor Oceanarium's measurements) and weighing approximately 300 pounds.

His appearance changes somewhat drastically in The Creature Walks Among Us after he adapts to land, becoming bulkier and less scaly, lacking many of his previous amphibious traits such as his webbing and gills.

Personality

I think the best thing about the picture is that we do feel for the Creature. We feel for him and his predicament and where he is and so on. I think that’s a very positive thing really. I like that we feel sympathy for the Creature.
~ Julie Adams on the Gill-man.

For the most part, the Gill-man behaves anomalistically, defending its territory and preying on potential food sources. It starts out curious in the first movie, but as his encounters with modern humans progress in every film, the more aggressive it becomes when it sights one, and is very vicious in its kills, with the creature's most common method of killing being crushing the victim's head.

It becomes more calm and peaceful once again in The Creature Walks Among Us, though feels sad in that it is in an enclosed space and wishes to return to the water, unaware that it has already adapted to land and that staying underwater for too long would mean certain death, and shows great anger when blamed for a murder he didn't commit, lashing out against the man who was going to pin an accidental death during a scuffle on the creature. Throughout all movies, despite lacking a range of emotions, Gill-man shows sadness and it's implied that he is aware that he's the last of his kind.

Biography

Most of the events of the Gill-man's life are unknown before the events of the film, however, Lucas, captain of the Rita, says that the natives claim nobody has ever returned from the lagoon, implying others have had (unsuccessful) encounters with the creature before.

It is possible that Gill-man, or at least its kind, has been around that area for as long as several million years.

Creature from the Black Lagoon

Charm Creature Black Lagoon Hand

Gill-man crushes the head of an intruder.

We've just begun to learn about the water and its secrets, just as we've only touched on outer space. We don't entirely rule out the possibility that there might be some form of life on another planet, and why not some entirely different form of life in a world we already know is inhabited by millions of living creatures?
~ David Reed on the existence of creatures like Gill-man.

In Creature from the Black Lagoon, Gill-man encounters a geology expedition in the Amazon near his territory, referred to by locals as the "Black Lagoon".

They were uncovering fossilized evidence, a skeletal hand with webbed fingers, fossils of his people. The hand is from the Devonian period, and provides a direct link between land and sea animals, being seen as valuable in this regard. Territorial and possibly respectful towards dead members of his species, Gill-man kills the remaining crew members after some of them left with the hand.

The rest of the group returns aboard a vessel known as the Rita led by its captain Lucas, and investigate the waters, speculating the rest of the skeleton belonging to the hand must be underwater and unaware that the amphibious "Gill-man" has been watching them ever since their arrival. Taking notice of the beautiful Kay, the creature follows the Rita all the way downriver to the Black Lagoon. After two of the team's members, David and Mark, return from collecting rocks, Kay goes swimming and is stalked underwater by the Gill-man, who then gets briefly caught in one of the ship's draglines. Although it escapes, the creature leaves a claw behind in the net, revealing its existence.

Subsequent encounters with the Gill-man claim the lives of Lucas's crew members before the Creature is captured and locked in a cage aboard the Rita. It escapes during the night, attacking Edwin, who was guarding it. Kay smashes the Creature with a lantern, driving it off, but Edwin is severely injured. Following this incident, David decides they should return to civilization. Mark, obsessed with capturing (or killing) the Creature, objects.

As the Rita tries to leave, they find the Gill-man has blocked the lagoon's entrance with fallen logs. While the others attempt to remove the logs, Mark is killed while trying to capture the Creature single-handedly underwater. The Gill-man then abducts Kay and takes her to its cavern lair. David, Lucas, and Carl chase after the Creature, and Kay is ultimately rescued. The Creature is riddled with bullets before retreating to the lagoon, where its body sinks into the watery depths.

Sequels

The second film, Revenge of the Creature, reveals that it is still alive. In this film, Gill-man is captured and sent to an aquarium in Florida to be studied. It escapes to the ocean and once again kidnaps a woman, the only scientist who had shown some degree of compassion for the creature, and once again it ends up being shot down and disappearing in the waters.

Creaturewalks

Gill-man's "terrestrial stage" in the third film.

The third movie, The Creature Walks Among Us, shows the creature suffering a horrible accident and undergoing evolution as it adapts to land which makes it more human-looking. After unsuccessful attempts to integrate the monster into society, it finally escapes back to the ocean, though due to the fact that he could no longer breathe in the water, the ending likely implies the creature died from suffocating, as it cuts away into the credits before it reaches the water.

Powers and Abilities

The Creature is either the last remnant of a 15 million year old species or has itself survived since the Devonian age, potentially making it immortal in age.

The Gill-man is fully amphibious, capable of breathing both in and out of the water, similar to the African lungfish, which lives underwater during mating season, but breathes surface air when its lake habitat dries up. Gill-man however, is only able to survive out of the water for a few minutes, and if it stays out any longer it will become weaker, pass out and eventually die. It possesses large, webbed hands with claws on the tip of each finger, claws sharp enough to be compared to those of a jaguar when investigating one of his murders.

35% of the Gill-man's blood is composed of white corpuscles, lacking a nucleus, making Gill-man, genetically speaking, halfway between marine and mammal life, possessing an outer layer of marine scales over a layer of mammalian epidermis. The Gill-man's scaly skin is extremely tough, which combined with a fast healing factor, allows it to survive wounds that would be fatal to humans, such as gunshots and full immolation.

