Review: Up From the Depths (1979)

Your vacation is about to END!!!

Your vacation is about to END!!!

UP FROM THE DEPTHS (1979)
Rated R / Color / 85 minutes
Directed by Charles B. Griffith
Also Known As: Jurassic Jaws
Purchase it: Amazon.com (DVD) | Shout! Factory (Blu-ray)

As I stated in my review for MAKO: THE JAWS OF DEATH, Steven Spielberg’s JAWS paved the way for a slew of imitators. Not one to avoid making bank on the success of a major Hollywood blockbuster, Roger Corman decided to help bankroll this low-budget schlocker. (Especially after the huge success of Joe Dante’s PIRANHA.) UP FROM THE DEPTHS is one of the lesser JAWS knock-offs, and did more to test my resolve than any other film I’ve recently attempted to watch.

Taking place in Mahu, Hawaii (but mostly shot in the Philippines), UP FROM THE DEPTHS seems to waste no time in getting the story moving. Mere moments into the film, a girl goes scuba-diving, and then is quickly devoured by an unseen creature, after a brief series of tremors occur underwater. Up above, Dr. David Whiting (Charles Howerton) sees blood in the water and rightly assumes the worst. In a minor state of shock, he returns to shore to report the girl’s disappearance.

Soon after that, other strange phenomena begin to occur in the waters of a nearby resort: A hapless guest wades into a floating mass of entrails, the disembodied head of a shark washes up on the beach, and severed limbs are found amongst the frequently toured coral reefs. Instead of reporting this to the authorities, the idiotic manager of the local resort, Oscar Forbes (Kedric Wolfe) assumes that someone is trying to make him look bad.

And Oscar thinks that someone is a local con-artist named Greg Oliver (Sam Bottoms), and his partner in crime, Earl Sullivan (Virgil Frye). These two run a scam where they trick tourists into going out on treasure dives within the ruins of an “ancient” sunken ship. It is a relatively harmless racket, until a giant prehistoric fish devours one of their customers. Dr. Whiting surmises that the armored terror from the deep was awakened and released by an undersea earthquake, and now it is on the hunt, eating everything and everybody in its path.

"Feed me Seymour!"

“Feed me Seymour!”

Eventually, the “monster fish” stops making itself scarce, and begins snacking on anyone dumb enough to go in the water. When it devours Nieberg (Pete Cooper as the assault-weapon toting harbor master) in plain sight of all of the resort guests, everyone flees for their lives in an attempt to check out. But in a brilliant(?) bid to save the resort from closing, Oscar Forbes holds a public meeting and assures that anyone who kills the fish will receive a thousand dollar bounty, and a free, all-expenses paid week in the presidential suite.

Soon the guests, employees, and local fishermen are arming themselves with guns, spears, crossbows, and homemade flamethrowers, in a bid to win Forbes’ grand prize. Obsessed with catching the fish alive to study it, Dr. Whiting teams with Greg Oliver to try and tranquilize the man-eating predator. Things almost immediately go awry, so a last minute plan is hatched to stop the voracious creature’s feeding frenzy once and for all.

UP FROM THE DEPTHS tested my mettle Vault Dwellers, and after three attempts, I finally slogged my way through it. The main reason for this is that the movie is so damned boring. It starts off with a bang, and then wastes far too much time on secondary characters frittering away their mornings at the hotel bar. On top of that, the movie tries too damned hard to be funny, and often fails. Case in point: The way they kill the fish during the climax elicited more laughter from yours truly, than the stereotypical Asian comic relief that wanders around with a samurai sword and shouts “Banzai!”

Hooray for racial stereotypes!

Hooray for racial stereotypes!

But apparently this production was troubled from the start as effects designer Chris Walas has described it as “a salvage job.” This isn’t too surprising as Charles B. Griffith was still a novice director (up until this point, he only had EAT MY DUST, FORBIDDEN ISLAND, and LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS on his résumé), and wasn’t responsible for creating the screenplay. (Charles was an accomplished screenwriter who had penned scripts for numerous Corman classics, like DEATH RACE 2000, NOT OF THIS EARTH, and A BUCKET OF BLOOD!)

