Jarv’s Schlock Vault: DeepStar 6
Well, at least Snyder will get his name in the Guinness book of records. I mean, causing two nuclear explosions in one afternoon has to be some sort of record.
I’m a big fan of monster films, and 1989 was a good year for them. With the advent of Cameron’s Aliens under the ocean fiesta The Abyss, two other studios rushed their films into production to try to latch on to the end of all that lovely salty money. The first was Leviathan, which I reviewed here ages ago, and I still rate it as a cracking little film. The second, and the subject of today’s vault review is DeepStar 6. Both of these films have more in common with each other than they do with the Abyss, being as they are both about large and angry beasts eating stranded crew than the more benign and helpful underwater monsters in the Abyss. The threat in Cameron’s effort is very much from the humans on board, but here it’s all about the monsters picking off our hapless stereotypes one by one.
Angry sea monsters and spoilers lurk below the waterline
It is an interesting quirk of the studio system that they do tend to churn out films that either deal with the same subject or are thematically very similar. I can think of lots of examples, and most of them contain at least one very, very bad film. However, the underwater trio is interesting in that all 3 of the films have their merits. The Abyss is obviously the “best” film in its own right, even if it does need the director’s cut to make sense, but I do find it curious that the two sea monster efforts both have their pros and cons. Leviathan, for example, has by far the superior cast, but DeepStar 6 has the better monster. Leviathan leans more to Sci-Fi with the genetic tinkering, whereas DeepStar 6 deals with a very natural threat. Leviathan is channelling Alien with the characters being miners and the disaster coming from a salvage mission, whereas DeepStar 6 makes no bones about this being a military exercise. Nevertheless, I’m quite happy that both exist, because I do genuinely like both.
Welcome to the bottom of the ocean. DeepStar 6 is an underwater platform, funded by the Navy that are testing nuclear weaponry on a platform designed by Saffa scientist Van Gelder (Marius Weyers). Comprising a motley crew, each are meant to bring their skills to the table, but an unfortunate series of delays has meant that their tour of duty on the sea bed has been extended from 4 months to 6. The crew, most notably Snyder (Miguel Ferrer) are feeling the strain. Some, such as Collins (Nancy Everhard) and McBride (Greg Evigan) have formed romantic attachments, but others, such as the captain Laidlaw (Taurean Blacque) and the Doctor himself are losing it. Pressed for time, Van Gelder instructs Collins to detonate an underwater cavern from her remote base, despite being warned that they don’t know how deep it is or what it contains. No sooner have they blown it up, than things begin to go completely tits up for our crew.
First up, Osborne (Ronn Carroll) and Hodges (Thom Bray) who were piloting the sub that set the charges, are attacked by a vast monster. This is only the precursor for disaster as the beast turns its attention to the remote platform, and smashes it to ribbons. The rescue mission to retrieve Collins and Burciaga (the other member of the crew on the separate station) results in the deaths of Laidlaw and Burciaga, and a broken McBride and Collins limp back to the ship. Following a series of unclear orders, Snyder detonates the missiles, which results in a catastrophic shockwave hitting DeepStar 6 and further diminishing their survival time. Faced with the loss of 4 crew and a disastrous situation, Collins and Van Gelder come up with a plan to jury rig the station’s reactor and allow themselves more time to decompress. Unfortunately, this goes tits up, and they’re attacked by a giant sea monster, which accounts for two more crew members. Snyder, meanwhile, accidentally accounts for Van Gelder, and starts to lose his marbles. Our surviving crew members, Collins, McBride, Snyder and Dr. Norris (Cindy Pickett) are in a whole world of shit, a situation made worse when Snyder loses his mind and launches the escape pod without decompressing properly first with inevitably disastrous results. Norris sacrifices herself to save McBride and Collins, who make it to the surface before despatching the beast to Davy Jones locker.
So, a pretty run of the mill monster movie all in all. However, DeepStar 6 has plenty to recommend it and elevate it above the herd. The first is that the acting, although from a far less stellar cast than Leviathan or The Abyss sported, is really quite good. Ferrer, in particular, is brilliant as he begins to lose his marbles and the increasing insanity requires him chowing down on more and more scenery. Evigan and Everhard are solid rather than spectacular, but all in all, the acting of DeepStar 6 is an unexpected bonus.
However, the real strength of the film lies in the monster. He’s a big, bold bastard of a special effect, and if I ignore the quibble about continuity (he seems to shrink as the film goes on as required), I have to say that he really knocks the sea water out of the other watery beasts. Basically, he’s a big worm with lots and lots of teeth and a fairly insatiable appetite. This is clearly a good thing, as I when I watch a monster movie, then I’m not watching for human drama and whatnot, I’m watching because I want to see a big monster eat people.
Against this though there is one principle weakness: The Script. Now, I’m not particularly au fait with decompression after diving, but I was of the belief that you couldn’t decompress at the bottom of the ocean, rather you had to do it in phases and slowly to avoid the bends. I’m pretty certain that you can’t just hop in a decompression chamber at 10,000 metres under the water and then hey presto, 8 hours later you’re all fizzed out- particularly when you then pilot a minisub up to the surface. I know this is picky, but the film relies heavily on this decompression period, and it strikes me as lazy that something I was vaguely aware of and have just confirmed with 2 seconds research in Wikipedia wasn’t checked out more thoroughly.
Furthermore, this laziness extends to character and dialogue. Van Gelder is told by all and fucking sundry to not detonate the chamber without checking, but every time he dismisses their concerns with some crap about it taking too long. Now, I understand that the navy have decided that Friday is the arbitrary date that they are winding the tests up on, but if I were in an extremely dangerous environment, and a scientific genius, then I would properly investigate the area that I was trying to set off a nuclear fucking weapon in. That he’s so blasé about the safety of his crew became a painful sticking point that I couldn’t get over, because it’s a character behaving in an extremely stupid way for the plot. This is then compounded by the insistence of all the other characters that it’s all Snyder’s fault, when it’s clearly Van Gelder to blame. This is shit writing, guys, just shit writing. Then there’s the character of Collins. I like Everhard, and I like her no-nonsense performance here, but the writers overegged the pudding completely, and thereby totally ensured that there would be absolutely no doubt as to who our survivors would be. This, actually, short of having Everhard walk around carrying a neon sign with “SURVIVOR GIRL” written on it is the most dumb and unsubtle piece of writing that I’ve come across in a while. I don’t expect Shakespeare from films like this, but I do expect the survivor girl to emerge gradually- I don’t need the narrative corralling in this fashion.
Overall, this is a good, fun film. It’s verging on dumbhouse, because let’s face it, it’s about a giant worm with teeth attacking nuclear scientists and whatnot on the bottom of the ocean. However, it’s a little more accomplished than expected and were these faults with the script not so prevalent, then it really would be the best of 1989’s underwater Trio. Nevertheless, considering it’s directed by Sean S. Cunningham of Friday 13th fame, DeepStar 6 is far better than it has any right to be, and is easily the best film of his career. It’s a bit annoying, actually, because I think DeepStar 6 is one rewrite away from being an absolute knockout, and I’m wondering if the navy’s deadline didn’t apply to the film as well.
I have approved this one, because it is fun, but I think it’s best served in a double bill with Leviathan- just add beer.
Until next time,