I have a weakness for monster movies.
I’ve always been fascinated by the technical aspect of producing gore effects in horror movies.
I’ve always been attracted to that lovely, organic “glow” you find in special effects from 70’s and 80’s sci-fi movies.
I’ve never watched a monster movie to be scared by it, rather I’ve spent my life watching shitty, feature-length movies solely with the intent of seeing the title monster come to life in a single, carefully choreographed, money shot.
You know that one scene where Pumpkinhead is stalking the kidthrough the cabin, and then he tricks him into thinking he’s leaving, only to charge back into the room and find him in the closet, baring his teeth in the process?
Pumpkinhead was more than a dude in a rubber suit in that shot, he was a real monster to me.
Which brings me to the subject of this post, my ridiculous attraction to underwater monster movies.
Ridiculous because most of these movies suck some serious balls.
I’m pretty sure that, after seeing Jaws as a kid, my fascination with aquatic monster movies began with Jaws rip-offs.
Piranha was boring as shit, but had one shining moment when it let all those kids get nipped to bits.
Tentacles was an ungodly suck-fest that the Italian people still catch flack over to this day.
And Alligator… well, Alligator was actually a lot of fun and was one of the more self-aware horror movies that I can recall.
Well, I remember lots of diving scenes, and the plot having something to do with an opium cache, but I’m pretty sure I fell asleep before the eel showed up.
Silly dad, remembering movies being WAAAAAAAAAY better than they actually were.
Despite the fact that nearly all of the movies I just mentioned were downright terrible, I remember renting them as a kid solely because they promised to deliver scenes of an aquatic beast tearing the shit out of people.
Or at least scenes of bad actors pretending to get pulled under water while someone opens up a blood pack beneath them.
In some ways, I think it was the inherently “cheap” quality to these movies that made them attractive to me.
Even as a kid, I knew that the reason you never saw the monster too much in a scary movie, was because often times the monster design wasn’t strong enough to be featured onscreen, in full detail.
As I mentioned before, when it comes to monster movies, especially aquatic ones, often times the monster’s presence in the film boils down to nothing more than a few key shots, and an overall “feeling” throughout the movie.
Well, unless you’re Octaman, then you just parade your monster around in full, head-to-toe glory for virtually the entire film.
Because of this, I think, as a kid, I felt like maybe I could make an aquatic monster movie.
I mean, come on, all I’d really need is a big monster head for one or two shots, and a bunch of my friends pretending to get eaten by said head, and I’d be set.
Hell, splice in some underwater scenes from an episode of National Geographic and it could be a classic of the genre.
Of course, even as a kid, nothing is ever that simple in life, and so I never made my monster movie.
Jaws and it’s clones were the catalyst in sparking my interest in aquatic monster movies, but sadly, they have had little to do with keeping my interest alive.
As I grew older, I came to appreciate the, “oh no, I got sucked under and now my death is symbolized by a billowing pool of blood” less and less.
I wanted more.
I said at the beginning of this post that I was in these movies for the monsters, and watching them come to life.
Well, as it turns out, at some point I came to realize that Jaws clones really were that cheap.
Cheap enough that they let me down pretty much every time the monster showed up for the final reel.
Enter: The successor to the Jaws clone, the Alien rip-off.
In case you didn’t notice, what with the nods to Jurassic Park, Pumpkinhead, and now Leviathan, I’m kind of Stan Winston fan.
In fact, even as a kid, Stan Winston’s name on the back of the Leviathan VHS was more than enough reason for me to beg my parent’s to rent it for me.
Same goes for Pumpkinhead.
Anyway, Stan Winston-gasm aside, Leviathan was ultimately a shitty movie, but fortunately it had some superb makeup effects to, well, make up for it.
I remember being creeped out by some of the earlier scenes in the movie, in particular the one where the woman’s hair started falling out, and the one where Daniel Stern scratched the shit out of Hector Elizondo’s arm.
In fact, I remember having to stop the movie during the former for fear of peeing my 12 year old pants.