After shooting was completed, and the footage was shipped back, Roger Corman decided that Chris Walas needed to add in more blood and guts. Corman also tasked creature creator Robert Short with making a replacement monster for close-ups. However, the rubber and fiberglass monstrosity proved to be too unwieldy underwater, which totally explains the awful aquatic attack sequences in the film. (Shaky footage + lots of fake blood and bubbles + choppy editing = Monster Attack.)

The cast of UP FROM THE DEPTHS didn’t have much to work with here, but for the most part, they do an acceptable job. Virgil Frye is fun as the constantly drunk sea captain Earl Sullivan, and Susanne Reed, while not given much to do here, is certainly not hard on the eyes. The actor that proved to be the most memorable was Kedric Wolfe, who chewed the scenery as Oscar Forbes. You could tell he was having fun portraying a blustering buffoon who’s solution to every problem was “free drinks on the house!”

In the end, UP FROM THE DEPTHS is a lackluster JAWS wannabee that probably would have benefited from a quick rewrite by its director. The tone is definitely wrong for this type of film: For an R-rated movie featuring a man-eating fish, it is surprisingly tame. It would almost be entirely kid-friendly, if not for a few brief scenes of nudity (courtesy of Denise Hayes, who plays a bubble-headed model named Iris Lee), and several “f*ck yous” uttered throughout.

up from the depths 04

Someone told Iris to wear fish nets and this was the result.

While I wish I could say that UP FROM THE DEPTHS is so bad it’s good, I can’t. It’s just plain bad. And yet, I can’t fully bring myself to give it my lowest rating, because there actually is a bit of enjoyment to be had here. Still, make no mistake that this is a “watch at your own risk” title, and I’m being super generous by giving it:

DVD REVIEW

Packaging: This being a “Roger Corman Cult Classics Double Feature,” two films are included on a single disc that comes in a standard plastic keepcase. The original poster art of both UP FROM THE DEPTHS and DEMON OF PARADISE is featured on the front.

Audio & Video: UP FROM THE DEPTHS is featured in a newly created (in 2011) anamorphic widescreen transfer (1.78:1) and it looks surprisingly good, considering that it has to share space with a second feature film and various extras. As far as the audio goes, I have no complaints as dialogue, the soundtrack (partially composed by James Horner!), and the screams of panicked tourists all came through clearly on my speakers.

Extras: Along with a second feature film (DEMON OF PARADISE) there are a slew of trailers on this disc. Naturally there are theatrical trailers for UP FROM THE DEPTHS and DEMON OF PARADISE, but there’s also previews for JACKSON COUNTY JAIL, FIRECRACKER, HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP, and CAGED HEAT. There are also two radio spots, and one TV spot for UP FROM THE DEPTHS, plus a short (just under nine minutes) “Making of Up From the Depths” featurette.

It's lips are ribbed for your displeasure!

It’s lips are ribbed for your displeasure!

This is by far the best extra on the disc as it contains brief interviews with Roger Corman and effects artists Chris Walas and Robert Short. Corman discusses how he wanted to capitalize on the success of PIRANHA with another aquatic horror tale, while both Chris and Robert discuss the shortcomings of the production. Walas shares how he conquered his fear of the water during production on the film, while Short laments his design for the film’s creature. Both seem to be proud, and eternally grateful to have worked under Corman!

Final Verdict: Unless I decide to purchase the limited edition Blu-ray of UP FROM THE DEPTHS (only 1,000 available!), this is the only copy of the film I will ever need. The presentation is above par, and the inclusion of a second feature, plus the wealth of trailers, and making-of featurette, make this a double feature worth buying. My only complaint is that each film should have had its own disc, then perhaps we could have gotten a more in depth behind-the-scenes look at UP FROM THE DEPTHS. That minor complaint aside, I am quite happy with this DVD release, and shall award it with: