Synopsis: The crew of an experimental underwater nuclear base are forced to struggle for their lives when their explorations disturb a creature who threatens to destroy their base.
Stars: Taurean Blacque, Nancy Everhard, Greg Evigan, Miguel Ferrer, Nia Peeples, Matt McCoy, Cindy Pickett, Marius Weyers, Elya Baskin, Thom Bray, Ronn Carroll
Director: Sean S. Cunningham
Running Length: 105 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: Coming up on the near halfway mark of 31 Days to Scare, I figured it was time to bring out a bit of nostalgia by way of this underwater creature feature from 1989 that was the first release of The Big Three that year which have gone on to become an infamous trio. Along with Leviathan and the much more well known (and respected) The Abyss, DeepStar Six wound up suffering by comparison with the later releases which came in with bigger budgets and certainly in the case of The Abyss, more technical polish. Making the least of all three at the box office (a paltry $8 million) it developed a nice cult following when released on VHS and it’s not hard to see why. Looked at now, it’s a perfect Friday night popcorn selection that’s easy on the rump and, thanks to its appealing cast, far less onerous to spend time with than Leviathan.
It does take its sweet time to get going, though.
Let’s back up. Developed by writer Lewis Abernathy (who, in an odd twist, wound up working with The Abyss director James Cameron, on his Titanic doc, Ghosts of the Abyss) and co-written by Geof Miller, the film wears its bones as an Alien rip off almost proudly. A crew of an underwater nuclear base is just about finished with their project when a routine day turns into a nightmare after a cave system is discovered and a crack in the ocean floor unleashes a prehistoric creature that only has destruction on its mind. As the tiny crew races to find a way to get to the surface before they’re either eaten, drown, or explode from the pressurized base being compromised, it comes down to a precious few to prevent the beast from escaping into the depths of the ocean where it may never be caught.
Why this massive predator doesn’t just hightail it out of there once it’s freed from its crusty cove is a question you just shouldn’t consider for the sake of your own entertainment value. Instead, just concentrate on the fun of the 75 or so minutes where it’s causing a whole heap of problems for the crew, led by McBride (Greg Evigan) and Collins (Nancy Everhard). Both actors are convincingly heroic in their bid for main action star and even with the not so hot success of the film it’s strange neither could parlay the work in DeepStar Six into something bigger (or better) after this. An amusing twist to this film is that often the predator outside is no match for the troublemaker inside, and the whiny mechanic Snyder is played to perfection by the late great Miguel Ferrer. All the crew actually interacts well with each other, from Cindy Pickett as the kindly physician onboard to Nia Peeples playing a pretty marine biologist wanting to be taken seriously…and then has a shower scene with late ‘80s hunk Matt McCoy from The Hand that Rocks the Cradle.
One could argue that the set-up takes a little longer than necessary because at some point you feel the script and actors start to list restless in the water as the action comes to a slow grind…what is director Sean S. Cunningham waiting for? Showing the same kind of interest in getting to know the doomed before sending them off to meet their maker that he did with the original Friday the 13th, Cunningham was never a director with a knack for flair but admittedly there’s a lot to juggle with DeepStar Six from large set pieces to visual effects. Iffy though they are, and pretty silly as it nears the conclusion, some of the practical effects of the creature wind up looking sort of nice and there are several nasty bits of gore along the way that remain memorable moments for this viewer.
I’m not going to argue the merits of DeepStar Six compared to James Cameron’s impressively epic achievement of The Abyss, which remains one of my all-time favorites (where is that dang 4K BluRay?!?!) but I will stand up for this scrappy film to any fan of Leviathan. That movie has a larger ick factor, making the threat more of a body horror parasite at first before giving way to something bigger but DeepStar Six is a monster feature that feels like a nice nod to the B-movies back in the day. It’s definitely going for its own thing, and one must remember this came before all of the so-called imitators – and for that it has to get some credit for not being the sixth in line but #1.