As shown in the first film, it is vulnerable to rotenone; however, while this drug is very efficient on fish, it lasts far less with the Gill-man (to the point where a special concoction had to be made strong enough to knock out an elephant). Later in the same scene where the creature reawakens from the drug's effects, the creature is shown to be slightly photophobic due to its murky water habitat as it smashes a nearby lantern. This is a consistent weakness across the two next films, where light is constantly used to annoy or distract the creature, though it only really manages to anger it.

Gill-man LiftingCar

Gill-man shows off his immense physical abilities, even while out of the water.

In the original film, the Gill-man is extremely stealthy and fast underwater. Though lacking mandibles or teeth, it still uses its jaws to tear apart the breathing tube used by divers, which also showcases great intelligence. In Revenge of the Creature, it's further expanded that the creature is not only highly intelligent but three times smarter than a chimpanzee.

Gill-man HeadCrush

Gill-man's most common and brutal killing method.

In both the first and second movies, it showcases incredible superhuman strength, shaking the Rita (a 40-50 ft long vessel) back and forth while trapped on a net in the first movie and overturning cars weighing nearly 2 tonnes in the second one. In all movies, his preferred method of killing any who stand in his way is by crushing their skulls with his large hands.

As shown in the third film, The Creature Walks Among Us, the Gill-man has a dormant set of lungs, should its gills be irreparably damaged, and as the Gill-man adapts to land, he becomes a less efficient swimmer (lacking the webbing on his hands and feet) and can no longer breathe underwater, becoming bulkier in appearance and seemingly much heavier. Having lost that, however, Gill-man obtained higher intelligence, now able to understand the concept of doors and possibly human language to an even more perfect extent than before, getting blamed for a murder, and he gained even greater strength, able to smash through thick brick walls with utter ease.

Reception

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The Creature from the Black Lagoon became a much bigger figure than anyone could've ever expected.

Well, you know, people always ask me what makes Creature from the Black Lagoon hold up after all these years. I always say that if you look at the movie, the storyline starts with the Big Bang. Then it goes to the creation of man, and you see evolution with man coming out of the sea. The theory today is that man DID come out of the sea. These are issues that men today are STILL dwelling on. Was man created? Or, was man evolved? So, that's why if you watch Creature, you're not bored because it still makes sense.
~ Ben Chapman on Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Despite coming out a few decades after most Universal movies featuring iconic monsters, Gill-man has become part of the line-up alongside Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, the Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, the Mummy, the Invisible Man, and The Phantom of the Opera.

He (as well as homages or parodies of the character) has made multiple appearances in other media:

The Munsters

The Gill-Man made another notable appearance on the 1960s sitcom The Munsters where he was the family's Uncle Gilbert, made very wealthy by all the ships that have sunk near his lagoon. In this, he is fully sentient, speaks coherently, and is quite friendly and gregarious. He also wears a trench coat, and when he sits down, water leaks over the floor.

Monster Squad

Gilsquad

Gill-man in Monster Squad.

The Gill-man was also a minor antagonist in the 1987 comedy/horror film "Monster Squad". The Gill-man was one of the least featured monsters in the film, though his design has become somewhat famous. He was portrayed by Tom Woodruff Jr., who would later work prominently in the Alien film series, with this being his first costume portrayal. Unlike his Universal counterpart, who merely acted out of instinct from feeling threatened, this version willingly partakes in Dracula's evil plans to destroy the world through his medallion. He also shows no love for anyone in this version.

In the movie, he was shown bringing a box containing Frankenstein's Monster (who was previously shown being dropped from an airplane into the Black Lagoon) to Dracula. Later in the film, he is shown to be stealing a twinkie from a child (despite his friends' disbelief). At the end of the film, he comes out of the sewers and kills multiple police officers, before getting shot dead by Horace.

Dark Universe

I love Creature From the Black Lagoon, because in many ways it was the first action/adventure/horror movie, and it really broke new ground in that way. There were some interesting ecological lessons that the movie was trying to teach you, and it was a very unique thing. Again, that's a creature that is fascinated with this woman, and it's really all about wanting to connect to a human. I think that's very relatable in a lot of ways. That is the beauty of the Monster universe. Each character has a very compelling, moving interest; you just have to figure out how to tell that story.
~ Alex Kurtzman, director of the 2017 The Mummy, on the Gill-man.
Gill-man arm

In the proposed shared universe of the rebooted versions of the classic Universal Monsters, Gill-man would've (naturally) been part of it, and even made a cameo in the 2017 movie The Mummy, or at least, the arm of one of its species found in Brazil and kept within a glass container at Prodigium HQ, possibly a reference to the fossilized arm from the original movie that was retrieved from the black lagoon and brought to the USA.

Trivia

  • Gill-man, unlike his fellow Universal monsters, was not based on existing literary (Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, the Invisible Man) or mythological and historical (the Wolfman, the Mummy) creatures. Instead, the Creature from the Black Lagoon was influenced by the Deep Ones from the works of H.P. Lovecraft.
  • Gill-man is the most physically powerful Universal monster, possessing strength that allows him to flip vehicles and crush skulls and regeneration that can allow him to survive serious injuries.
    • Ironically, in The Monster Squad, he is portrayed as one of, if not the weakest monster, as he dies from a single rifle gunshot to the chest.

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