After the travesty of recently watching Piranha 3D a couple weeks ago, I masochistically continued to explore underwater terror movies. This time I stumbled upon a relic from the ’80s from the the Scary Underwater Monsters boom of 1989. This one was the only one I hadn’t seen, until now. Directed by Sean S. Cunningham of Friday the 13th fame. Let’s check this out, shall we?
DeepStar Six (1989)
When James Cameron put his giant wang on the table and said, “My next movie is going to be a mind-blowing sci-fi underwater adventure and it’s called The Abyss,” Hollywood paid attention. There was a rush to produce giant underwater monster movies to beat the notoriously slow-moving perfectionist James Cameron to theaters. There was a literal deluge of these things, all featuring toothy, slimy rubber monsters, and all of them are surprisingly entertaining. There’s something claustrophobic about being underwater and threatened by a horrible monster. Where can you go? Nowhere but down the monster’s gullet. Of course, the biggest surprise was when The Abyss came out and it was a philosophical sci-fi film with no slimy, toothy monsters. But it ushered in the age of CGI technology in motion pictures, and pioneered that morphing technology we all know and loathe today.
DeepStar Six was possibly the lowest budget of these movies. Produced for a pittance compared to The Abyss, the entire budget for this was probably less than Cameron’s catering bill. So it’s a cheapie knock-off of an unseen movie. I was primed to hate this thing. I don’t like Cunningham’s movies. I know it’s heresy to say, but Friday the 13th is a pretty bad movie. And I tried and gave up watching Spring Break which he also directed, now streaming on Amazon. But DeepStar Six amused me.
There’s a deep sea underwater mission, and all the crew members, played by veteran TV actors who know how to hit their cues and deliver their lines with gravitas and commitment, are itching to get home. The only problem is their missile tests cause the sea floor to crumble and let out a giant, slimy, tooth-monster of some kind. “It must be 100 meters long,” the astonished crew members say at one point. Sure it is, Sean, in your dreams. This one keeps the monster a mystery for a long time, due to budgetary concerns, but that still kind of works in its favor. The monster pretty much appears as a blip on a computer screen for a good hour. But it adds to the mounting suspense. Will this movie ever show you the monster? Will it be a total embarrassment? Well, when the killer in Friday the 13th is revealed, it’s a middle-aged actress in a cardigan, and people liked that movie, so anything is possible.
The first part of the movie is buoyed by the performances. Miguel Ferrer shines as the grumpy, sarcastic team member who turns out to be a cowardly weasel. So basically the Miguel Ferrer part. He’s great. The other members are all good as well. Greg “My Two Dads” Evigan is dull and manly as the handsome white guy with the beard. The others are all recognizable character actors and they help delineate their characters and make them memorable. I’ve seen a lot of these things where the characters are all interchangeable, and although this isn’t Shakespeare the character moments are well done. Then the base is damaged and the oxygen levels start dropping and then things really hit the fan.
So yes, a good amount of the running time of this movie is a lot of people watching blinky lights on monitors and talking to each other over intercoms. But after a long time hiding off-screen, the monster makes a memorable first appearance and bites Matt McCoy in a diving suit in half. Then the movie gets really good and really silly. This must be a teeny tiny off-shoot of the 100 meter long behemoth because this thing is maybe 7 feet long if you squint. Also, considering it’s supposed to be blindingly fast in the water, the mechanical monster puppet looks completely immobile. But it is a nice looking slimy-tooth monster with a worm-like mouth.
There’s also an underwater free-diving scene, not unlike the one in The Abyss so someone either saw a James Cameron script or they all guessed correctly that underwater free-diving scenes would take up a huge chunk of the movie’s running time. There are also a lot of scenes of people being attacked and Evigan and Everhard heroically not trying to save them. There’re several scenes where the actors are blasted by a fire-hose blast of water, and there’s a pretty good scene where they think the monster is hiding in the room they’re submerged in. Also, Miguel Ferrer memorably freaks out and ascends a wee bit too fast in the escape pod. Can we say catastrophic decompression?
THE BOTTOM LINE
DeepStar Six is not exactly a good movie. The effects are too cheap and the story is a bit generic. In fact, this movie sort of plays out exactly like Leviathan. But this has an amusing rubber monster, Miguel Ferrer swinging for the fences, and some good, tense scenes of people sick of each other on a too tiny underwater station bickering and getting up in each other’s sweaty faces. So it’s a worthy companion piece to Leviathan, Deep Rising, and any of the other rubber tooth-monster movies.
SPOILER ALERT: The absolutely best moment in the movie occurs when the surviving characters, armed with spear guns, go hunting the monster. Then it pops up suddenly and Miguel Ferrer accidentally stabs a dude with the shark stunner he’s holding and blows a hole in his chest. Absolutely hilarious.