Welcome to Script to Pieces, a recurring feature at Wicked Horror where we look at the best, most interesting and at times most unbelievable horror movies that never happened. Sometimes these will be productions that never came together at all, other times, they will be original incarnations that were completely different from what we wound up with. Each should be fascinating in its own way, because the stories of movies that never see the light of day can sometimes be even more interesting than the stories of those that do.
One of the most frequently mentioned, infamous unmade horror films has to be John Carpenter’s attempt to remake Universal’s monster classic The Creature from the Black Lagoon. There have been many attempts to get a remake of this film off the ground over time, and even Carpenter’s version was not the first. Before he got attached Universal had begun planning a remake the same summer that Carpenter’s Thing was released. John Landis was set to produce with the intent of bringing original director Jack Arnold back.
This version would have been written by Nigel Kneale, known as the mind behind the Quatermass series. Interestingly enough, Kneale was also the original writer on Halloween III: Season of the Witch for John Carpenter. Due to creative differences that led Kneale to leave the project, that script was ultimately written by director Tommy Lee Wallace.
Like the original, this remake was planned to be released in 3D, which is what apparently led to its cancellation. Landis apparently pushed for 3D, while Universal didn’t want to take any attention away from Jaws 3D, which was opening around the same time, and which they were certain would be a surefire hit.
Then, in the 1990s, Universal was determined to try again. The ‘90s is known as a slower decade for Carpenter, by and large. He didn’t produce anything that was really considered a hit, even though a few films from that era—like In the Mouth of Madness and Vampires—are actually quite good.
He had directed another remake for Universal, of course, with 1982’s The Thing. But it had been a decade since that movie’s abysmal critical reception, which had done irreparable damage to the director’s career. But after a decade, the old wounds were at least slightly patched over, and The Thing was just beginning to be reconsidered as the masterpiece it would come to be known as.
Carpenter’s previous film, They Live, had been met with lukewarm reception, but even still, Universal was offering him a budget he’d never worked with before to really deliver on the spectacle of Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Interestingly, the project came about for Carpenter easily enough. They asked him if there was anything in their back catalogue that he wanted to remake, and Creature from the Black Lagoon was his pick. They gave him the previous script by Nigel Kneale, which he claimed would have to be rewritten, given that it was already ten years old at that point.
Carpenter had worked out a unique approach to the story as well, saying at the time, “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.”
At the same time, he wanted to work in a Lovecraftian, Shadow Over Innsmouth feel, going deeper into the Gill Man’s origin, into the idea of a race of human-fish hybrids living in the Amazon. He also wanted to explore pyramids in the Amazon, all of which could be explored on the movie’s bigger budget.
Perhaps the most exciting thing was that Carpenter hired Rick Baker to redesign the Creature. He loved the original look of the Gill Man and wanted to retain that, but also thought that a few tweaks to make it look less rubbery, more appropriately modern, would be necessary. On the whole, he wanted to keep the basic design pretty much the same. This is interesting to note, because many of the attempts to remake Creature from the Black Lagoon over the years have radically redesigned the monster.
According to Baker: “My designs for the Creature were kind of like my designs for the Wolf Man; it 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.”
By January of 1993, the project had already lost steam. While it could be entirely unrelated, it’s possible that the box office failure of Memoirs of an Invisible Man cost Carpenter the job. Whatever the case, the studio never gave the green light and the project—which was well under way, by this point—never moved forward.
Baker stayed attached to the project even after Carpenter left. But eventually, he bowed out as well over disagreements with some of the directors who attempted to take on the project post-Carpenter. Baker just couldn’t see eye-to-eye over what they wanted it to look like. “They were making it part-dinosaur, part-every fish in the world. It wasn’t the Gill-man.”
There have been several attempts to remake Creature from the Black Lagoon since. Directors such as Guillermo Del Toro, Breck Eisner and Peter Jackson have all made the attempt, but nonetheless, the project has yet to breach the surface.