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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Why Didn’t John Carpenter’s ‘Creature From the Black Lagoon’ Remake Happen?

The Big Picture

  • John Carpenter’s attempts to remake
    Creature from the Black Lagoon
    never materialized, despite the potential for a horror monster masterpiece.
  • The disappointment of Carpenter’s film
    The Thing
    led to him exploring more conventional films and making a comeback with hits like
  • Universal wanted to revive
    Creature from the Black Lagoon
    but faced difficulties with directors and the release of Jaws 3D. Carpenter signed on, but after the failure of
    Memoirs of an Invisible Man
    , the project lost momentum and never came to be.

Few horror directors are as admired and beloved as John Carpenter. From the mid-1970s to the early 2000s, Carpenter regularly produced movies that have since become iconic to the genre, from Halloween, which has become the template for the slasher film, to They Live, which created iconic imagery that has nearly grown beyond the film itself (and is often grossly misinterpreted). His most critically adored film, The Thing, proved he was also capable of reinterpreting a horror classic. That’s why it is such a shame his attempts to remake Creature from the Black Lagoon never came to fruition. It was a project that would have teamed Carpenter with make-up artist legend Rick Baker for what could have been another horror monster masterpiece — but alas, Hollywood got in the way.

Creature From the Black Lagoon Poster

Creature from the Black Lagoon

A strange prehistoric beast lurks in the depths of the Amazonian jungle. A group of scientists try to capture the animal and bring it back to civilization for study.

Gary Ross

Universal Pictures

The Many Unmade Projects of John Carpenter

For as many movies as he made, Carpenter has a long list of movies he didn’t make. His notoriety for being involved with movies and then being removed from them is so well documented there’s an entire Wikipedia page for it! Some of these movies were made with other directors, including Top Gun, Firestarter, Fatal Attraction, Tombstone, and The Exorcist III. For a few of these films, Carpenter simply walked away fairly amicably. For Top Gun, he didn’t connect with the material, he felt Fatal Attraction was too similar to Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty For Me, and The Exorcist III was too close to its writer, then director, William Peter Blatty. Why was Carpenter being considered for such different kinds of movies? Partly because his career had just taken a major blow.

While The Thing is highly respected now, at the time of its 1982 release, it was far from beloved. Critics didn’t respond to it, it underperformed at the box office (despite Carpenter being a brand on to himself after Halloween, The Fog, and Escape from New York), and it had tough competition from a more heartwarming film centered on an alien coming to Earth with Steven Speilberg’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. The disappointment of The Thing upon its release resulted in Carpenter being fired from Firestarter and led to him exploring more conventional films.

He followed up The Thing with reliable source material, an adaptation of Stephen King‘s Christine, a movie about a killer car that Carpenter admitted to VFX magazine was “something I needed to do at that time for my career,” and not something he was personally invested in. Afterward, he made his least horrific film, Starman, a blend of science fiction and romance on a road trip that was much more optimistic in tone than anything before (or since) in Carpenter’s filmography. Both films were modest hits, and Starman became the only film Carpenter made to be recognized by the Academy Awards (with a Best Actor nomination for Jeff Bridges.) Carpenter had bounced back, and while he was still being considered for movies, that did not mean they would get made.

Universal Wanted to Remake ‘Creature from the Black Lagoon’

Carpenter started making his own films again, often from ideas he generated himself, resulting in three of his classics: Big Trouble in Little China, Prince of Darkness, and the aforementioned They Live. Simultaneously, Universal was attempting to revive Creature from the Black Lagoon, which had given the studio three separate successes in the 1950s. Creature was outright owned by Universal, unlike other Universal monsters like Dracula, which was able to get other imaginings like Francis Ford Coppola made Bram Stroker’s Dracula from Sony/Columbia Pictures. Remaking Creature from the Black Lagoon initially began being conceived around the same time as The Thing in the early ’80s with John Landis in talks coming off his first foray into horror with An American Werewolf in London. But this horror remake proved not as easy to get off of the ground.


All the Wild ‘Creature From the Black Lagoon’ Remakes We Never Got

‘Creature from the Black Lagoon’ is one of the most beloved Universal Monsters movies, yet a remake has always struggled to exist.

While Landis was passionate about The Creature from the Black Lagoon, he was not set to direct. According to Andy Murray’s book Into the Unknown: The Fantastic Life of Nigel Kneale, Landis intended to bring back the original film’s director, Jack Arnold, who had been working in TV. A screenwriter was also brought on, Nigel Kneale who created the British serial Quartermass, and an idea involving two creatures was in the early stages of development. The project came to a halt though when Landis and Universal disagreed about releasing the film in 3D. Landis envisioned 3D as a way to harken back to the original, but Universal didn’t want another 3D to compete with its own movie, 1983’s Jaws 3D, according to Andy Murray’s book. Sometime after Landis left, Universal considered the team of Joe Dante and Mike Finnell, who, as director and producer respectively, had already made Piranha, The Howling, and Gremlins. Nothing came close to fruition from this pairing of filmmakers and material, and soon Universal began to explore more options. Enter John Carpenter.

