Sunday, October 26, 2014

HubrisWeen, Day 21: Up From The Depths (1979)

Man, that's a pretty freaking sweet poster, huh? Bet you can't wait to see the movie it's promising!

Fool! Have you learned nothing from any of my reviews? Or are you too young to have browsed the shelves of a video store, see an amazing video box cover, and rent it--only to find out that you were lied to in almost every possible way?

For if I had ever encountered this movie in a video store, in the dark days before the Internet had at least one easily accessible review for any movie I might be fooled into renting, I'd have snatched it up. And I'd have regretted it strongly.

However, this is the 21st Century. So that means I knowingly bought this film in a double feature pack with Demon of Paradise, having been well and truly warned that I would not like what I found within. Did I regret it?

Of course not. Demon of Paradise is a wonderfully entertaining bad film. But, unfortunately, that's not what we are here to discuss.

[And yes, this makes the 4th Jaws rip-off in this round of HubrisWeen. I confess myself inordinately fond of even the terrible Jaws rip-offs, so this was inevitable]

The film opens, much like Jaws 2 did the previous year, with a scuba diving sequence. So you know we're off to a thrilling start. To be fair, the film actually starts with Dr. David Whiting (Charles Howerton) in a motorboat just off shore of an unspecified island of Hawaii going over the instructions for setting some equipment up on the reef below with his grad student, Sandy Kane (an uncredited Dorothy Burham). Based on the dialogue between the two, when Sandy asks for a "kiss goodbye" and Whiting confusedly asks if she's not planning on coming back, I'd say the two have an inappropriate relationship going on.

It's of no concern, ultimately. After amending her request to a kiss for luck, Sandy does diving. An unimpressive "earthquake" happens which mainly consists of the camera shaking and rocks falling past Sandy, who seems completely oblivious. Well, until something unseen attacks her and her air tank floats to the surface just before a huge billowing cloud of blood, which Whiting oddly scoops up in a glass before staring at the ocean in horror.

One of the few bits of humor in the film that works follows, as the credits roll over establishing footage of a Hawaiian resort--and the credit for Sam Bottoms appears over the gyrating rear ends of some Hula dancers.

Look, this is as good as the film's humor gets, so you better enjoy it while it lasts.

The story kicks off as we get introduced to three of our--ugh--comic relief characters in rapid succession, and let me crush your dreams now by telling you that none of them end up fish food. Middle-aged tourist Ed Bennett (Chuck Doherty) is wading through the shallows when he slips and falls in some entrails. His wife, Louellen (Helen McNeely) rushes to towel him off, saying the whole time that this could only happen to him. Then the resort's manager, Oscar Forbes (Kedric Wolfe), comes to check on them both.

Forbes, like the tourist couple, assumes that the entrails are chum as opposed to the greater likelihood that they belonged to a shapely grad student and he blames someone named Sullivan. he goes off and grabs his PR Director Rachel McNamara (Suzanne Reed) and takes her aside to tell her that Sullivan and is nephew are "banned in perpetuity!" Rachel stops Forbes from "comically" sitting on a severed shark's head lying on the beach--why he was planning to sit there is beyond me--which Forbes also blames on Sullivan. And then a visiting author that Rachel's been entertaining shows up and further annoys Forbes by taking photographs of the shark.
It's like he's being eaten by the monster in a much better movie!
And then we meet our, ugh, hero: Greg Oliver (Sam Bottoms, who's always in danger of being upstaged by his sideburns) as, with the help of knick-knack vendor, he begins to run a scam on the Bennetts. He takes the Bennetts to his drunk uncle Earl Sullivan's (Virgil Frye) boat, to try and sell them on going out to dive for lost treasure at a shipwreck out on the reef. A shipwreck, it will turn out, that Greg always goes out to seed with seemingly valuable trinkets before a dive. As you have guessed, these two are the ones Forbes--not unreasonably--has banned from his resort. Though when Rachel, who seems to have a history with him, confronts Greg about the "bait" dumped on the beach he assures her he had nothing to do with it.

Dr. Whiting returns to his boat about this time and reports Sandy to the harbor master as having "drowned." About the same time, one of the resort workers driving the glass bottomed boat sees something on the reef and dives in to discover a severed woman's hand with a dive watch on it. But when he tries to tell Forbes about it, Forbes just tells him to keep it quiet because the person it belonged to couldn't have died on resort property.

Look, I realize that Forbes is the Mayor figure and all, but having him cover up evidence of a possible shark attack or murder is taking it way too far. The Mayor claimed that there had never been a shark attack before in Amity and that might have been true, while Forbes runs a resort in Hawaii. You know, the source of inspirational stories about champion surfers who lose arms to sharks and keep on surfing?