The creature designs in Leviathan were both imaginative and versatile in the sense that they held up to the demands of the script, as well as that of the camera.
True, creative angles and quick cuts were commonplace during Leviathan, but for what it’s worth, many of the monsters were allowed to be shown off in full body shots, however briefly.
It’s unfortunate that the most impressive creature, the one that kills Ernie Hudson for no reason other than the fact that he’s black and… no wait, that really is the only reason, is only on-screen for a few brief seconds.
I watched Leviathan, more than once, just to see those last few seconds.
Deepstar Six was also a shitty movie, but one that I did not have the misfortune of seeing in my youth.
Deepstar Six came out in 1989, the same year as Leviathan, but with a cast of made-for-TV caliber actors, and a boring, seldom seen monster, it was released with significantly less fanfare.
The monster in Deepstar Six is onscreen for all of about 2 minutes, all during the final act of the movie.
In some cases, delaying the appearance of the monster until the last possible moment can be quite effective, but in Deepstar Six’s case, we spend most of the movie forgetting that the movie even has a monster.
Needless to say, Deepstar Six’s monster, while somewhat unique in that it’s a crustacean, and impressive in terms of size, is ultimately one hell of a let down.
The movie’s saving grace is Miguel Ferrer’s performance, as he chews the scenery like a roided out beaver, and is largely the only character with any sort of personality.
Oh yeah, and Nia Peeples was very nice to look at.
Now’s comes the part of this post where we get to the actual “guilty pleasure” aspect of my fascination with aquatic monster movies.
Truth be told, I didn’t really like Leviathan or Deepstar Six, I merely watched them far more than any sane human should.
Same goes for Deep Blue Sea.
No, there is another movie, a different movie, one that doesn’t involve a monster brought to life through practical effects.
This movie, is called Deep Rising.
I watched it on HBO sometime in my teens, and I fell in love with it.
The movie has a fairly respectable reputation as a solid 2 out of 4 stars, with Roger Ebert even going out of his way to give it a thumbs up.
Among my circle of friends however, it’s either bitterly hated, or completely unknown.
Monster movies were pretty commonplace around the time it came out.
If you were a snooty hipster, you were into Mimic (NOBODY liked Mimic when it first came out.)
And, if were an idiot like me, you were all about Anaconda.
Yeah, I’ll understand if you never read this blog again.
Deep Rising, despite having a pretty lame trailer, (my young mind immediately labeled it “garbage” after first seeing the trailer) stood out to me as one of the few “action horror/sci-fi” movies that actually delivered on the promises it’s absurdly long genre title indicated.
It was funny when it was supposed to be.
It was scary at times, especially early on.
And perhaps most importantly, it fooled me by having a monster that was NOT a giant octopus, and was instead something a helluva’ lot more impressive and unique.
I guess I can thank the legendary creature creator, Rob Bottin for that last part.
The monster is sort of a giant sea slug/octopus hybrid.
Which is curious, seeing as the monster is described one that swallows it’s prey whole, and then “drinks” it, consuming all but the bones before upchucking said solid materials.
I appreciate how the process by which it hunts and eats is established early on, and in graphic fashion, thusly setting the stakes and letting the viewer know exactly why they should be afraid of the monster.
Don’t let my sucking of the monster’s cock fool you though, Deep Rising is, at it’s core, a Stephen Sommers film, and ultimately devotes most of it’s running time to being “fun” and “kooky” as opposed to “scary.”
Oh yeah, and Famke Janssen was, of course, fun to look at.
Although that other weasly guy, the one that seems to show up in virtually every Stephen Sommers movie, was his usual annoying self.
That ugliness aside, I genuinely enjoy watching Deep Rising to this day, regardless of the dirty looks I get for it.
Sidenote: Jerry Goldsmith’s soundtrack for Deep Rising is pretty fucking good. If you get a chance, give it a listen. His work on Leviathan also did a lot to add an element of class to the film.