One of the saddest love story tropes is the unrequited romance between a presumed monster or creature and the object of their affection. Generally, those stories never pan out well and you can’t help but have your heart ache for the creature in the end. Because let’s face it, we all know what it’s like to love and want someone and have it not be reciprocated. That’s why it made all the sense in the world to venture out to the Natural History Museum to take part out in their special Fright Night event, “Unrequited Love with The Creature from the Black Lagoon,” on Valentine’s Day.
Moderating the special talk before the film was Claire Dunlap, producer and co-founder of Midsummer Scream, where she interviewed Mallory O’Meara, author of The Lady from the Black Lagoon and artist and filmmaker Micheline Pitt. However, prior to the special talk, attendees got to take in the special museum exhibit, THE NATURAL HISTORY OF HORROR to wet their monster-loving juices. The exhibit, while smaller than I think any horror fan would ever want, features a mind-boggling collection focusing on the four original Universal Horror movie monsters – Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy, and The Creature From the Black Lagoon. In the case of The Creature, we got to see the reptiles that inspired Milicent Patrick’s design of The Creature, a reproduction of the suit and the head donated by Micheline Pitt.
After visiting the exhibit and eating all the movie-related foods we could, attendees waited patiently before being let into the Mammal hall to take their seats. It didn’t take long for the talk to begin and soon attendees were treated to some old archive photos from the set of The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Throughout the course of the presentation, we got to see some of the different prototypes of the Creature as the creative team at Universal was trying to figure out a way to make the poor critter stand out while also battling the limitations of makeup at the time. We got to see the first suit that was created where it looked like the equivalent of a zentai suit. Not going to lie, but I’m pretty sure that was more terrifying than the final design of the Creature if only due to the sheer what-the-fuckery of it all. Then we got to see Milicent Patrick working on the Creature, which was really the highlight of the projected slideshow for me.
Once author Mallory O’Meara, artist and filmmaker Micheline Pitt, and moderator Claire Dunlap took to the stage, the audience was ready to mentally absorb all the spoopy info we could get. The discussion focused on their introduction to horror, how they came to be inspired by The Creature of the Black Lagoon, and the work that Milicent Patrick put into designing the now-iconic design for the Creature. Dunlap kept the conversation focused, even after a brief technological glitch with the slideshow, which also served to help keep the audience focused on the conservation as well. Both O’Meara and Pitt spoke at length about their experiences as women working in the industry while connecting it to Milicent Patrick’s own story and contributions towards The Creature which had been, until recently, completely wiped out of Universal Pictures’ history.
The conversation started off immediately discussing how both O’Meara and Pitt were introduced to horror. Pitt shared how she was first introduced to the horror film, Frankenstein, when she was about three years old, and shared how she started off with the classics from Universal. Her love for the classic monster horror movies, though, was cemented about seeing The Creature from the Black Lagoon. O’Meara’s introduction was actually brought to her by Disney’s Fantasia, more specifically the Night on Bald Mountain sequence where the Slavic demon Chernabog sits atop of the mountain, unfurling his wings. It served as the introduction to both horror and the concept of what art was to O’Meara. The character of Chernabog was so impactful that she has even had the character tattooed onto her (and you can see the full final product on her Instagram if you guys ever get the chance. It’s the bomb).
O’Meara dove into the questions surrounding the history of The Creature and Milicent Patrick’s work with aplomb, which made my nerdy heart flutter. She discussed how much Milicent researched various scientific aspects to incorporate into her Creature design. This research covered the Devonian period which, believe it or not, was an actual geological period that spanned about 60 million years. As a fun fact, it’s also nicknamed the Age of Fishes. No, I did not immediately go research the Devonian age right after viewing the film. Not at all. There was also a discussion about how Universal tackled the issue of designing the outfit, where we got to see the various iterations of the Creature with each evolution before Milicent was brought on to tackle the task. Her infusion of scientific research into the design created something both alien and viscerally real, which was assisted by the heightened space-age paranoia that was starting to take the world by storm. As a result, she created this realistically, iconic Creature that has stood the test of time.
As the conversation reached its closing point, I was a bit bummed by the lack of a Q&A because I like knowing as much information as I possibly can.. But, in all honesty, so much information had been covered that a Q&A portion was pretty unnecessary. When the conversation wrapped up and the Museum got ready to start playing the movie, I felt like my first viewing of the film had so much context now crammed into my brain. It felt awesome, but also a wee bit terrifying because I had no clue how this would impact my viewing of the film. Needless to say, I loved the heck out of it. And now have another monster that I want to snuggle. Because, you know, reasons!
Overall, the experience itself was lovely, especially since we got to hear more about the history behind the creation of the creature before diving right into the film. While information of Milicent’s contribution to the film has only made waves across the horror community and beyond in the past couple of years, the sharing of that information to a crowd that might not have known about her I think was – in all honesty- the most eye-opening and important part of the event. Without her contributions to the design of the Creature, who knows how successful the design would have been? And, for this first time viewer of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, the talk prior to the viewing of the film helped me see a sort of irony between Julie Adams’s character Kay from the film and Milicent Patrick as both had men who took credit for their professional achievements. All in all, the Fright Night event definitely piqued my interest in future Fright Night viewing events at the Natural History Museum.
The special museum exhibit THE NATURAL HISTORY OF HORROR is running from October 10 – April 19, 2020. Although you might have missed the Fright Night-special event, “Unrequited Love with The Creature from the Black Lagoon“, the museum is offering two more Fright Night events, “Monster Fears with Frankenstein” on Thursday, March 26, 2020, and “All Wrapped Up with Mummy” on Friday, April 10, 2020. For more information on THE NATURAL HISTORY OF HORROR, or to purchase tickets, visit nhm.org/natural-history-horror.