Deepstar Six beat Leviathan to theaters by about two months. For all that your average moviegoer would notice, they’re more or less the same film: a team of underwater scientists are attacked by a sea monster. What are the odds of the same high concept showing up twice in the same year? At least as good as Deep Impact and Armageddon, apparently.
I reviewed Leviathan a few days back, and I’ll complete the Sea Monster Trilogy with Deep Rising in a few days. Leviathan was a mixed bag; decent actors, a decent monster and okay screenwriting made for a middling cinematic experience. I didn’t regret my time or money (see my upcoming Deep Rising review), but I definitely wasn’t getting it on DVD.
Deepstar Six left with me the same impression. In this case, the actors aren’t quite of the same caliber as those in Leviathan, the monster is even lamer, and the script isn’t quite as sharp. And yet, the film has an oddly likeable quality; in fact, of the three, it was both my and DG’s favorite.
(On a side note, Leviathan stars Peter “Evil Henderson” Weller, while Deepstar Six features a nutty Miguel Ferrer, leading me to formulate a new Clarke’s Law [#5]: All wide-release horror movies of 1989 featuring a sea monster must contain at least one actor who was in Robocop. I don’t count The Abyss because, technically, that was a fairly benevolent alien, not a sea monster.)
Incidentally, I apologize for the terrible photos—the monster just isn’t very photogenic in this one. But since most of you, if you ever deigned to see this film, would do so primarily to see the monster, I thought I’d save you the trouble. It’s basically a cross between a crab and Audrey II from the 1986 Little Shop of Horrors except not nearly as well-done as Audrey II. I hate to admit it, but it’s even more boring than the Tremors-rip-offs in Deep Rising, though it does have the distinct advantage of not being crappy CGI.
The plot is nearly identical to Leviathan: an undersea research station (this one is military and happens to be looking for a suitable place to build an underwater nuclear missile platform) is attacked by a sea monster. Our intrepid band of heroes includes Captain Laidlaw (Taurean Blacque) easily the most likeable character in the film; lovers Collins (Nancy Everhard) and McBride (Greg Evigan) and the aforementioned Miguel Ferrer as Snyder in the Bill Paxton role from Aliens as the resident hairtrigger nutcase whose body count, including indirect deaths and his own, is more than the sea monster’s.
Unlike Leviathan (but somewhat similar to Deep Rising), the monster ends up being somewhat incidental to the plot. In this case it’s the catalyst for many of the plot points, but what’s enjoyable about Deepstar Six is the way it focuses not so much on the monster and the gore but on character interaction and suspense. Ferrer carries the majority of the emotional baggage as Snyder continually screws up and then becomes torn between feelings of guilt and an immensely selfish drive for self-preservation.
On the other hand, the film has its share of laughable moments. The second photo above is the halved body of perennial TV guest star Matt McCoy (whose list of credits is truly impressive, even though I tend to think of him as an ur-Steve Carell now—compare these photos to see what I’m talking about). McCoy gets bitten in half while still in his big old diving suit, and it’s pretty funny—but not as funny as when Snyder accidentally stabs another guy with a CO2 catridge, causing his heart to explode (the reaction shot from Ferrer made DG laugh out loud).
Then there’s the end of the movie, which suggests that the whole thing took place within the context of the Truman Show. Look at that matte painting! Incidentally, both Deepstar Six and Leviathan feature the gag where the monster you assumed was dead jumps up into the bright sunny surface and attacks our remaining heroes.
Deepstar Six was directed by Sean S. Cunningham, best known as the director of the original Friday the 13th. Deepstar Six features about the same level of low-budget camp and genuine tension. There’s not much “horror” here—even DG laughed when Matt McCoy got bitten in half—but there is some decent filmmaking.