8 Ways the Creature From the Black Lagoon Still Walks Among Us

In a few weeks, New York-based Mezco toys will release a new action figure as part of its Living Dead Dolls series. The figure is 10 inches tall, highly detailed and jointed in nine places. And since the figure’s entire body is vinyl, kids can take him into the bathtub if they want. “That’s a huge selling point,” said Mezco’s director of special projects Mike Drake.

So who’s the character? Not superhero, but mutant amphibian: the Creature From the Black Lagoon.

Heard of him? Of course you have. He’s the fish-headed dude in the rubber suit who fell in love with bathing beauty Julie Adams in Universal’s 1954 motion picture. The film (an aquatic King Kong, some have called it) was a low-budget special—filmed in 3-D but often screened in two, and popular enough to spawn two sequels before the '50s were up.

But unlike other silver-screen ghouls treated to millennial makeovers (Dracula, the Wolfman, the Mummy), Hollywood left the Creature at the bottom of the lake. With the exception of a short-lived musical revival at the Universal Studios theme park in 2009, and the never-ending rumors of a possible new movie, the prehistoric Gill Man has enjoyed no remakes, no updates, no real marketing to speak of. (Universal did not respond to a request for comment.) He’s a relic of the drive-in era, a C-list star whose moment was over before many of us were born.

And yet, in the world of toys the Creature is a rock star, as popular as ever.

“The fact that we’ve released two versions of the creature with yet another on the way is a testament to the Creature’s enduring popularity,” said Bob Plant, art director for Moebius Models, which is readying its latest Creature for the market later this year.

“He was a perennial best-seller, so last year we re-sculpted him from the ground up,” said Chuck Terceira, president of Diamond Select Toys, which makes both a Creature action figure and a Creature coin bank. “Many are saying it’s one of the greatest monster figures we’ve ever made.”

“The Creature transcends being a simple brand,” added Mezco's Drake. “He’s maintained his popularity, and it’s fascinating to think that for 60 years it’s all been because of those movies.”

"The last real original monster from Universal was the Creature," said Bob Burns, the venerable producer, consultant, author and movie prop historian. "They made others after that, but none had the staying power of the Creature, and it still has it today."

What’s the secret of this Eisenhower-era monster’s branding vitality? Why do people still like him enough to collect him, plunk down up to 50 bucks for a model of him or, in Mezco’s case, take a bath with him? We put that very question to toy company executives who continue to churn out seemingly endless variations of the scaly star. Below are their answers—and a look at the sheer variety of Creatures on the market right now.

1

The Living Dead Creature

Mezco's Drake speculates that part of the Creature's enduring popularity owes itself to what he calls the Jaws Factor. "Who hasn't swum in the ocean and felt, 'Oh my God, what's down there?'" Drake said. "It plays to the fear of the unknown." Mezco already has a number of Creature from the Black Lagoon figures in production, but its latest (shown above) will emerge from the depths in July. Meanwhile, fans can head to the depths with this $32, 10-inch figure—part of the Living Dead Doll family—since he's bathtub safe.

2

The Frighteningly Realistic Creature

Diamond Select Toys produced its first Creature in 2010, and he sold so well that last year the company's modelers gave him a complete makeover. This new figure ($24.99) stands 7 inches tall, bends in 20 places and stands on his very own bone-strewn swampscape.

Company president Chuck Terceira believes that the Creature has sustained his popularity over six decades because, unlike human-faced monsters such as Dracula, the Creature's visage isn't associated with a specific actor. "It's easier to project yourself into the Creature's predicament," he said. "After all, we all want to find someone, and we all sometimes feel like an outsider. Although he's the least human of all the monsters, the Creature is an everyman."

3

The Build-Your-Own Creature

Moebius Models has only been in business for a few years, but it's already released two Creature kits and is preparing a third for release later this year. (The $44.99 one above "comes complete with a generic, unconscious female," enthuses art director Bob Plant.) Moebius president Frank Winspur believes the Creature is still popular because, when it comes to the business of scaring people, computers simply can't match the traditional horror of being chased by an actual living thing. Monsters like the Creature, he said, "really transcend the current VFX monsters that can be created digitally." The Creature, he added, is more or less an underwater version of Frankenstein or the Mummy—"a living, breathing possibility."

4

The Bloody Terror Creature

Released in February, Funko's Bloody Terror Creature is a limited-run collectible (only 500 made) produced in clear Sofubi vinyl. Funko's marketing coordinator Cameron Deuel said that even though the Creature starred in just three movies in the 1950s, he's never left the popular culture. (The characters from Family Guy, for example, pulled him out of the water on a fishing pole during season 1.) "The character's popularity comes from the fact that it's a keystone," Deuel said. "The Creature from the Black Lagoon is, in a sense, a hallowed celebrity of our science-fiction canon."

5

The Collectible Creature

While the Creature is little credit to the male gender, Mezco's Drake points out that he was in fact, created by a woman—Millicent Patrick, an Italian baroness who became Disney's first female animator and a legendary sci-fi costume designer. Patrick's aesthetic sensibilities, Drake believes, "adds a whole Beauty and the Beast aspect" to the Creature's sorry story. It's a timeless theme, and one that's helped to keep Gill-man around for this long. Above, Mezco's 9-inch tall detailed collectible figure, priced at $48.95. 

6

The Savings Bank Creature

"When we decided to make a series of monster banks, we knew we had to start off with the Creature," said Diamond Select's Terceira. "We sculpted him bursting out of the water, and it made for a dynamic piece. The bank sold well, and we even made a black-and-white version of it." In fact, the bank is still selling. It retails for $22.95, and whatever cash you have left over can go into the coin slot in back of the Creature.

7

The ‘Adorable’ Creature

Originally a bobblehead brand, Funko turned to collectibles in 2005, and its Pop! line claims to be the No. 1 vinyl collectible in the world, with more than 10 million figures sold to date. These include a Michael Jackson, a Hannibal Lecter, and this Creature from the Black Lagoon, which stands at just under 4 inches in height. "The reptilian monster has never been so adorable," the company says. Deuel adds that Funko's little Creature has also sold "remarkably well."

8

The Glow-in-the-Dark Creature

Introduced in 2013 just in time for Comic-Con, Mezco's 9-inch glow-in-the-dark creature ($60) was a limited-edition run of just 100 pieces. Said one fan: "Its powerful incandescence pierces the darkness of even the blackest lagoon." This luminous model was a variant of otherwise identical black-and-white versions—and yet another measure of the collecting public's appetite for all things Creature.

9

The Lake-Bottom Creature

Another model from Mobius, this Creature stands on the lagoon bottom along with a clap board. "Aesthetically speaking, the Creature is still one of the most convincing movie monsters ever," said Plant, who believes that the Creature's hopeless cause has helped keep him in the hearts of fans for this long. "He's the classic movie monster imbued with a sympathetic trait--the last of his kind; his misguided efforts to obtain a mate lead to violence and the inevitable tragic ending. It's a tale as old as time and, apparently, a story we never get tired of hearing."