The Bad Movie Report

Up from the Depths

Like any successful movie, Jaws inspired a slew of rip-offs - Orca, Tentacles, Devilfish and Pirahna leap to mind - and some were good, but most were awful. Guess which category Up from the Depths falls into?

Up from the Depths boxWe begin with Dr. Whiting (Charles Howerton) a marine biologist studying something-or-other off the coast of a fictitious Hawaiian island. Much like Vancouver often fills in for New York City, it's really the Philippines doing a quite passable Hawaii, but this is beside the point. Dr. Whiting sends his grad assistant, Sandy (a measurably bad actress) scuba diving alone (some marine professional!). She runs into something horrible off-camera, and gets eaten.

Well, Whiting is actually a fairly minor character in this; our true hero is Sullivan (Sam Bottoms) a beachcomber whom nobody seems to like, except Rachel (Susanne Reed) the head of PR for the local Mega-Resort. Sullivan spends most of his time (and therefore, a lot of our time) scamming the tourists, along with his salty sea dog uncle Earl (Virgil Frye).

It is during one of his fraudulent treasure dives that the Beastie chows down on Sullivan's mark, and the bunco artist swears revenge. Not much later, the Beastie puts in an appearance at the beach, prompting someone to scream, "Oh my God! It's a monster fish!", and sparking a panic-stricken rush inland, even though one character has the sense to point out that fish can't walk.

It seems that Whiting has been discovering fishy species that are usually found at great depths in the ocean very near the surface. It is his theory that the Beastie is some giant species hitherto unknown, which has decided to visit the neighborhood. Being a scientist, he (of course) wants to catch it alive and name it the Whiting Bigass Hungry Fish or somesuch. Forbes (Kedric Wolfe), the manager of the resort, has other ideas, and places a bounty on the Beastie's head. This leads to a herd of drunken tourists manning boats with a motley collection of weapons, including spears, crossbows, and a homemade flamethrower.

Whiting, being the scientist who wants to catch it alive, is munched by the big fish. Sort of. When Sullivan opens his wetsuit, it appears that someone poured a pint jar of red Tempera paint on Whiting's chest. "His insides are all busted up," deduces Sullivan. Finding himself without any bait (and I'm not kidding about this), Sullivan wires the biologist's corpse with explosives and trawls him along like chum, eventually blowing up the ever-hungry Beastie. The end.

Whe major question that one asks while watching Up From the Depths isn't the obvious one: Yes, they rip off the theme from "Jaws" at least once.Why make a Jaws rip-off four years after the fact? but the rather more cogent Why am I even watching this? The first question you're probably asking is, So how's the monster? After all, that's the reason we watch these things. The ads present a sorta-interesting, spiky prehistoric shark kinda thing; I am sorry to report that the actual monster - at least, as much as we see of it - appears to be little more than a big damn grouper with catfish thrown in and a couple of shark fins glued on. With teeth.

Beastie attacks consist of (sometimes) a very quick shot of the Beastie, somebody thrashing Oh, like that's gonna help.around, and red paint released into the water. A more cynical reviewer would imply it's the same footage, used over and over again. What the hell. It's the same footage, used over and over again. Then somebody tells us what just happened, and we are expected to take it on faith that this is, indeed, what happened. We are asked to take a lot on faith in this movie, including the death of the monster.

With such a skimpy showing from our Beastie, a lot of screen time is left to fill, and that is taken upOdious Comic Relief, Pt. 1 by.... comic relief, a phrase which strikes terror in hearts everywhere. We are given comical drunks, comical drunken Japanese businessmen, and comical Midwestern whiners, who also get drunk. And best of all is the comedy stylings of Forbes and his endless supply of off-pink wardrobe items (please note: I am being sarcastic here). There's some subplot about a Playmate visiting the resort for a photo shoot, but it's mainly there to get us our T & A and all-important R.

The director of this often-sad experience is Charles B. Griffith - if the name sounds familiar, it's because he wrote Little Shop of Horrors, Bucket of Blood and It Conquered the World, among others - And amazingly, it's not his first directorial effort, either (In fact, Griffith's had quite the varied career - click here for his sizable Internet Movie Database filmography). This explains the comic relief, but much too much is presented with no fanfare or build-up; there are many, many opportunities for suspense that are simply squandered. In particular, the interesting setup involving scores of drunks with various implements of destruction promises carnage aplenty, but remains Odious Comic Relief, Pt. IIcuriously unexploited. It's just as well - I couldn't have taken the Thrash-and-Billow Death Loop much more.

The acting of the majors is perfectly adequate, and only descends into odiousness in the case of the comic relief... and did I mention how much of this movie is comic relief?

Is Up from the Depths worth your time? Sadly, I have to report that it is infinitely disposable - so much so that I can't even do the ironic thing and use it to wrap fish. The fish would complain.


Of all the Jaws rip-offs, one.

- October 11, 1998