Prop Story - Creature Claw!
There are few classic horror props more iconic than the fossilized hand found in the beginning of THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. The hand – while only seen for a few moments – is the catalyst which starts the tale of a group of scientists traveling to South America in search of one of our lost ancestors.
This prop is also iconic to me personally, as sculpting a replica of it for Factory Entertainment was my first job as a professional sculptor (as well as more or less being the first thing I ever sculpted, period!)
When I first got this job, I needed reference. Movie stills were fine, but I personally like to have more reference than I need, so I had to step up my research a bit. My first thought was to ask my friend and legendary film historian Bob Burns for help. I knew Bob had done a CREATURE themed Halloween show back in the 70’s, and as far as I knew, Bob might even have the original Creature Claw in his endless film museum. It turns out Bob did not have the claw, but he gave me some information that, I think, is much more valuable.
Bob told me that the claw was originally sculpted by his old friend Chris Mueller. “I am not familiar with Chris.” was all I could say. Turns out Chris was an uncredited sculptor on several films, and unfortunately, his contributions to early Sci-Fi seem greatly overlooked.
Chris Mueller working on the Creature head
Along with Creature, Chris sculpted the giant squid in the Disney classic 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA. Chris also worked for Disney as a sculptor for the theme park attractions. If you have ever taken the JUNGLE CRUISE, there is a good chance you have seen one of his animal sculpts.
The greatest treasure of all was this photo that Bob sent me. When you purchased a copy of my Creature claw replica, this photo (Chris holding his claw) was printed in the pamphlet that accompanies the prop, but it was printed in black and white. Here it is, in full color.
Possibly the only color photograph of the Creature claw!
While this is not the exact claw used on screen, this is a duplicate claw that Chris made for the production, that he kept for his personal collection.
It is so rare, when discussing classic horror film, to discover something new or never before seen. This photo was one of those times. This photo shows the attention to detail Chris put into this, at the time, probably somewhat minor piece of set dressing. Even the paint job looks like it is an authentic fossil, ready to be placed in an exhibit at the Smithsonian.
When I was sculpting my replica, these photos were so valuable. The photo above is what helped me to convince Factory Entertainment to make the hand larger than originally anticipated, and while the factory could not replicate that look in the final paint scheme, it was very helpful to know that we were in the right tonal area.
I sculpted my prop to be a little more idealized. There are a lot of smaller nooks, blemishes, details, etc. that aren’t on the original. This is common practice with replicas
Even still, when you compare mine to the original, as seen in the film, I think it looks pretty darn good (I staged this photo with one of mine in a rock wall, to match the film as close as I could)
You learn something every time you do a sculpt. Not only did I learn a lot about the art of sculpting on this job, but I learned about an amazing sculptor whose work many of us have seen countless times, but whose name many of us have never heard.
To end this, when I sent Bob an Artist Proof of the claw as a thank you for the help, he said to me “Chris would be so proud of this.” That is the greatest praise I could ever get.
*Notes – The original prop claw was most likely destroyed after filming, as was common in those days. Rumor has it also, that it is in a private prop collection in Japan. But as far as I know, nobody has seen it in decades.
-The claw pictured with Chris in the photo disappeared after Chris’ passing in 1987.
-My replica sculpt got a runner-up nod in the 2014 Rondo Hatton awards for “Best Collectible”