NOTES ON THE GILL-MAN OF THE UPPER AMAZON

By

Michael D. Winkle

Nearly half a century has passed since the papers were full of stories of the Gill-Man, or Creature from the Black Lagoon, as this Devonian relic was nicknamed. His capture in 1955 was a news story compared by some to the birth of the atomic bomb, and his subsequent escape from Ocean Harbor in Florida sparked a scare comparable to the Orson Welles "War of the Worlds" broadcast, with the aquatic beast being "spotted" everywhere from Norfolk, Virginia, to Panama.

The Gill-Man was reported killed in a hail of police bullets but he survived such assaults before. Skeptics point out that he hasn't been seen since the mid-50s; therefore this fantastic remnant of another age must have gone to that big lagoon in the sky. Or has he? Certain stories and films of the past few decades indicate that the Creatures still swims and walks among us.

For some reason, the Gill-Man's manifestations strike a chord with makers of B-, C-, and Z-grade movies. Many of his appearances have been "documented" in a murky and inaccurate fashion in such clunkers as Monster of Piedras Blancas and Destination Inner Space. Still, we find our evidence where we can.

A Gill-Man Timeline:

1954- Dr. Carl Maia discovers the fossilized forearm and hand of a Gill-Man somewhere in the forests of Brazil. The Instituto de Biologia Maritima backs an expedition up the Amazon. Dr. Maia and his associates discover and capture a living Gill-Man, unchanged since the Devonian era. The Creature escapes and kills several people, including museum director Mark Williams. The Gill-Man is shot several times and is presumed to have perished. (Creature from the Black Lagoon, 1954) However, the aquatic being possesses a low-level form of regeneration; he merely slips into a coma for a few days and revives, as lively as ever.

1955- The Gill Man is captured and taken to Ocean Harbor Park in Florida. There he is studied by Prof. Clete Ferguson (science has run in his family since his great-grandfather Samuel Ferguson spent five weeks in a balloon in 1863). In early June the Gill-Man escapes and kidnaps ichthyology student Helen Dobson from a Jacksonville riverfront club. The Creature is eventually located and is apparently slain in a barrage of bullets. (Revenge of the Creature, 1955)

1956- Dr. William Barton and a group of scientists capture the Gill-Man in the Everglades. During the struggle the Creature is severely burned by a gasoline torch. The doctors discover he has lungs, which they open, and the Gill-Man becomes an air-breathing being. In August Barton transports the Creature to his ranch near Sausalito, California. Brilliant though he is, Barton is insanely jealous of his wife. He murders a ship's hand who, he believes, is having an affair with her. He tosses the body in the Gill-Man's enclosure, but the violence the Creature has witnessed brings out the former amphibian's rage. The Gill-Man breaks free and goes on a rampage, killing Barton in the process. Witnesses report him heading west towards the wide Pacific. (The Creature Walks Among Us, 1956) Most people believe the Gill-Man drowns upon re-entering the sea with his newly inflated lungs. However, once in the water the fish-man's gills open again, and his regenerative powers come into play. In a few weeks he is as strong (and scaly) as ever. Instinct tells him to return to the Black Lagoon but he is on the wrong side of the Western Hemisphere to reach the Amazon River.

Late summer, 1956- The Gill-Man kills several people along the southern California coast. These events inspire a cheap 1958 film called Monster of Piedras Blancas.

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-- "Frankenstein TV Movie Guide,"

Castle of Frankenstein #19 (1972)

1956- A number of prehistoric caterpillar-like mollusks are awakened by a combination of earthquakes and radiation in May of this year. Dr. Jess Rogers [no known relation to Steve Rogers, see the entry for 1976] dubs them "Kraken". They terrorize the Salton Sea area in California, sucking the life-fluids out of humans and animals. Despite the heroic efforts of Lt. Commander John Twillinger and the men of El Centro Air Base, a few of these monsters escape into the Colorado River and thence into the Gulf of California. The Gill-Man feels an instinctive hatred for the Kraken-worms, however, and once he senses them off Baja California, he fights them to the death. The Creature encounters the Kraken several times over the ensuing years, killing them and destroying their eggs whenever possible.

1956-57- In mid-1956 Eric de Bisschop, a 65-year-old adventurer, attempts to sail from Tahiti to Chili in a replica of an ancient Polynesian raft, a bamboo vessel christened Tahiti-Nui. He believes the ancient Polynesians crossed the Pacific and colonized South America , the opposite of what Thor Heyerdahl suggested with his Kon-Tiki. "At midnight on January 2, 1957, in latitude 32 South and longitude 144 15' West," as he writes in Tahiti-Nui (1957), "I came off watch, handing over to my young friend Alain."

The raft has been sitting dead in the water for twenty-four hours, "on a marvelously flat sea without a breath of wind." De Bisschop dozes for a while but returns to the deck to relieve himself. He finds crewman Alain staggering around and gibbering like a lunatic. The young sailor eventually gathers his wits enough to say that "I heard a noise coming from forward, a fairly loud noise followed by others not so loud, exactly as if a large dolphin of the same size as those we tried to harpoon the other day had just accidentally jumped on board and was thrashing its tail trying to get back into the sea."

