A small group of US civilians and Naval engineers are hundreds of feet below the ocean’s surface, stationed in a makeshift base on the seafloor. They’ve spent the last six months down there pulling double duty, trying to a) prove that a colony of people can live underwater for a prolonged amount of time and b) build a nuclear missile storage platform on the seafloor. With only one week left to finish their mission, they run into a snag before they can finish putting up the foundation of the missile platform. Seems their scientists have discovered a large system of caverns right beneath the site they’ve cleared out for the platform. Not wanting to risk mission failure, the head of the project orders the caverns collapsed using a series of depth charges. Unfortunately for them, their brilliant idea doesn’t collapse the cavern. Instead it just opens up a giant fissure into the caverns below…. And also releases a massive, unknown creature from the depths, one that is quick to display that it is none-too-happy to have been disturbed by a bunch of idiots who just blew up its damn house.
Yeah it’s gruesome, but let’s be fair. If someone just blew a hole through your front door you’d be pretty pissed too.
If the plot of DeepStar Six sounds vaguely familiar, that’s basically because it’s a huge underwater rip-off of Alien. And if for some reason you think that’s a bit of an unfair comparison, than you need to re-read that tagline up there on that poster and then get back to me about how that comparison isn’t wholly intentional.
On top of that, DeepStar Six was also one of six (Six?!) underwater themed sci-fi films, either released or in production, in 1989. So if the name doesn’t at all sound familiar, you can be forgiven, because not only are the plots for most of these films fairly interchangeable, but most of them also sort of sucked, except for James Cameron’s Abyss which just blew the other five films out of the water (heh), both in style and in pure technical competence.
Though, I imagine it’s hard for any film to beat the majestic splendor of the ‘Underwater Bulldozing Scene.’
DeepStar Six really just has two things going for it.
The first is the creature itself. Unfortunately, we don’t actually get to see it until well into the third act, but when it finally does show up it is a marvel of puppeteering to behold, even if I’m still not exactly sure what it’s supposed to be. The movie suggests a eurypterid, but it looks more like some sort of mutated human/crab hybrid. Or maybe some sea-dwelling cousin of whatever the hell those creatures in Tremors are supposed to be. Either way it’s big and ugly and it’s a shame we didn’t get to see more of it taking love bites out of unsuspecting Naval personnel.
The second thing the film has going for it, is that it stars a plethora of familiar TV actors. Even if you don’t recognize any of the names, everyone here has been in so much that they will likely be immediately recognizable to most. The standout is probably Miguel Ferrer, who is just a masterful prick in any role he’s in, even sometimes when he doesn’t need to be. But while he is by far the most interesting, that isn’t a knock on the other characters. All of them fit their roles well and are suitably talented and believable enough to pull them off. On top of that, the film actually spends time letting us get to know these characters, instead of just treating them like monster horderves they are, which is always a nice touch in any sci-fi horror film.
Still doesn’t stop them from being horderves, though.
Sadly, all the talent in the world can’t make up for dumb plot moves and assinine character motivations. I mean, sure, this movie includes the completely baffling and egregiously costly (even for the US) scenario of building a pointless missile site at the bottom of the ocean (Why?) with what amounts to a skeleton crew (Again, why?), and the fact that said crew is attacked by a giant sea creature (This I can forgive), but even considering that (and really, that’s a lot), the movie’s plot and a lot of the characters actions are just befuddling.
The onslaught of what I refer to as ‘Convient Movie Stupid Syndrome’ first reared it’s ugly head not long after the first encounter with the creature. Two of the crew go on a rescue mission to help the unresponsive scientists near the missile base. Catastrophe strikes and one of the characters is trapped under a heavy object while the base is slowly sinking into the cavern below. He tells the other two to run, to save themselves, for not only is he trapped, but he’s also paralized and they don’t have enough time to help him and make it out alive. Which is all kinds of noble and heroic and the kind of thing that you expect from a swalart Naval Captain. Then, not two seconds later, he hits a button to flood the compartment they’re all in, putting the two survivors, who he just told to escape, in immediate mortal danger.
