War-Gods of the Deep (City in the Sea) (1965)
War-Gods of the Deep (City in the Sea) (1965)

Genre: Adventure and Fantasy Running Time: 1 hr. 24 min.

Release Date: May 26th, 1965 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Jacques Tourneur Actors: Vincent Price, Tab Hunter, David Tomlinson, Susan Hart, John Le Mesurier, Harry Oscar

 


 

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n a dark and stormy night in a remote coastal county in England, a strangely dressed corpse washes ashore, investigated by some salty tars and Professor Benjamin Harris (Tab Hunter). The body is identified as lawyer Penrose, who had been advising American Jill Tregillis (Susan Hart) about estate matters. “We’re the only two Americans in the village,” she observes when Harris arrives to inform her of the news. When Ben looks in on Penrose’s room, he’s attacked by a fishlike monstrosity, further complicating the case of the mystifying death. “It wasn’t human!”

“You’re a great one for mysteries, aren’t you?” muses eccentric artist Harold Tufnell-Jones (David Tomlinson), who dismisses the notion of a creature lurking in the shadows. But as dawn approaches, the scaly, seaweed-covered intruder returns to kidnap Jill, bounding down a hidden passage next to the fireplace. Giving chase, Ben and Harold (with a pet chicken, Herbert, in tow) explore a massive underground cave, at the center of which is a whirlpool. And, expectedly, they both tumble into it, discovering a water gate, eerily echoing whispers throughout the tunnels, and a gathering of seagoing smugglers conducting a human sacrifice.

Although the characters are generally insincere, devoid of a sense of urgency – in the vein of other fantasy adventures of the era (Tomlinson is mostly just comic relief, again a staple of these pictures) – the sets are instantly amusing, boasting enormous bronze and stone monoliths, shadowy corridors riddled with stalagmites, and an ancient underwater city besieged by maelstroms and a hellish volcano. Of course, when ominous, cryptic, egomaniacal, grizzled Captain Hugh (Vincent Price) appears, a certain severe force comes with him; Price brings an undeniable gravity even to a low-budget sci-fi thriller. The hybrid gill-men, however, lack the necessary ferocity, especially when they’re shown a little too clearly in well-lighted shots.

More than one reference is made to the Edgar Allan Poe poem “City in the Sea,” from which this film takes a handful of concepts (and its re-release title). But despite the atmospheric environments and the underwater adventures, there’s a slowness to the proceedings, focusing too much on the explanations of the city’s pumps, failed escape attempts, fountain-of-youth effects, and ritualistic executions. “Don’t worry, Herbert. I’ll get you home in time for tea.” Oddly, the story eventually deviates into something along the lines of “The Most Dangerous Game,” though this allows for the donning of comically oversized (yet ornate) diving suit helmets for a climactic underwater showdown – complete with crossbow assaults, confusing subaqueous photography (with poor continuity that makes it difficult to muster any tension), and an abrupt conclusion, as if a Hammer film. Sadly, it’s one of the blander of these fantasy forays, perhaps due in part to the minimum of action and monsters.

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10