Just because something is news to you, doesn’t make it “news.” Just this past year, for example, the fact that Bill Murray’s cameo in ZOMBIELAND was originally written for Patrick Swayze (who tragically died before the film was made) was treated as an honest to goodness “news story,” even though it was merely old-fashioned movie trivia that had already been available on the internet, if you had bothered to seek it out, for most of a decade.
It’s easy for movie trivia nerds like myself to get riled up about this sort of thing, because it’s easy to forget that not everybody has been collecting trivia for the same amount of time. The most famous pieces of movie trivia in the world – like the fact that chocolate sauce was used instead of fake blood in PSYCHO, or that the Michael Myers mask in HALLOWEEN was just a repainted Captain Kirk mask – were all news to somebody at one point in their lives, and it behooves us all to reintroduce these fun facts into the conversation on a regular basis, just to catch everybody up.
Which brings us to #NEVERFORGET, a new segment here at Blumhouse in which we remind audiences young and old of all the interesting and bizarre bits of horror trivia that makes us love this kooky-wooky genre we’ve got here. Unexpected connections, bizarre installments on famous resumés, movies that were almost but never officially made, these are all the sorts of things that will be news to some of us, and fun trips down memory lane for the rest. Either way, they’re the kind of unusual factoids that we should #NEVERFORGET.
Case in point: did you know that the CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON created FLIPPER?
Yup, that’s a real thing, although it’s not quite as cut-and-dry as it sounds. (Though let’s be honest, neither the Creature from the Black Lagoon nor Flipper were typically very “dry.”)
Let’s back up a bit, and remind you that CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON is considered one of the last “official” films in the UNIVERSAL MONSTERS franchise, the ongoing, lucrative horror series that also defined the characters of Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolf Man and The Mummy for generations to come. It’s a ripping yarn directed by Jack Arnold (a genre master who also helmed THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN and IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE), about a team of scientists searching the Amazon for a mysterious half-man, half-fish monster which – naturally – really does exist, and really does try to kill them.
The creature, better known as the “Gill-Man,” was originally played by actor Ben Chapman in the scenes where the monster is walking around on land. But CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON also required a large amount of underwater photography, with an actor in a monster costume swimming gracefully and threateningly. For that task, Jack Arnold turned to stuntman Ricou Browning, whose expertise in underwater action came in handy throughout his long and varied career, working on films like Disney’s 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA and even directing the famous scuba-diving action sequences in the James Bond classic THUNDERBALL.
Yes, Ricou Browning found a niche and he stuck to it, turning underwater action into a lucrative lifelong endeavor and creating a beloved franchise of his own in the process. Because nine years after his debut as the Gill-Man, Ricou Browning co-wrote a story that took the world by storm. It was called FLIPPER.
FLIPPER is the tale of a young boy who rescues a dolphin, who in turns rescues the young boy from man-eating sharks. It’s an adventurous film on the ocean waves, with an impossibly catchy theme song. It’s all about a boy and his heroic pet, and yes, it’s suspiciously similar to LASSIE. But that’s only because Ricou Browning came up with the idea when he was watching LASSIE with his kids, and decided that he could do the same basic thing but with a dolphin instead of a dog. He co-wrote the story with Jack Cowden, sent it off to producer Ivan Tors, and boom… FLIPPER was born.
It was a big hit. FLIPPER led to a sequel – FLIPPER’S NEW ADVENTURE – as well as an 88-episode television series, a 1990s TV reboot starring Jessica Alba, and a 1996 feature film remake starring Elijah Wood. FLIPPER has been off the airwaves for nearly 20 years now, but he’s still a familiar figure in popular culture, the sort of character that everyone is vaguely familiar with whether or not they’ve actually seen a single film about the character, or watched a solitary television episode. The Creature from the Black Lagoon did pretty well for himself.
A side note to this: FLIPPER was not the only collaboration between Ricou Browning and Jack Cowden. In 1979 they reunited for the holy-fucking-shit action thriller MR. NO LEGS, about a badass amputee mafia hitman who hides shotguns in the arms of his wheelchair. Ricou Browning directed MR. NO LEGS himself, and while it wasn’t nearly as successful as FLIPPER or CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, the film has a small, cult-like reputation as one of the weirdest action thrillers of the 1970s… and if you know anything about the 1970s, you know that’s no small feat.
#NEVERFORGET, folks. Hollywood is a strange place, where sometimes the greatest monsters are also responsible for giving kids a lot of hope, and also for attaching shotguns to wheelchairs.