It can’t be to make them give up and move faster. Flooding the chamber just slowed them down and put them in even greater risk of death. Plus, it just seemed to increase their desperate need to try to get him out of there. I can only assume the filmmakers included it because they felt like they needed another water-filled set-piece to add to the plot.
*sigh* Yes, the only black character died in a horror movie. Please try to control your shock.
But my major point of contention is the absolute stupidity of Miguel Ferrer’s character, named Snyder. Snyder is sort of a dick (this is Ferrer at his finest, folks), which is fine, as he’s a harmless dick and every cast primarily consisting of scientists and doctors needs at least one asshole on board, lest the film descend into a quagmire of sleep-inducing technical jargon. Unfortunately, Snyder is not only a dick, but a complete idiot. When shit starts to hit the fan, Snyder, the lowly technician on board, is tasked with securing the missile base before (what’s left of) the crew can leave and escape to the surface. Since ‘being attacked by a deadly but unknown sea creature’ isn’t clearly spelled out in the disaster handbook, Snyder decides that the reason for the base’s abandonment is ‘aggression,’ and follows the directions given in the military protocol, which is to detonate the warheads. This would all be fine and dandy, if not for the fact that the nuclear missile site is right damn next to their main base. Sure, he followed protocol, but even a wet-behind-the-ears recruit would have asked for clarification from a superior before setting off the nukes next door. Sadly, this is not the last time Snyder will screw up, either. It’s just the first in a long line of poor decision making skills, both by him and the rest of the crew.
So really it’s less of a monster movie and more of a cautionary tale about how it only takes one dumbass to cause a massive industrial accident.
I can only assume that all this complete lack of human self preservation is due to the lack of actual monster time we get on screen. I mean, you can only string out the suspense a tiny blip on a radar screen can conjure up for so long before you either have to give up the goods or go home. But the way they did it will likely kill anyone’s suspension of disbelief. I suppose one could make the argument that Snyder’s great act of monumental stupidity was supposed to illustrate some sort of symbolism about how humans do far more damage to themselves than outside forces ever could, but based on the rest of the movie I feel as though that would be giving the film far too much credit.
Okay, explain to me again why you gave him a weapon? Were you upset by his failure to kill you the first time and trying to give him a sporting chance to finish you all off?
Never mind, I see you were. Carry on then.
So, is DeepStar Six any good? Well, it’s….okay. For every good point it has, it seems to wind up balanced out by a corresponding negative. The characters are diverse and believable, but some of their actions make zero sense. The monster is kinda neat, but severely underutilized. The shots from the inside of the base look damn sharp, but the external underwater shots look like they were filmed by a group of high-schoolers doing a video project. The third act is actually pretty fun once they get to the actual monster in the ‘monster’ movie, but the first two acts are plodding and filled with pleasantly extensive, though ultimately pointless, character development. On top of all that, the movie ends up being highly predictable, and thus utterly lacking in suspense. You always know where the monster is at all times, even when it infiltrates the base. So the only question on the viewers mind isn’t ‘where is it?”, but rather ‘how the hell is something that looks to be the size of an elephant hiding in water that’s only waist deep?’ That is not a question you want your viewers to ponder as they watch your movie.
All that said, I still kind of liked it. It has very little gore and the monster is kinda dorky, but watching Miguel Ferrer’s character slowly lose his shit, and know that just about everything going wrong is due to his own incompetence was kinda enjoyable. Not enjoyable enough for me to recommend to people who don’t like dumb monster movies, but enjoyable enough for me, a person who likes incredibly dumb monster movies. So if dumb monster movies are your jam, than DeepStar Six is the film for you. Just don’t go in expecting a coherent plot of any kind.
DeepStar Six is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
It is also available on DVD.