John Carpenter Wanted to Remake ‘Creature From the Black Lagoon’

John Carpenter in 'Take One: Fear on Film'.
Image via Nice Guy Productions.

John Carpenter signed on for the remake and detailed his experience in an interview with Starlog magazine in 1992. Carpenter envisioned a modern-day update of Creature to be set in the Amazon. The setting allowed Carpenter to not only draw from the original but also explore his interest in hidden Amazonian pyramids and the horror of H.P. Lovecraft (which he would do later in 1994’s In the Mouth of Madness.) Carpenter’s take also verged into the theological, telling Starlog, “There are several possible aspects to the storyline. One of them involves the Creature being the missing link between man and fish. It would be interesting to combine that with creationist scientists, who are trying to prove that man walked with dinosaurs 10,000 years ago. They try to prove the literal, Biblical origin of life – in total contradiction of scientific fact.” (Via Den of Greek). He had a grand vision that included bringing on a new writer to update the script, Bill Phillips who wrote Carpenter’s Christine adaptation, and the seven-time Oscar-winning make-up artist Rick Baker.

Simultaneous to Carpenter working on Memoirs, Phillips and Baker were working on Creature. In an interview with Universal Monsters Universe, Phillips described a great relationship working with Carpenter, being able to develop ideas and get constructive feedback. One angle they took was to make the creature more sympathetic, someone the audience could still root for despite causing mayhem. Meanwhile, Baker was working on designs for Carpenter to use when further pitching to Universal. Baker said to Ain’t It Cool, “[my design] was very much based on a love for the original material, and trying to stay true to that in a lot of ways. I think we had a Creature that was updated, but you could still tell where it came from.” But all of that momentum came to a halt after the release of Carpenter’s 1992 film, Memoirs of an Invisible Man.

One of John Carpenter’s Flops May Have Killed His ‘Creature’ Remake

Sam Neill in Memoirs of an Invisible Man - 1992
Image Via Warner Bros.

From the start, Memoirs of an Invisible Man was a challenge of movie stars versus creatives. As detailed in his book Which Lie Did I Tell?, the original screenwriter William Goldman noted constant clashes between star Chevy Chase, who wanted a serious look at the melancholy of being invisible, and Ivan Reitman, who thought he could have another effect-driven comedy on his hands like Ghostbusters. Reitman and Goldman both left the project (with Goldman saying “I’m too old and too rich to deal with this shit,”) and Carpenter attempted to pick up the pieces. Labored special effects colliding with massive egos resulted in a remarkably awful experience. In an interview last year, Carpenter told Variety, “it wasn’t pleasant at all. I’m lying to you. It was a horror show. I really wanted to quit the business after that movie.” Coming in under $15 million at the box office, despite Carpenter’s name and big stars like Chase and Darryl Hannah, did not inspire confidence for what was sure to be a big budget remake of another horror character.

Though never officially stated as the cause, after the failure of Memoirs, Universal seemed less interested in Carpenter’s approach to Creature from the Black Lagoon. Philips said to Universal Monsters Universe looking back, “None of us associated with creating the project could understand why Universal wouldn’t do it,” but that “they never quite came out and said no. They just never made it.” The project was still seemingly being mulled over by the studio as Baker recalled being approached again when a new director was at the helm, ironically Ivan Reitman, according to Ain’t It Cool. Baker left the project over the direction it was going and the film never came to be. Discussions rose again a few years later after the success of The Mummy with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz, but the creature remained in the water once more.

WIll We Ever Get A ‘Creature From the Black Lagoon’ Remake?

The Shape of Water

Ovee the past ten years there was mention of Creature from the Black Lagoon being a part of the ill-fated Dark Universe, but nothing has come of that. And while not being a retelling of the story, Guillermo Del Toro‘s Best Picture winning The Shape of Water was heavily inspired by Creature, possibly scratching that itch for audiences. That may not stop Universal from trying to reboot the classic monster, but at the moment nothing has been announced. However, in a happy twist, last month images of Rick Baker’s design for the creature were posted online. While the movie never came to be, at the very least it is nice to see what might have been at the center of some nightmarish images only John Carpenter could conjure.

The original Creature from the Black Lagoon is available to rent on Amazon.

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