Alain intends to spear the "dolphin" before it damages the bamboo railings, but "the large dolphin, or what I had thought to be a dolphin, had in one bound taken up a position that was quite abnormal for a fish, it was standing upright."

The Creature leaps at Alain, knocking him down and plunging back into the sea. De Bisschop writes: "I could see, quite clearly, on his bare arms, sticky and luminous, the strange scales of a fish." He informs the press via radio that a "mermaid" has visited the raft.

The position given by de Bisschop lies south of Tahiti, about halfway between Chili and Australia. The Gill-Man is taking a roundabout route home, literally circumnavigating the globe. He may have jumped aboard the Tahiti-Nui by accident or simply out of curiosity.

1960- Bigfoot hunter John Green spent some time and effort investigating a report of a sea-borne humanoid. Unfortunately, he tells us only that the event was witnessed by "Mrs. N's" cousin "Errol". "Mrs. N. thought it was the summer of 1960 and the area near Ketchikan [Alaska]," Green writes in his 1978 book Sasquatch: The Apes Among Us. Errol was fifteen at the time. The local fishermen are "having a lot of trouble with something ripping up their nets and stealing fish and so on. Nobody knew what was doing this." One night the fishermen are playing poker in a shack. Errol's father sends the boy out to haul in their skiff. The boy trots out with a flashlight onto an "L"- shaped dock, the long leg of the "L" paralleling the shore.

The boy hauls the skiff onto the deck of the fishing vessel and spots something in the water between himself and the shore. "The thing was not exactly a person but it had arms like a man and a head. . . It had round eyes, not big, beady like. It just stared at him, quite close, standing up to its waist in the water." The boy screams and dashes back to the shack, and the fishermen come running. "About 30 or so of them saw the thing. They shone several lights on it as it dived under water and swam away. They could see it under water swimming like a frog. . . The men could see legs and arms as it swam out of sight. Nobody in the crowd had ever seen anything like it." Errol will not have anything to do with boats or fishing for a long time.

If this is the Gill-Man, he is way off course. He may be trying one last time to circumvent this annoying barrier between himself and the Amazon (North and South America) before finally striking westward.

1964- near the Marianas Trench, the Gill-Man boards a Dutch freighter, killing or frightening off everyone aboard with the exception of a Chinese cook. Dr. Benton Quest, his son Jonny, and their companions find the derelict and land their VTOL on the deck, which the Creature promptly disables. There follows a running battle between the Quest party and the Gill-Man, which ends with the aquatic being diving back into the sea. Certain popular representations of this adventure give the Creature a dinosaurian tail, goggle eyes, and immunity to every weapon conceivable, probably exaggerations for entertainment purposes. ("The Sea-Haunt," Adventures of Jonny Quest, 1964.)

1965- Rumors that the Gill-Man is on the rampage again in southern California prove false: It's merely a psychopathic father in a Creature costume slaying the teenage beach bums who turned his son into a slacker. (Monster from the Surf, 1965.)

1966- The Gill-Man threatens an experimental underwater laboratory, SeaLab, somewhere in the Pacific. A quickie movie is filmed about the Devonian relic, based on rumors leaking from the men assigned to SeaLab. The film, Destination Inner Space, is made at a time when books like Flying Saucers, Serious Business and Incident at Exeter are on the bestseller list, thus the screenplay calls for the Gill-Man to be an alien from a downed UFO. (That's Hollywood for you.)

1966- A strange party is held on a remote island in the Pacific, hosted by Baron Boris Von Frankenstein. Some reports state that the visitors to the island are "monsters", but the more level-headed witnesses are sure these "monsters" are merely people made up for a costume ball. At any rate, the Gill-Man finds himself drawn to the island, as is a specimen of the monstrous anthropoid known as Denham's Ape. The island is eventually destroyed by a nuclear blast that the U.S. government retroactively claims as one of its H-bomb tests. The Gill-Man escapes this calamity and swims off into the depths. The only account of these events, the 1967 film Mad Monster Party, is turned into a kiddie show from Rankin-Bass, the people who gave you Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Among other changes, the setting was moved from the Pacific to the Caribbean. The true story of what happened on the island may never be known.

1966-1976 -The Gill-Man travels westward through Indonesia, the Indian Ocean, around Africa's Cape of Good Hope and thence across the Atlantic to the Amazon. More research will be done on this time-period to see if any sightings of the Creature can be documented.

