DeepStar Six (1989)

DeepStar Six (1989)

Not All Aliens Come From Space. Save Your Last Breath… To Scream.

A US naval engineering team is completing work on an underwater nuclear missile base when they accidentally split open the ocean floor during an excavation mission, revealing a huge cave underneath. Contact with the excavation team is lost and after a rescue mission goes wrong, the crew are given the go-ahead for extraction from above. Before they can leave, they must secure the missiles but a mishap with the process cripples the base, trapping everyone at the bottom of the sea. To add to their problems, something deadly has been let loose from the previously-hidden cave and it makes its way into the base, killing the crew off one-by-one.

 

Whilst James Cameron’s The Abyss was in production, other studios assumed that it was going to be some ‘monster-on-the-loose-in-a-confined-space’ flick like Aliens but only underwater instead of space. Cameron was a rising star after Aliens and The Terminator and everyone wanted a piece of the action. Being ones to try and jump on the bandwagon, a handful of similar-themed films each featuring aquatic monsters were rushed into production in order to capitalise on the inevitable popularity, the most notable of which being Leviathan featuring Peter Weller. However, The Abyss was nothing like people expected it to be and so these films floundered a little bit, trying to out-jump the other into the pool only to find the pool had moved.

DeepStar Six finds itself with one of the most recognisable horror directors of the 80s, Sean S. Cunningham (the man behind Friday the 13th), at the helm and along with him Harry Manfredini, the composer from the earlier Friday the 13th films. You’d very much expect better from Mr Cunningham – sort of like an underwater Friday the 13th – but the film never really threatens to turn into anything more than throwaway sci-fi horror.

DeepStar Six should have worked a lot better and could have done had it stuck to the monster movie formula. However it’s far, far too long before the monster shows up for the first time (about an hour) and before then, the film runs like an underwater disaster film with all manner of mishaps and deadly accidents happening to the crew that they need to overcome. Depressurisation, flooding compartments, doors that won’t open, doors that won’t seal, power shortages, etc. I came to see an underwater Alien knock-off, not another The Poseidon Adventure! You get the sense that they wanted to play down the horror elements and keep the adventure and suspense elements high but they’re preaching to the wrong genre crowd if that was the case. The rather convoluted plot has a script that is peppered with coincidences and bad luck in order to further the story and it seems as though the characters go from one catastrophe to the next – and that’s before the monster even turns up.

To his credit, Cunningham does use the first hour to good effect in building the characters and, when they are allowed to breathe life into their stereotypical characters, they do a decent job of making us care about them. Black guys, Russian, South African, annoying moaner character, the hero and heroine, etc. They’re all the usual stock characters but the majority of them (i.e. the ones who make it past the twenty minute mark) are well-rounded and will elicit empathy of some kind, from the guy who has a mental breakdown to the loved-up couple who want to survive for the sake of her unborn baby (that’s almost the complete opposite of being a black character in a film like this!). They’re a step up from the normal one-dimensional planks of wood that these films usually throw out way.

The cast is made up of former TV stars and minor actors who have cropped up in an odd horror or sci-fi film since then (Matt McCoy in the enjoyable Abominable being the one I remembered straight away). Arguably the big recognisable star on show is Miguel Ferrer, he of Robocop fame who made the mistake of crossing Ronny Cox’s Dick Jones character. Ferrer plays a miserable character who must go down as the ‘World’s Worst Crewmate to Have During a Disaster’ – not only does he cause the station to suffer catastrophe but he’s also responsible for a number of other horrendous mishaps during the running time which inflict more suffering upon not only himself but the rest of the crew. Ferrer’s departure is probably the highlight of the film as his character suffers from a really fatal case of depressurisation.

With so much time spent on the characters and the disaster film-style elements of the film, you’ll wonder whether they’ve got enough time to squeeze some monster action in and they almost don’t bother. It’s no surprise to see that the film picks up once the crew become aware of the existence of the monster (and very unfortunate for a chap in a diving suit, a fact spoiled by the poster rather my spoiler) though it hardly does anything and is responsible for directly killing three characters which is a tragedy considering how many characters started the film. When the creature does show up, it doesn’t look anywhere near as bad as you’d expect but someone had little confidence in how it appeared because you’ll hardly get a good look at it. It’s like some giant crab, only described as a prehistoric arthropod in the film and never really given any sort of scientific explanation. It’s blatantly a puppet with limited movement and just threshes backwards and forwards in the water. But in an old school way, it’s effective enough in what it does – you’d just wish it would have done a lot more of it.

 

Whenever DeepStar Six threatens to get good, it halts dead in its tracks again. Whether this is down to the script, the direction or another matter remains to be seen but there was a decent underwater Alien film waiting to come out here. Unfortunately we don’t get it in the final version. It’s too patchy and sporadic to make any long-lasting impression.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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