Wednesday, June 6, 2012

"Up From the Depths"(1979)d/Charles Griffith

Tonight's review is proof that by the end of the seventies, Italians weren't the only ones trying to cash in at the box office with cheaply produced 'Jaws' rip-offs, as if the misleadingly ambitious one-sheet above wasn't enough evidence for a conviction on it's own.The alternate one-sheet for Piranha(1978) called, and it wants it's terrified female swimmer back, guys.Helmed by Charles B. Griffith, the screenwriter behind such cult classics as It Conquered the World(1956), Attack of the Crab Monsters(1957), and Death Race 2000(1975), and produced by prolific Filipino filmmaker Cirio(Savage!, T.N.T. Jackson) Santiago, Depths is a mostly boring mix of the fiberglass, tits, wooden acting, and stage blood necessary to encapsulate the average Roger Corman movie experience, barely covering it's end of a double feature disc, as paired with Santiago's own rip-off of the same movie, 1987's Demon of Paradise, but let's not get ahead of ourselves, folks.One shitty Jaws rip-off at a time.The Phillipines-as-Hawaii backdrop is used here to weave the all too familiar "Resort-goers repeatedly dined upon by large aquatic predatory animal that's ignored by the authorities until they're forced to blow the thing up with explosives after the body count turns the ocean's tide blood red" premise, the frame dressed with the likes of Sam Bottoms, who'd just come off the success of Coppola's Apocalypse Now(1979), and lovely television actress Susanne Reed, and minimal creature/gore effects provided by none other than The Fly II(1989) director Chris Walas, fresh from his stint on Piranha(1978), another popular Corman production that unapologetically apes the earlier Spielberg adventure/thriller hit itself.
"Human entrails?Everytime I get in the goddamned ocean...Every goddamned time!" 
After an unusual oceanic current frees up a prehistoric man-eating fish, that either resembles a pilot whale with Eric Roberts' mouth, or an oversized lower intestine with a mean face on the end, depending on the positioning of the camera in the water, the hateful surfboard-with-teeth stakes a peckish claim off the remote beaches of Mahu(or the Philippines, whichever works best for you) where unsuspecting vacationers, which include bickering out-of-shape bathers, kids who take drinking glasses into the ocean while swimming(nothing beats a tall, midday glass of saltwater, eh, kids?), gangly British playmates named Iris Lee(Denise Hayes), a Japanese Samurai, and a scientist named Whiting(Charles Howerton) who happens to be researching deep sea fish.Add to the mix a gorgeous young public relations rep named Rachel(Susanne Reed) and her sideburn-heavy love interest, Greg(Sam Bottoms), and even an alcoholic beercan-chucking fisherman named Earl(Virgil Frye) and the lanky lightbulb-headed hotel manager named Forbes(Kedric Wolfe) he's eternally at odds with.Ol' Forbesy alternates between shirtless in a palm leaf hat and a groovy pink action suit while ignorantly denying the impending danger to all with hokey overacting zeal that Billy Shatner might be envious of.Whenever the predator strikes, it's a muddled mishmosh of shots of oncoming teeth, hunks of meat being shaken back and forth underwater, and the obligatory red dye emptying into the deep, 'whenever' in this instance meaning 'every single goddamned time'.
"This shark must've survived solely on Spielberg's '1941' box-office receipts..."
The fiendish fish eats a photographer(only after he's set his expensive camera down on the rocks in front of him, mind you) in about three feet of water, while Forbes stubbornly exclaims that there are no sharks in the Hawaiian Archipelago.Add 'marine biology' to Forbes' growing list of inadequacies.Several forgettable attacks later, the haughty Chrome Dome offers a case of rum bounty for any tourist willing to tangle ass with the hateful halibut, leading to a mad scramble of eager vacationers grabbing decorative spears off the hotel walls, somehow forgetting that the aqua-beast has been seemingly impervious to shotgun slugs and even 5.56mm rifle ammo up to this point.A wisecracking R. Lee Ermey(!) even shows up in Hawaiian shirt with homemade flamethrower, but to no avail.Earl loads his boat up with ammunition and beer, and joins the good fight himself.The beast rams into Dr. Whiting, who pleads, dying from internal injuries, with the others:" Don't throw me back in! Don't let it get me!", which his associates interpret as: "Please strap my lifeless corpse with explosives and heave it into the water as boobytrapped fishbait!", and do just that.Judging by the circle of red dye in the water, post-off-camera explosion(explosions are expensive to film, you dicks), the fish is effectively slain and life returns to normal for the survivors, even the comic relief Samurai who's been unable to get his canoe off the rocks for the past twenty-five minutes.Insert rimshot, roll credits.
Red Snapper for dinner tonight again??Eh, twist my arm.
Corman would follow tonight's review up with the equally Jaws-ish Humanoids from the Deep(1980), a much more polished and enjoyable movie, in your humble narrator's eyes, anyway.Griffith went on to helm the rarely-seen  Ollie Reed vehicle, Dr. Heckyl and Mr. Hype(1980), Smokey Bites the Dust(1981), and Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II(1989).After providing the effects for the U.S.-shot sequences on Sergio Martino's Isle of the Fishmen(1980), Walas would go on to score makeup credits in everything from Cronenburg's Scanners(1981), Caveman(1981), and Joe Dante's Gremlins(1984), while providing effects for Humanoids from the Deep(1980), Dragonslayer(1981), and Cronenburg's Naked Lunch(1991).Though you'll no doubt remember Sam Bottoms as Cpl. Lance Johnson in Coppola's war epic, he also turns in solid performances in Eastwood pics The Outlaw Josey Wales(1976) and Bronco Billy(1979), getting his debut in Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show(1971), and dying prematurely at the age of 53 in 2008, while his striking co-star Reed returned to television, turning up on shows like Baywatch, Airwolf, and Knight Rider.On the scale, Depths rarely rises from said murky expanses, meriting a single Wop.It could've used a bigger boat, indeed.
"You're right, my balls do stretch out to here for expecting to be taken seriously while wearing this pink get up in public."

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