Written by: Anne Dyer and Alfred Sweeney
Directed by: Charles B. Griffith
Starring: Sam Bottoms, Susanne Reed, and Virgil Frye
Reviewed by: Brett G.
ďOh my god, it's a monster fish!"
Most are familiar with the fact that Roger Corman shamelessly paid homage to/ripped off Jaws with the blood and black humor-laced Piranha in 1978. However, you might be interested to know (and if you arenít, my devotion to terrible aquatic creature features precludes us from being friends) that he went back to the well one year later. This time as an executive producer, Corman ushered in Up From the Depths under the New World Pictures banner, and the results were less than stellar.
An assortment of characters have gathered at a Hawaiian resort during tourist season. Thereís plenty going on between all the boat tours, festivals, and science experiments, but it all comes to a screeching halt after a series of mysterious attacks. Something (a shark?) is feasting on anyone who enters the ocean, and someone will have to step up and take the beast down (and theyíll receive $1000 to boot!).
With some exceptions, no one really expects greatness from these sort of Corman monster movies. Piranha, of course, is one such exception, and it works well because it has everything this one lacks: smart writing, good actors, and a director with a clear vision for balancing horror and comedy. And while that film had some pretty sharp, almost satiric teeth that allowed you to laugh with it, Up From the Depths just remains willfully and gleefully stupid. Itís just another in a long list of crappy B-movies to which Corman's name is attached, and if youíve made it this deep into his canon, another 80 minutes with this one wonít kill you.
It might come damn close though. If not for the huge cast that features an assortment of goofy characters, this one would sink a lot more quickly than it does. Youíve got a little bit of everything here: a stuffy scientist, a couple of scam artists, a random Asian guy (who actually brandishes a sword at one point in hopes of slaying the creature), a ditzy model, and the list goes on. Thereís even an abnormally high concentration of rednecks with terrible southern accents despite the Hawaiian setting. The true show-stealer is the hotel manager, Forbes, who gets some of the film's most outrageous and inappropriate lines. For example, when he encounters an obviously distraught girl (who just saw her photographer get devoured), he logically asks, ďwhatís wrong? Are you pregnant?ď After an incredulous look from the girl, he can only surmise that the girl must have been raped. As if this doesnít sound absurd enough, rest assured that itís all compounded by some woeful acting and absolutely atrocious dubbing (in fact, apply this to every character, and you have an idea of what youíre working with here).
The big cast probably has you thinking that thereís plenty of fodder for the beast, and youíd be half-right. A lot of people get chewed up, but donít get too excited. Most of the attack scenes are incoherent and are pretty much the equivalent of filming red food coloring in a bathtub. Thereís an obvious attempt to mimic the first-person-approach of Jaws (complete with rip-off of that filmís infamous score), but it really doesnít work because thereís no way to be afraid here. Iíd speculate that the monster is kept off screen because it looks absolutely ridiculous, but Iím not sure this movie gets the benefit of the doubt. I couldnít exactly tell you what it is (donít worry, the movie canít either!), but itís close enough to a shark, I suppose. That lets me enshrine Up From the Depths into the ignominious killer shark sub-genre, where it can swim alongside dozens of other really terrible movies not directed by Steven Spielberg.
Suffice to say, youíre going to need a high tolerance for bad movies if youíre going to swim to these depths. Shout Factory makes the jaunt a bit easier with a nice special edition, which also features 1987ís Demon of Paradise. The anamorphic widescreen transfer features a pretty nice restoration, as the filmís nice, vivid colors pop off the screen; the soundtrack is also nice and clear, meaning this one probably hasnít looked and sounded this good since it made its quick run through the drive-thru circuit. Thereís also a theatrical trailer along with TV and radio spots to round out the package. Corman fans and my fellow aquatic horror fans are probably the only ones who need to dive in, and even they might be sent running from it faster than the characters trying to escape the creature-infested waters of the movie. Why are they running, anyway? Itís not like the creature itself run (or even walk) on land. Believe it or not, thatís actually an observation made by one such character in the film, so maybe you can laugh with it that one time. Savor that moment when it comes, for it will soon be washed away by waves of Z-movie tripe. Rent it!
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