O my Chevrotain!

A film with multiple parallels to Monster on the Campus is the earlier classic, also directed by Jack Arnold, Creature from the Black Lagoon. Here we find the same notion — that species from the distant past (in both movies, “one hundred million years ago”), when brought into the present, are capable of only a lunging, murderous rage against human beings, as if primitive were synonymous with malevolent. In Creature, the “Gill Man,” (so-called, though he often moves comfortably on deck, and even, Grendel-like, uses an underwater grotto as his lair), can be thought of either as a fish that has evolved in a very humanoid direction, or an early primate that has, after choosing a lagoon habitat, evolved fish-like features. In either case the creature, especially in its underwater scenes, has a poetic, seductive realism, and balances his viciousness with moments of graceful curiosity, the kind we already know from otters and dolphins and that we might after all expect from an aquatic hominid.

There are examples in evolution of animals adapting to an underwater life and morphing over millenia into new species. I learned this week that paleontologists have identified a primitive (malevolent?) deer-like animal, Indohyus, as the  ancestor of the whales. The indohyus, like the modern

chevrotain, could lurk underwater, hiding from predators for lengths of time, and in time evolved into an animal that could live underwater permanently. Astonishing to think that a small cervine creature could morph into something as grand as a sperm whale. But time and love allow. A more gruesome evolution is that of the Gill-Man himself, who these days can be seen prancing and singing on L. A. billboards, advertising something or other, I have no idea what. I understand that there is currently a serious remake of Creature in the works, but I can think of nothing more horrifying for “my beautiful beast” than to be transformed into a degraded rock star and pressed into the service of vulgarity and merchandising.

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