Leviathan (1989)
Leviathan (1989)

Genre: Sci-Fi Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 38 min.

Release Date: March 17th, 1989 MPAA Rating: R

Director: George P. Cosmatos Actors: Peter Weller, Richard Crenna, Amanda Pays, Daniel Stern, Ernie Hudson, Lisa Eilbacher, Hector Elizondo, Meg Foster




n the Tri-Oceanic Mining Corporation’s (TOC) massive underwater facility (broken up into “shacks”), a crew of deep-sea workers is on their last few days of a 90-day shift. Their extremely hazardous mission is to extract silver and other precious metals at 16,000 feet in the midst of the Atlantic. Within the first few minutes, DeJesus’ (Michael Carmine) bulky, astronaut-like suit malfunctions and he nearly implodes from the immense pressure. Engineer Elizabeth Williams (Amanda Pays) locates the cause – a rubbery, stiff-moving (fake-looking) sea spider that she promptly stuffs under the pillow of foul-mouthed prankster Buzz “Sixpack” Parrish (Daniel Stern). Interestingly, it’s the only truly bad special effect in the entire movie.

Initially timid geologist Steven Beck (Peter Weller) captains the operation, though his main duty is to prevent the antsy members from driving one another crazy. Justin Jones (Ernie Hudson), Bridget Bowman (Lisa Eilbacher), and G.P. Cobb (Hector Elizondo) trade generic Colonial Marine-like verbal ripping and peculiar nicknames to pass the time. During the next day’s mining duties, Sixpack stumbles upon a wrecked Russian vessel, the Leviathan, and pilfers a safe from the infirmary. The TOC’s medic, Glen “Doc” Thompson (Richard Crenna), reviews a tape recovered from a safe that shows a Leviathan sailor speaking frantically about a tropical disease that wiped out the crew. Also inside the lockbox are a flask of vodka and a bottle of water. After Sixpack downs some of the contents of the flask, he develops a rash that Doc surmises is genetic alteration (speculated through an unnerving gimmick identical to a scene in Cronenberg’s “The Fly” [1986]). In less than eight hours, Sixpack is dead.

Beck doesn’t want to hastily evacuate the facility (and can’t, due to a hurricane, not unlike a predicament from “The Abyss” [1989]), but he knows it needs to be done. Doc can’t figure out if the disease is contagious but examines the rest of the crew and finds no symptoms – except on Bowman, who quickly kills herself when her hair starts to fall out and she espies the horribly mutated corpse of Sixpack. In a panic, Beck and Doc try to dispose of the still squirming, oozing, rapidly metamorphosing carcass, but not before Cobb is scraped by a claw and a severed limb sneaks back on board. The writhing abomination has an uncanny knack for transforming and surviving, taking out the crew one by one (similarly to “The Thing” [1982]). Eventually, Beck plots to ensnare the monster and flush it out of the ship – he’ll also have to climb into a cumbersome diving suit to do it (both are moments reminiscent of the finale in “Alien” [1979]).

The locations are magnificently haunting. Ceilings are masses of rubbery tubes and piping, the walls are cold, grey, and metallic, with glowing buttons, flashing lights, rust, corroded grating, and all sorts of complicated controls. Clear conduits transport thick fluids to and from various parts of the building. Steam and moistness cover every corner. It’s very atmospheric, macabre, and unsettling, despite closely resembling the set designs from “Alien’s” Nostromo spaceship. The sound effects are effective too, with screeching metal and groaning pipes interrupting the thoughts of the crew. Eerie violins and underwater noises akin to whales communicating or a sonar device reporting movement also increase the creepiness. Once the creature starts striking from the darkness, practical effects take over, including slime, blood, and a monstrous, tentacled amalgamation that further spice up the production value, the scares, and unfortunately, the derivation.

It’s obvious that “Leviathan” was trying to capitalize on the successes of other undersea thrillers and alien-based horror movies of the time. It’s also apparent that having the creative department directly copy elements from these other projects wasn’t a deterrent to continuing production. The use of flamethrowers, human betrayal, an evil corporation, and a climactic countdown to escape are also comparable notions, tacked onto the numerous existing filmic reproductions. But Stan Winston’s creature designs, which contain scales, gills, and fins, as well as amusing behavioral concepts, involving the mimicking of leeches, performing regeneration, sustaining periods of dormancy, and absorbing the intelligence of its victims (along with their bodies – again, like John Carpenter’s “The Thing”), are all quite entertaining. And, outside of the slightly goofy ending, the rest of the movie is admirably serious. As far as rip-offs go, “Leviathan” is one of the best.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10