Monday, January 17, 2011

Soppy Cinema: LORDS OF THE DEEP (1989)

As mentioned in the ENDLESS DESCENT review, the hot genre commodity in the late 80s was “close encounters of the underwater kind.”  And you know if anyone was going to jump all over that it would be Roger Corman and his Concorde Pictures.  To a 14-year-old like me, this was the greatest news ever. If anyone could bring bloody ballast to this sub-genre, it would be Corman. Concorde had delivered some gooey monster-pieces at the time like THE NEST (1988) and THE TERROR WITHIN (1989).  Plus, the title LORDS OF THE DEEP conjured up images of another Corman production, the classic HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (1980).  And what’s that?  The lead is Bradford Dillman, the same guy from PIRANHA (1978)?  This is going to be awwwwesome, right?

LORDS opens with a scrawl about how the year is 2020 and the human race – having depleted all natural resources above ground – is looking to colonize underwater.  Makes sense, right?  We enter a submerged station run by the Martel Corporation just as the entire crew (whose outfits look like they were made out of old blankets) finds out they are being replaced.  Scientist Claire (Priscilla Barnes of THREE’S COMPANY “You’re not Suzanne Somers” fame) has discovered some jelly type substance (we don’t even see her find it) and, being the genius she is, decides the best course of action is to stick her hand into it.  The result is some kind of trippy visuals that make you think her head got invaded by Ken Russell circa 1982.

Anyway, a big earthquake causes the replacement crew’s sub to crash and the power in the station to go down.  A diver is sent out to fix it, but returns as a gelatinous filled wetsuit. Capt. Dobler (Dillman) orders the body quarantined and no one to speak of this.  But Claire wants to study it and goes against his orders.  Dobler can’t handle the insurrection and, with secret orders from above ground, attempts to kill the crew and this now shape-shifting blob.  This thing turns out to be a benign alien that wants to warn humankind about mistreating the Earth.  Awwwwww.  And Claire just happens to be a clairvoyant who they want to tell their message.  Or, as she so aptly puts it, “I only know that something is trying to tell me something.”

Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, damn it!

LORDS not only holds the distinction of getting everything wrong, it might also be one of the worst Concorde Productions of that era. Yes, worse that PURPLE PEOPLE EATER (1988). My adolescent expectations aside, the film is just terrible.  It is like Corman had a spy on the set of THE ABYSS (1989) who would get pieces of the plot over lunch breaks.  Underwater station? Check.  Corporate giants? Gotcha.  Aliens looking to protect man from himself? Yup!  But these aliens say stuff like “stop now so the Earth can heal.”  Damn, did Al Gore check this out when it hit 32 theaters back in the day?

To back up the weak environmentally friendly screenplay, we have some truly bad acting.  It says something when Roger Corman gives the best performance in a cameo as a corporate exec.  Barnes is the worst of the lot, constantly having this look on her face that can only be described as a cross between a smile and slack-jawed “duh” face.  It ends up making her look like Jack Nicholson’s Joker most of the time. Dillman looks to only be picking up a check. Even worse is the level of cheapness on display in this movie.  I think there are a total of three sets and they all look shoddy.  I slapped down ENDLESS DESCENT for having only one true underwater scene, but at least they had some seaweed and a floating corpse.  Here, director Mary Ann Fisher has one real underwater shot (miniatures excluded) and it is a close up of the diver working on an electrical box that was surely shot in a pool.  See that awesome poster at the top of this review?  Don't get your hopes up.  Fisher even includes a bit where characters get scared by a rat…in a unit 20,000ft. deep in the ocean!  What makes it hurt so bad is Corman and co. damn well knew how to properly exploit this “bottom of the sea” fad and still opted to go the softie route.  It should have been a low-budget THE THING (1982) underwater. Instead we got E.T. (1982) minus the Reese’s Pieces but plus some ecological mumbo jumbo. To quote Bill Duke from MENACE II SOCIETY, “you know you done fucked up, don’t you? You know it, don’t you? You know you done fucked up.”

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