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  • Writer's pictureChrista Pagliei

When I was 8 I fell in love with the Creature from the Black Lagoon

*****originally posted on my tumblr in 2015****reposted in honor of Svengoolie's 1.16.2021 showing of Creature from the Black Lagoon****

In 1996, a few days before my 9th birthday, I fell in love with the Creature from the Black Lagoon. It was January, and the northeast was besieged by a series of storms that blanketed my town. School was canceled for days at a time. A fact that delighted me to no end as I usually viewed school as an impediment to my voracious reading.

I wasn’t your typical book worm. In the years preceding I had a crew of friends who would play imaginative games that I led. I may have thought that I WAS Peter Pan. I could certainly crow like him. Yet as time passed my propensity for making up tales and imagination games was beginning to be deemed “odd.” I had nightmares unlike those of the other children, and I was obsessed with weird tales of Aliens, Faeries, and other-worldly beings. My mother expressed her concern over my obsession with “dark” subjects. In my long trips into the library I discovered the Brian Froud & Alan Lee tome FAERIES. Contained within its pages was the story of Changelings, human babies swapped with supernatural doppelgangers. I thought that perhaps I was one. Other kids played raucous team sports, but I was a competitive figure skater, spending hour after hour alone on the ice. I was bespectacled, easily disappeared into daydreams, and often found my intellectual curiosity squelched with “do what you’re told.” I started reading novels under my desk during math class. Soon I was considered a discipline case, mostly because I was bored. The only subject in which I didn’t excel was Math, but this was enough to deny me entry into the accelerated learning programs. Too weird for the regular kids, not smart enough for the brains. I was an only child at this point, when playmates were lacking I was more than happy to create worlds of my own.

The more time passed, the more different I felt.

Which brings me back to the early days of 1996. The snow was relentless and I had spent the entire day out in the thick of the storm. I had a playhouse where instead of taking care of dolls I hung herbs to dry from the rafters and made potions like a little witch. I had a stockpile of odd stones and melted snow into water to create magical spells that I hoped would call forth legions of fay creatures. I climbed to another dimension through the crook of the old oak tree. For a few hours I enticed my neighbor Annie, a year or two younger, to play. As long as I didn’t make the game too scary…

When it began to get dark and Annie was called home for dinner I walked into our little house, wet and worn out. My mother sent me to the basement where I would hang up my wet clothes and put on a pair of Pajamas. My father was not yet home from work, and so I settled into the basement couch with its blue and white checked throw and turned on the television.

I’m not sure which channel was showing it, these were the days of the afternoon movie, but as the old Cathode Ray Tube screen buzzed to life I was greeted with the sight of a black and white underwater world. Then a dark and beautiful creature moved across the screen. It’s telling that even now, almost twenty-years later I can recall the exact shot of the film that I first saw. I missed the beginning of the film, but I don’t think I stirred from that moment until the credits rolled. What was this thing? Who was this thing? To me he looked like the Brian Froud creatures I loved. In retrospect, he resembles a cabbage, but I was smitten. When he was riddled with bullets and sank to the bottom of the water I was not relieved but devastated. Here was a living, moving miracle, and they had destroyed it.

To a different kind of child a monster like Gil-Man would be fodder for nightmares, but for me it was proof that extraordinary creatures faced extraordinary obstacles. It showed me that there were some of us who were “not like others” and that those people were marked for a different kind of life. If that meant a somewhat solitary life, I thought, then so be it. That moment in the flickering light of the black and white film showed me that weirdos may be monstrous, but that monsterousness was a kind of power. Perhaps he and I were supernatural creatures in the truest sense of the world, making their way in a fiendish world the best that they could. If Gil-Man could get a sequel, maybe there was hope for me after all.

That year I wrote my first horror story.

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