Up from the Depths (1979)
Up from the Depths (1979)

Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 25 min.

Release Date: June 29th, 1979 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Charles B. Griffith Actors: Sam Bottoms, Susanne Reed, Virgil Frye, Kedric Wolfe, Charles Howerton, Denise Hayes, Charles Doherty, Helen McNeely, Katherine Scholy

 


 

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he film starts with a scene of suspense, borrowing the formula from “Jaws,” in which diver Sandra (Dorothy Burham, the most obviously inexperienced actress in the project) becomes the victim of something menacing just below the surface. It fails pitifully, however, as the moment poses little shock value, less tension, and an anticlimactic close. The following day, at a Hawaiian beachside resort (the Tropical Palace), perturbed manager Oscar Forbes (Kedric Wolfe) concerns himself with the various guests’ problems – such as when Ed (Charles Doherty) thinks he’s stepped in chum, but is likely wading through fresh human remains.

Ed and his wife Louellen (Helen McNeely) aren’t discouraged by the bloody goo; they’re still ready to see the sights around the paradisiacal archipelago. And when he runs into young Greg Oliver (Sam Bottoms), a smalltime swindler who lives on a boat with his drunkard uncle Earl Sullivan (Virgil Frye), the group departs for some casual fishing. Even when a shark corpse and a severed arm turn up, the hotel’s vacationers are kept in the dark, gaily going about their distracting revelries. But when Tropical Palace public relations director Rachel McNamara (Susanne Reed) watches a tourist get dragged underwater to a bloody demise, it’s evident that this lush utopia harbors something devilish, recently risen from the extreme depths.

“This place is a deathtrap!” Despite the acceptable underwater photography, snippets of unnerving music, a simple yet fitting premise, and brief flashes of gore (usually obscured by fast cuts and lots of bubbles), the pacing severely hinders the entertainment. Subplots surrounding tourists, the arrival of prissy celebrity Iris Lee (Denise Hayes, whose involvement isn’t much more than some nude scenes), and skeptical officials drag out the monster attacks and the accruing bodies; more time is devoted to carousing, bellydancers, and lovers’ quarrels (“Lust is greater than loot!”) than on hunting for the abysmal culprit. It takes 50 minutes before the first legitimate feasting arrives, finally revealing the big fish in all its rubbery glory.

“Did it have any phosphorescent properties?” The gargantuan fish is comical at best (as are reactions to it), yet when it rears its thick-lipped, toothy maw, it possesses a certain charm. After all, someone actually built the cheap, floppy puppet. But its effectiveness is limited, largely along the same lines as Roger Corman’s previous endeavor, “Piranha,” which did its best to conceal the shoddiness of its fishy antagonists. Sequences of chaos end abruptly (including the finale), never culminating in a creative bloodbath that could have saved the movie from its mediocrity; jump scares similarly stop short, planned out incredibly poorly, as if the cinematographer had never seen a slasher; there’s enough paltry comic relief to classify “Up from the Depths” as a horror/comedy hybrid (it’s poking fun at “Jaws” as much as it’s trying to rip it off); and the choppy editing continually defuses any suspense. Plus, the characters are remarkably stupid – from their plans to their actions to their emotional responses (the most outrageous of which involves using the dead body of a friend as bait [“He’d have wanted it like this”]).

– Mike Massie

  • 2/10