Meanwhile, Dr. Whiting receives a visit from some local fisherman who have caught some strange fish. One Whiting recognizes as a deep sea fish not usually seen this close to shore, the other he'll get to provide a name for because he doesn't recognize it. So, like Gorgo, our film's monster was apparently driven from deep water by a geological event.

While Whiting is contemplating the implications of the unknown specimen, Rachel takes the author on a tour of a more remote side of the island. The author begins taking pictures of her, while she muses he should save his film for the English playmate who's coming to the resort. It doesn't matter, though, because while Rachel poses on a rock with the sun in her eyes the author wades backward into the water--and the same thing that ate Sandy grabs the author and makes off with him.

When Rachel goes to see Forbes in the resort kitchen, he first takes her horrified expression to mean she's pregnant (!) and when she doesn't respond to that, he loudly shouts, "Oh my God, you've been raped!" Now, I would think you wouldn't want people thinking there are rapists running loose in your resort, but Forbes only worries about being overheard once Rachel tells him that the author was taken away by "a fish, or a crocodile" to which Forbes angrily responds, "There are no crocodiles in the Hawaiian archipelago!"

Hey, Hawaii is lousy with alien species (aside from white people), so I wouldn't rule it out!

So, Rachel is told to hush up about the author's disappearance because, again, it didn't happen on resort property. Forbes is such a schmuck. Hey, you know what also isn't on resort property? The shipwreck that Earl, Greg, Ed Bennett, and one of Greg's latest marks are anchored above. Greg and the unnamed mark go down and Greg finds some treasure he didn't plant. However, before he can enjoy that, the hungry fish appears and eats the mark before Greg's horrified eyes.

Sadly, Ed was still safely on the boat so Greg only comes up on board minus one obnoxious idiot. Earl convinces him not to say anything about a shark attack, even though Greg insists it wasn't a shark. However, Greg and Rachel find themselves reporting a drowning to the harbor master at the same time--and Whiting joins them, trying to find out if they saw what the creature was. We already know Rachel didn't, but Greg just refuses to tell the scientist what he saw.

And then Iris Lee (Denise Hayes) arrives at the resort, accompanied by a rock star stereotype we'll never see again but whom I assume would be named Bowie McJagger. Iris proves to be every bit the airheaded stereotype you'd expect, feeding bubblegum to the resort's koi and having to be reminded she's currently in Hawaii. Which, if not for the obvious ADR work, could just as easily be the actress getting confused since this was filmed in the Phillipines.

Iris raises a false alarm for Rachel, Forbes, and Greg when she disappears to go skinny dipping that evening, but since she hasn't yet fulfilled the T&A quotient she was brought in for, she turns up fine. When Rachel loudly says she doesn't think anyone should be going in the water, someone asks if she means there are sharks and Forbes angrily replies, "There are no sharks in the Hawaiian archipelago!"

I assume his next gig will be at a golf course in Florida where he will angrily respond to news of a gator attack with, "There are no alligators in the Florida peninsula!"

The employee who found Stacy's severed hand eventually goes to see Greg about it. Then he, Greg, and Rachel decide to go investigate where he found it. At the same time, Whiting is hunting for the mystery fish with the harbor master. Some kids are cliff diving near the boat that Greg and Rachel are on and they find the creature first: napping on the ocean floor.

Now, if you're going to give us our first good look at your monster when you already know it's a largely inert prop--along with some obvious miniature puppets--maybe you shouldn't have it looking so lifeless. At any rate, the fish oddly decides not to grab the easy prey in the water and instead destroys the glass-bottomed boat.

Yes, the one with the sideburns! Get him!
The fish, naturally, eats the boat's non-white pilot and then fails to grab anyone else as Whiting shows up to rescue reg and Rachel. They pursue the creature with Whiting's fish finder, finding out too late it's headed to the location of Iris Lee's photoshoot on a boat--which they've just decided to take underwater. Thus having provided us with multiple shots of her bare chest, it's time for Iris, her cameraman, and a third guy to become fish food.

Our "heroes" head to a floating raft just outside the resort's beach in pursuit of the giant fish, where Greg and the harbor master leap onto the raft with their guns while Whiting and Rachel head ashore to try and help get everyone out of the water. The fish shows itself plainly enough that even Forbes has to acknowledge it exists and the entire beach completely panics. People run willy-nilly and parts of the resort's tacky decor go up in flames. Ed and Louellen Bennett get the following almost comedic exchange:

ED: "Where are you going? Fish can't walk!"
LOUELLEN: "Everybody's running!
ED: "Fish can't run, either!"
Again, take these small bits of joy where you can, folks.
Forbes runs out with a handgun but Whiting grabs his arm while pointing out that he's gonna shoot one of the beachgoers, and causes Forbes to shoot himself in the foot. Greg and the harbor master find that the fish is apparently bulletproof (!) and Greg's shotgun jams just as the fish rams the raft and the harbor master falls in and gets chomped.

