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.

Underwater nookie while miles underwater. Classy.

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.

Underwater nookie part 2. This is what passes for character development here.

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.

I hope you don't crash that submarine into a large and angry underwater beast. It'll wreak havoc on your no claims bonus.

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.

There are these bastard parasites in the Amazon that if you take a piss they'll swim up the urine and do you severe damage in the bladder area. They're a lot bigger at the bottom of the ocean, as Snyder has just found out.

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.

We've escaped! I hope there isn't a large and angry sea worm with teeth around!

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.

Shit! Who'd have thought it.

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,

Jarv

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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

27 responses to “Jarv’s Schlock Vault: DeepStar 6”

  1. Jarv says :

    Incidentally, that’s Snyder as in hapless underwater worm bait, not Snyder talentless slo-mo merchant.

    I wish someone would feed him to a giant worm with lots of teeth.

    • Bartleby says :

      I also really enjoyed this one, and feltit was similar to the much later Deep Rising.

      Wasn’t the monster more of a giant crab than a worm? You just watched so you would know better. I haven’t seen it since the early 90s.

      • Jarv says :

        They describe it as a worm. It’s very similar to the thing in Deep Rising.

        It does have a very Deep Rising vibe, actually.

      • Bartleby says :

        weird, because in that last pic he clearly has appendages and a carapace. Stupid 80’s movie monster science.

        The beastie in Deep Rising turned out to be some sort of giant octopus and the individual worms just hungry tentacles.

        I just picked up a super cheap double feature of monster movies in K-mart the other day. Im loathe to ever go in there, so while waiting for the neanderthals to suss out our order, I grabbed two of those double deals for 2 bucks a piece.

        One was Anaconda and Ancondas 2. Huzzah! The other was The Faculty and Phantoms.

        Rewatched Anaconda, which is still deep-fried gold, and Phantoms, which deicdedly isn’t. You ever see that one? It’s got a dumbhouse idea for a monster but is horribly wasted. And O’Toole is drunk for nearly the entire film.

      • Jarv says :

        The most you see him, though, is when he pops up just after they try to bypass the vent. He’s like a big worm head with an open mouth on the end.

        Pah!

        I should go and amend it.

      • Bartleby says :

        nah, it’s fine… I was just acknowledging how 80’s monsters had a physiology so flimsy it was never clear what they were.

        probably why Tremors works so well–they were just big damn worms, plain and simple.

      • Jarv says :

        Tremors is awesome and brutally simple- which really helps it on this front.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        Affleck was the bomb in “Phantoms”

        Word, bitch, Phantoms like a motherfucker.

        Jesus you humps are slipping nobody did that one? For shame gentlemen for shame.

      • Anonymous says :

        Nice one Xi,
        First thing I thought of after reading the “Phantoms” mention.
        Beat me to it …

      • Bartleby says :

        the funny thing is he’s honestly not that bad in it, between glancing around at places where bad fx should be and trying and looking on in horror/admiration at the ham-fisted whiskey container that has become Petey O’Toole, he’s almost believable as a baby-faced sherrif fighting evil.

        Its the direction and fx that are piss poor.

    • Bartleby says :

      also, not sure how I got it but I had a full-size poster of this movie hanging in my bedroom back in the late 80s, alongside one for Nightbreed and on The Hidden and one for some time travel movie that had a knight hanging off a clock face–not The Navigator. Ah, the 80s and early 90s. Good times.

      • Jarv says :

        I was trying to remember what that was the other day. Drawing a complete blank.

      • Bartleby says :

        Ok, I have cracked it, and discovered another underwater alien picture for you.

        I wrongly remembered having a Deepstar Six and Leviathan posters…but it wasnt. It was DS6 a movie called Lords of the Deep–which is same time period, Corman produced, miles cheapier than any of these three and somewhat similar to Abyss. So, on a hunch I took a look at the company that produced LOTD and sure enough, there it is….Time Trackers.

        This was the poster, which is sort of spin on Adventures in Babysitting if I had to guess. I mildly remember the movie, with Ned Beatty in it.

        http://www.soldster.com/price-guide/Details.aspx?ItemID=120528&page=282&path=/price-guide/movie-posters/&category=154

        Jarv, add Lords of the Deep to the schlock vault, but be prepared for badness. On the other hand, it might be better than Sphere.

        Also look up The Rift aka Endless Descent. There’s another underwater critter fest.

        I saw but never reviewed last year’s Sector 7, a Korean monster mash with giant spiny beasties. It was even more incomprehensible from a biological perspective than any of these.

      • Jarv says :

        The vault reviews coming up are:

        Cemetery Man
        Brain Damage
        Demons
        demons 2
        gymkata
        Night of the Lepus

        In the meantime, the Birthday Series Redux continues with The Skin I Live In, and Tyrannosaur comes to bring the mood down.

        I still need to find escape from the planet of the apes as well.

  2. tombando says :

    Gymkata was the sequel to Night of the Lepus, wasn’t it?? All those lepus and jumpus and somersaltus….

  3. tombando says :

    Oh I could see this, by the way sure. I like underwater scary monsters. Has BJ and the Bear (Evigan) AND M. Ferrer from Robocop. Works for me.

  4. ThereWolf says :

    DS6 is a lot of fun – I got hold of the DVD awhile back and still enjoyed it… “What’s a henway?” Heh.

    You’ve got it right with ‘better than it has any right to be’.

    I believe the studio forced Cunningham to put ‘Star’ into the title so that us dumbo audience types would know we were watching a sci-fi movie. Otherwise we’d have all gotten confused by the fact it’s underwater and not in space.

    Good stuff, Jarv.

  5. Xiphos0311 says :

    The Abyss is obviously the “best” film in its own right

    No no it isn’t in fact its a giant pile of shit of Avatarian like proportions.

  6. tombando says :

    So who is going to brave Cloverfield here? Unless it’s the Giant Robot Lion(TM) Cut, forget it—

  7. Anonymous says :

    A little fuzzy on what you were trying to convey with the
    decompression bit …

    I read when Cameron visited the Hadal depths of the
    Marianas Trench, it took 4 hours to reach rock bottom
    and approx. 3 1/2 hours to return to the surface.

    Or was it submersible vs free diving?

    • Jarv says :

      Read the wikipedia thing on it. It’s referring to serous time spent not just a visit.

      Basically, as far as I understood, decompression to avoid the bends had to be done in stages and took a long time. You can’t decompress at the bottom of the ocean, because all the pressure is still on you.

      DS6 makes a big deal out of it taking them 8 hours to fizz out. Whereas in reality it would take days. It’s just a lazy bit of writing.

  8. Droid says :

    Haven’t seen this but I did enjoy Leviathan and love The Abyss. I also like Ferrer. Isn’t he a relative of Clooney? I will check this out when I get the chance.

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