Friday, October 19, 2012

Like the Monster, My Lunch Came Up from the Depths: "Up from the Depths" (1979)

On the isolated Hawaiian island of Mahu, there are problems.

The only resort is busy as usual, run by the jerk manager Forbes (Kedric Wolfe). He must contend with Greg (Sam Bottoms) and Greg's uncle Earl (Virgil Frye). These two rascals like to bilk tourists out of their money by taking them out to an old wreck and making the dumb mainlanders believe treasure can be found there. Greg is also dating the resort's perky PR gal Rachel (Susanne Reed).

Also prowling the waters is a Doctor Whiting (Charles Howerton), whose research assistant is eaten by an unseen underwater animal in the opening segment of the film. The jerk harbor master does not seem terribly worried about sudden bodies and grue floating in the surf, and still does not worry after Rachel sees a French writer get pulled under (to a ripoff of John Williams' "Jaws"). Earl and Greg, those rapscallions, take a couple, and the eccentric Holland (Ken Metcalf), out to a combed over wreck, and find real treasure! And then Holland is eaten.

We are eventually shown the giant monster fish doing all the murdering, and the audience is taken aback by the sheer weakness of the effect. After the fish eats a topless model, Forbes offers a thousand dollars, a case of rum, and a week's stay at the hotel for anyone who kills the fish. Greg and Rachel pile into Whiting's boat to catch the giant fish for study. Wouldn't it be refreshing to see a scientist in one of these films actually want to kick some monster ass instead of wanting to study it? The entire hotel clientele invade the convenient sporting goods store in the lobby, and float out into the lagoon, and everyone tries to be the first to kill the fish...and I think you know how this turns out, although be warned the ending involves baiting the fish with a dead body wired with explosives.

Sam Bottoms, wondering what happened to his career after "The Last Picture Show," is lost here. So is the rest of the cast. The reason? There are no characters here. Sure, actors run around and are called by character names, but no one performs. No one changes over the course of the film. No one does anything that shows any resemblance to normal human behavior. These are caricatures from other movies, thrown together to make a quick buck and milk better films.

Director Griffith cannot stage any sort of suspense. Scenes are thrown together without regard for pacing or coherence. His special effects fish is a joke, in some scenes you can see the string that opens its mouth and moves it through the water. Characters are introduced, then dropped. Watch for the reporter from Honolulu, who has no purpose in the film except maybe because they needed an African American character. Even the fish is unexplained. We assume it is ancient, and came "up from the depths," but the audience is given nothing else to go on. You can forget about seeing it swim, too. Holland talks about how clear the ocean is off of Mahu, yet the fish is filmed in some sort of dark, murky swimming pool somewhere.

Finally, a special word about the location sound department's recording- there isn't any. The film's dialogue is dubbed, all of it! Everyone talks or yells, even in the quietest of scenes. The words never synch with what the actors' mouths are doing, either. The whole auditory mess is headache inducing, and my ears are still ringing.

Let "Up from the Depths" go, and watch it sink like a stone. I do not recommend it. (*) out of five stars.