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The Shape of Water, reviewed by Michael Minassian


The Shape of Water

Bull Productions,  Double Dare You (DDY),  Fox Searchlight Pictures

Director:  Guillermo del Toro

Starrring:  Sally Hawkins,  Octavia Spencer,  Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins

Much has been made of the obvious references in The Shape of Water to the 50’s black and white horror film, The Creature from the Black Lagoon. And rightly so; that film is also about a weird fish-human creature.  But I also see many parallels with another film from that era, The Tingler (1959) starring the master of horror schlock, Vincent Price. The most obvious of these parallels is the two female lead characters in both films. Not only is there a passing resemblance (note the 50s hairdos) between Sally Hawkins as Eliza in The Shape of Water and Judith Evelyn as Martha in The Tingler, but both have similar afflictions: Martha is a deaf-mute (a condition which leads to her tragic demise) and Eliza is a mute (though she is not deaf).

Martha in The Tingler

            Other parallels exist which surely Del Toro was aware of when he made his film. In The Tingler, Martha and her husband Ollie manage a movie theatre that shows silent movies. Eliza and her friend and neighbor Giles, played by Richard Jenkins, live above a movie theater which shows classic films. Another striking similarity is the shifting use of black and white and color in both films. In The Tingler, a crucial scene takes place in the Martha’s bathroom. Although the

film is shot in black and white, in this one scene we are treated to red blood flowing from the faucets in the sink and tub. In The Shape of Water, late in the film, a fantasy sequence reverts to black and white as Eliza dances in a nod to musicals of early cinema.

Eliza in The Shape of Water

  We also see in the Shape of Water a theme which Del Toro touched on in his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes, that monsters can teach us about ourselves:

            “Since childhood,” said Del Toro, “I’ve been faithful to monsters. I have been saved and absolved by them, because monsters, I believe, are patron saints of our blissful imperfection, and they allow and embody the possibility of failing,”

            It also begs the question, who are the real monsters in each film. In The Tingler, is it Vincent Price, the “mad” scientist, is it his cheating wife, is it Ollie, Martha’s husband, who literally scares her to death, or is it the Tingler, the creature that feeds on fear (only screaming can counter the monster)? In The Shape of Water, is the creature a monster, or is it Strickland, the sadistic government agent, or is it the Russian spies? Eliza and the Creature (called the Asset by its captors) cannot communicate with words, but they can communicate with music, food, and gestures. Nothing monsterly there.

            Del Toro, obviously well-schooled in cinema, drew on many influences in crafting a beautiful and thoughtful film. But it is The Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Tingler which seem to be his main inspirations.


MICHAEL MINASSIAN’s poems and short stories have appeared recently in such journals as Comstock Review, Evening Street Review, Evansville Review, Main Street Rag, and Third Wednesday. He is also a Contributing Editor for Verse-Virtual, an online magazine. His chapbooks include poetry: The Arboriculturist (2010) and photography: Around the Bend (2017). For more information: https://michaelminassian.com

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