1976- While in a running battle with South American prison warden Hector "the Swine" Santiago, Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, runs afoul of the Gill-Man. The amphibious being eventually slays Santiago and his guards. ("The River of Death!" by Jack Kirby, Captain America #208, April, 1977.) In an attempt to make the Gill-Man look like a "new" monster, Kirby draws him with bulbous eyes and bright red scales. [The Marvel Universe is not the same as the Wold-Newton Universe, so presumably a mainstream Marvel title like Cap should be excluded. However, artist/writer Kirby has known Cap/Rogers since 1941, and in the Newtoniverse Cap sometimes opens his files to comic book legend Kirby. In fact, a letter from Robert Sodaro in this very issue states: "Since Jack started writing for Marvel again, the plotlines of CAPTAIN AMERICA. . . have had little if anything to do with the rest of the Marvel Universe."]

1977- A band of adventurers called the Challengers of the Unknown investigate strange murders near the PetroSur oil fields in Brazil. Once there they meet not only the Gill-Man but Nazis in hiding decades after WW II. They claim after their investigation that the Gill-Man is an exile from another dimension. (Challengers of the Unknown by Ron Goulart, 1977.) [Goulart thinly disguises the Gill-Man's watery home under the name "Lake Sombra," the Lake of Shadows, and even renames the country ("Ereguay").]

1987- The Gill-Man becomes a minion of Dracula, helping in the vampire lord's quest to find a powerful magic amulet. How Dracula ended up contacting the Creature is anybody's guess. Perhaps the vampire really was present at the "Monster Party" in 1966 and met the amphibian then. At any rate, the Gill-Man is eventually sucked into a dimensional limbo with several other monsters. (Monster Squad, 1987.)

1980s-90s - The Gill-Man escapes from Limbo sometime in the next few years. Rumors abound of tourists encountering the Creature (to their dismay) as the Amazon rain forest is opened more and more to commercialization. There is even a "Black Lagoon Resort" built, but the Gill-Man takes issue with the resulting ecological damage and strikes out at the exploiters of his domain. The resort is abandoned and reclaimed by the rain forest. ("Revenge of the Return of the Remake of Creature from the Black Lagoon" by David J. Schow, Filmfax #73, June/July 1999.) [Let's hope Universal Studios doesn't film this era of the Gill-Man's career. The various scripts call for the Creature to have a Velociraptor-like tail, "telescoping, Freddy Krueger-style claws" for decapitating his victims, and ink he spews out squid-fashion. That's Hollywood. . .]

1990s- A documentary film crew in the Amazon reports being stalked by the Gill-Man and an anaconda of immense size. Their adventure culminates in a savage battle between the Creature and the giant snake. When their account is adapted for the screen, all references to the Gill-Man are cut out, and the movie is released as, you guessed it, Anaconda (1997)! ("Revenge of the Return of the Remake. . .") [That's. . .]

ca. 2025- The Gill-Man tangles several times with a band of supernatural experts called Monster Force. (The animated series Monster Force.)

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Certain urban legends concerning mass assaults by Gill-Man-like beings are probably not observations of our Devonian relic. Rumor has it that Connecticut's Party Beach was invaded by sea-dwelling humanoids in 1964; these scaly creatures, supposedly spawned by atomic waste, were destroyed by common table salt (I though the ocean was full of salt?). (Horror of Party Beach, 1964)

A bloody riot at a shorefront amusement park in Noyo, Washington, in 1980 was attributed by many witnesses to scaly "Humanoids" that shambled out of the sea. These creatures were also blamed for rapes and murders along the coast, putting them in the "Hook" and "Goatman" category of legendary monsters. (Humanoids from the Deep, 1980)

These rumors may be traced back to the events that took place in 1928 in Innsmouth, Massachusetts, which eventually resulted in the U.S. government dynamiting Devil's Reef, just offshore. Captain Obed Marsh, nearly a century before this date, returned from the South Pacific with stories of the "Deep Ones," submersible beings who, legend has it, serve Cthulhu and Dagon. Upon returning to Innsmouth, Marsh founded the Esoteric Order of Dagon, and eventually the people of the town came to believe that Deep Ones lived not only in the distant Pacific but just offshore as well, sometimes even interbreeding with humans. More information on this subject can be found in the records of Miskatonic University in Arkham.

The Gill-Man probably represents an independent species of underwater beings. The Miskatonic professors themselves admit to additional sea-creatures mentioned in their ancient texts, such as the Inhabitants of Ib and the many-finned Gnorri.

The Gill-Man seems to exist alone in our modern world, "an orphan of time," as Helen Dobson put it. However, Nigel Kneale, famed biographer of rocket scientist Bernard Quatermass, has passed on "the notion of the Creature's culture as a 'lost', primitive civilization." ("Revenge of the Return. . .") Perhaps, somewhere in the depths, more of his kind lurk. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the Lagoon. . .

Researchers into the Wold-Newton Universe have documented the existences of King Kong, Dracula and the Frankenstein Monster(s). Now we can add another Famous Monster, the infamous Creature from the Black Lagoon, to the list of strange beings roaming the Newtoniverse.

 

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All rights reserved. The text of this article is copyright 2000 by the author, Michael D. Winkle. No copying or reproduction of this article or any portions thereof in any form whatsoever is permitted without prior written permission and consent of the author