To say that 1989 was flooded with aquatic horror/sci-fi thrillers would be an understatement tantamount to saying that the North Pole is “a bit nippy”, but the history books don’t lie and it seemed that everyone from James Cameron to Roger Corman all wanted a slice of watery pie all in the same year. However, in the never ending flow of movies featuring countless character actors getting sent to Davey Jones’ locker via sea monsters, drowning and explosive decompression, surely one of the least memorable was Sean S. Cunningham’s Deepstar Six, a damp Alien clone which desided to define itself by stubbonly being a by numbers retread of virtually movie you’ve ever seen that ever featured blue collar scientists trapped in an enclosed space with a lifeform that has a ravenous taste for free range human.
But does any of it stand out at all? Well, let’s take a deep breath and see if any good points rise to the surface like a stray air bubble.
Given the admittedly badass title of Deepstar Six, is an experimental underwater naval facility whose personel splits it’s time between testing the viability of underwater colonization and conducting the installation of a storage area for nuclear weapons (hey, it was the 80’s; reinforcing the military might of the American war machine was regularly classed as a positive plot point back then). However, the crew’s deadline is stretching thin and project head, John Van Gelder isn’t about to take any chances, so when the resident geologist points out a pesky, sealed off system of caverns that will further hinder their progress, he orders them to be collapsed regardless of the preserved ecosystem that may be sealed inside.
However, the egg heads of the crew needn’t have been so worried as it seems that the hidden ecosystem is going to come to them in the form of a prehistoric arthropod (aka. a big-ass crab monster to you non-nerds) that lays siege to Deepstar Six and all those potentially tasty morsels inside – well, it does eventually.
Before the creature lets itself be fully known, the crew has to weather a string of unfortunate happenstances that leaves their number dwindling before the monster even gets a chance to strut it’s stuff. With their air supply rapidly running out, a nuclear countdown ticking away and everyone’s patience wearing thinner than a mouse’s pube, the survivor’s find themselves hindered from safely using their escape pod (no way to decompress, you see), so they have to figure a way to conquer the lobster-faced bastard who’s decided to finally put the claw-toed boot in. However, this may be even tougher than it appears as some of the survivors are as cowardly as they are boring, and their lack of spine may add yet another speed bump to already stacked odds.
It’s bad enough that Deepstar Six resembles so many other films released prior to it, but what really dries my shrimp is that it’s almost identical to Leviathan, a film released barely six months after it was and it isn’t even the better of the two. Leviathan, equally dodgy as it is, at least tried to rip off The Thing as well for no extra cost and had a cast featuring Peter Weller, Ernie Hudson, Meg Foster and Hector Elizondo backing it up – Deepstar Six has us make do with the dude who took over from Steve Gutenberg in Police Academy 5, the guy who played Peter Parker’s landlord and the scumbag exec from Robocop (Miguel Ferrer being by far the best thing in the film).
Not to be a dick, but adding to the lackluster experience is that this mostly unappealing cast has to portray equally unappealing characters who contain the usual stock personalities that populate this kind of movie such as ruthless boss, sex obsessed “charmer”, bearded hero and a whimpering Bill Paxton type. Chemistry is as thin on the ground as the rapidly depleting oxygen (the two leads discuss getting married yet still call each other by their surnames) and for most of the movie we get endless scenes of people staring intently at radar screens, loudly counting down how many meters away this mystery creature is while sweating profusely. However, either this peddle-bin mouthed atrocity is really bad at hitting it’s cues, or the script has confusingly decided to downplay the killer-monster part of this killer-monster movie because the vast bulk of the cast aren’t actually killed by the sea beast at all and instead are killed either through moments of heroic self-sacrifice or their own stupidity; in fact the main bulk of the crew doesn’t even realise there’s even a monster at all until the movie’s sixty seven minutes old.
In fact, of all the threats this movie unleashes on its bland cast, surely the most dangerous one they have to overcome is one of their own crew mates as Miguel Ferrer’s gibbering wreck not only somehow sets the to warheads to detonate by half-assing the procedure, storing a cup of coffee on a vital, easily overload-able console, accidentally stabs a superior with an inflating shark-spear and somehow doesn’t understand the necessity of decompressing. Even by Ferrer’s spotless record of portraying self serving shit heels, Snyder is a spectacular sack of crap and is almost the only thing that stands out as he’s also gifted a spectacular death scene as he finally discovers, firsthand, the importance of decompressing after a hard day at the office.
A popping Miguel Ferrer aside, there’s really not that much else to recommend this movie against the many others that are pretty much exactly the same – I mean, the sets and effects work are fine, if understandably murky (we’re at the bottom of the ocean, after all) and the monster may be shockingly ineffective compared to earthquakes, ticking clocks and a terrified mechanic, but at least it boasts an original design that may suffer a little from googly-eye syndrome, but at least it’s not yet another H.R. Giger clone and the moment it chomps a guy in a diving suit in half like a screaming Cadbury’s Cream Egg with a pulse is actually pretty sweet.
Still, even by 80’s killer sea monster movie standards Deepstar Six is staggeringly derivative and adds virtually nothing to an overstuffed sub-genre that was steadily sinking under the weight of it’s own detritus. Director Sean S. Cunningham may have given us Friday The 13th, but any of the tension and cheap-thrills gore he gave to us then is utterly absent here and although we do get a decent, Jason-style scare in the dying minutes, it’s only successful because we genuinely believe the director would be so cheap to try the same trick again. Joke’s on us, I guess.