"Ha! Jaws wasn't bullet proof! Try suing us now, Spielberg!"
Now that he can't keep the fish a secret, Forbes decides to offer a bounty for its destruction. This leads to the inevitable "drunk idiots chasing a monster fish" as guests comically grab the decorative spears, some idiots make a flamethrower (!), and a Japanese businessman / hate crime worthy stereotype dresses in sumo attire and wanders off with a samurai sword. I still can't decide if the terrible ADR work in a scene where Forbes and the businessman have a conversation and the wrong person is speaking throughout was an intentional dubbing "joke" or just incompetence.
Whiting enlists Greg's help to try and take the fish alive, naturally. While other yahoos are out trying to murder the fish and, annoyingly, not dying--including a teenage couple who fail to get eaten despite encountering the fish in the flimsiest looking clear plastic boat you ever did see--Greg, Whiting, and Rachel go out in a motorboat and Greg and Whiting go diving to try and tranq the creature. In defiance of it's previously established MO, the fish just bumps Whiting with its snout. Greg and Rachel haul Whiting back into the boat, but being bumped caused him to cough up blood and filled his wetsuit with blood.
"His insides are all busted up," Greg helpfully explains. Whiting uses his last words to beg Greg and Rachel, "Don't throw me back. Don't let it get me." As dying wishes go, that's pretty explicit. Hey, don't feed me to the Goddamn giant fish, you got it, boss.
Yet when Greg and Rachel collect one of Whiting's assistants who has some explosive charges with him and they realize they don't have any bait, Greg immediately straps the explosives to Whiting's corpse. Rachel strenuously objects, but Whiting's underling replies, "You didn't know him, lady: he'd have wanted it this way."
The fish immediately swallows Whiting's corpse, but somehow the detonator cords got disconnected. They'll have to be plugged in to kill the fish. So Greg and Whiting's former employee go down again. The employee gets munched, but somehow Greg plugs the detonator in--even though you'd think eating another person would have pushed the explosives down into the creature's belly out of reach--and FISH GO BOOM!
Everybody cheers, including all the annoying comic characters who should be dead, damn it. Then Rachel jumps into the ocean to kiss Greg. Roll credits.
There are two sins that a bad movie can make that will ruin any entertainment value it has: it can be boring and it can fill its running time with obnoxious characters the audience wants to see get killed, but refuse to die. Oh, make that three sins: it can also try to stuff itself full of unfunny comedy.
After all, a bad horror movie can still be entertaining because you can mock its failure. An incompetent serious movie can be hilarious. But a bad comedy? That's excruciating. And, unfortunately, that's the direction that Up From The Depths seems determined to lean towards.
It's not hard to understand why they did it. After all, Roger Corman had just the previous year had great success with Piranha, whose John Sayles script imbued it with a lot of humor to the point that some have, incorrectly, termed the film a spoof of Jaws. And director Charles B. Griffith had previously been responsible for the actually funny script for The Little Shop of Horrors. But Griffith didn't write Up From The Depths and his mere presence is far from enough to make the film funny.

And seriously, there are zero characters to root for. Greg, our supposed hero, is a charlatan and a self-centered opportunist. Rachel is basically a non-entity so she's probably the only character whose ate we merely don't care about as opposed to wanting to see die horribly. Dr. Whiting? Even my usual sympathy for the scientists who want to study the monster can't get past the fact that he's a combination of self-centered ass, like Greg, and non-entity, like Rachel. You don't care about his death other than how much of a douche Greg is for using the guy as bait after he specifically begged not to be fed to the fish.
Okay, so the script is terrible. What about the monster? There's no hope there. As I said previously the monster, when we rarely get a good look at it, is a largely immobile prop. And despite its origin as a deep sea fish, it looks about as generic as you can get. It's practically a giant trout. So nobody even bothered to put any work into the monster, which is the big draw of a film like this. Way to go, everyone.
There is no reason for anyone to watch this film unless A) your standards are so low that you'll watch any movie as long as it has boobs in it or B) you have a weakness for Jaws ripoffs and just had to know if it's as bad as everyone says. Trust me, it's exactly as awful as everyone says. Maybe even worse.
Now, if you'll excuse me, this film's title has left me with the theme to Hanna-Barbera's Godzilla cartoon stuck in my head...
"Pardon me, do I have a bit of tourist stuck in my teeth?"

This concludes day 21 of HubrisWeen! Check out what the other maniacs chose for their U movie by clicking the banner above.

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