Monday, June 30, 2014

Abyss-mal Cinema: DEEP SHOCK (2003)

Sorry for the delay in my communication.  Did you miss me? Probably not.  I had to take a break after 30,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (2007) as it was the kind of film that makes one question all of one’s sad life choices.  The Asylum will do that to you.  Little did I know that the lackluster film would actually help me in a way as it made me appreciate DEEP SHOCK (2003) and its parent company Unified Film Organization (UFO) just a little bit more.

Founded in 1995, UFO followed in the prescient footsteps of Sir Charles Band (officially knighted by King Video Junkie) and set up shop in Eastern Europe to make a series of cheap direct-to-video action/sci-fi/horror flicks.  Co-founders Phillip Roth and former actor Ken Olandt (the student stripper from SUMMER SCHOOL [1987]) were sort of The Asylum before The Asylum, supplying the SyFy Channel (then the Sci-Fi Channel) with disposable dreck filled with big monsters and wonky CGI at the turn of the century to plug viewing hours.  One day, however, the channel decided to cheat on them with the trashy Asylum and there was no turning back. “What’s that, baby? I’d love to see your SNAKES ON A TRAIN,” the station cooed.  I’m sure Roth and Olandt still wake up from nightmares and are prone to drunk dialing the SyFy execs and mumbling, “Please take me back.”  Truth is, UFO set the SyFy movie blueprint and soon found their kingdom usurped.  A shame because, while not great by any measure, a film like DEEP SHOCK beats the hell out of an Asylum production every day of the week.

The film begins as all films should – with a shout out to Jimmy Carter.  Yes, we’re onboard the submarine USS Jimmy Carter deep in the Arctic Ocean.  Sadly, no peanuts available.  The crew is near the Polaris rift and soon has a huge unknown presence popping up on their sonar.  The sub’s computer “Mother” (gee, I wonder where they got that from) can’t identify the thing or the strange audio signal it is sending before they get zapped by a huge electromagnetic pulse. Meanwhile, at the United Nations, Dr. Anne Fletcher (Simmone Mackinnon) is giving a speech about her research into global warming.  Her rival, Chomsky (Mark Sheppard), mocks her during her speech because we all know the U.N. is all about high school debate team dramatics.  Amazingly, he somehow is able to force a vote on her tenure, getting her fired and his plan for shooting nuclear missiles into the rift approved.  Okay, hold on a sec.  I can believe a flick about huge underwater monsters.  But a governing body like the United Nations summarily approving a motion and setting it into action within minutes? Getouttahere!

Chomsky’s plan is quickly set into motion and the orders are sent to the Hubris Research Station under the North Pole. Damn, I wonder if that name will come back to haunt them? Commander Michael Harris (Robert Zachar) is excited as hell as this allows him to use his fancy futuristic chair that scoots in and out of a firing station.  Trouble arises when John Hurst (Todd Kimsey) decides he won’t follow orders because…wait for it…Fletcher is his girlfriend.  He calls her while she is jogging in Washington D.C. (my god, this amazing phone reception) and she says the order has indeed been sent down to nuke the rift.  As if a long distance relationship weren’t bad enough, she then hears Hurst being shot by guards over the phone. Yes, they stormed a loading station filled with nuclear torpedoes with shotguns.  Ain’t nobody gonna stop Harris from using that fancy chair, damn it!  The torpedoes get fired and, wouldn’t you know it, those pesky unknown blips show up again.  The crew soon finds out they are being besieged by dozens of huge eels, who proceed to zap the station and electrocute all 27 crew members.  How is that chair working out for you now, Harris?

Naturally, after such a big screw up, Chomsky remains in charge and is told to assemble a team to head to the Hubris and find out what happened.  He chooses Navy man Capt. Andrew Raines (David Keith) to head the mission and Dr. Fletcher to accompany them.  Hey, guess what?  Raines and Fletcher used to be married.  Goddamn you, James Cameron and your clich├ęs!  Also along for the ride are an ex-Navy Seal Protas (Armando Valdes) and computer geek Arciero (Sean Whalen).  Yes, because when you head to rescue a disabled underwater station, you should only send five people.  After a crash landing on the North Pole that leaves the two pilots dead, they make their way to the opening hatch to the station and begin to assess the situation.  Everyone on the ship has been fried (allowing for one gooey make up effect) and the power is out.  This problem is quickly solved when Arciero flicks on eight breaker switches.  No, I am not kidding.  Hell, why not show him fix a broken fuse with a penny while we’re at it.

The true battle between Raines and Chomsky:

With the station up and running again, Chomsky wants to get right back into the groove and continue the mission. Fletcher is not so certain, especially after the station is attacked by the electric eels and she communicates with one in the dive room by touching it.  Yes, this doc is so smart that her first impulse when seeing a giant electric eel is to feel it (“I touched one and it hit me with some kind of electrical current,” the genius says). Anyway, she starts working on a way to decipher these transmissions the eels are sending while Chomsky sends Protas out in a mini-sub to establish a new communications antenna.  The eels see this as an act of aggression and zap the poor dude. Chomsky uses this as further proof that the place needs to be nuked and gets the U.N. to unanimously vote on having subs from the Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States fire twenty 1-megaton nuclear missiles at the rift. Because like fuck discovery, research, and communicating with intelligent species, right?  It only gets worse when Fletcher cracks their language code and – as James Cameron dictates – the eels are aliens who are pissed that puny humans are ruining the Earth.

If you’ve seen THE ABYSS (1989), you’ve seen DEEP SHOCK as this follows Cameron’s film almost point by point. Actually, this feels like THE ABYSS on fast forward as this one clocks in at just 92 minutes.  Oddly, director Phillip J. Roth took the pseudonym Paul Joshua Rubin on this one.  I’m not sure why, unless he didn’t want folks to think he directed every other UFO movie (he did).  As I mentioned earlier, this isn’t going to set your cinematic world ablaze, but after watching something like 30,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA where they use the same set over and over, it was nice to see something that has three sets (!!!) and several locations.  Okay, we won’t mention how their version of the U.N. committee room looks like the lobby of a hotel.  The cast is also game.  I’ve always been a fan of David Keith, from his acting to his directing on films like THE CURSE (1987) to his full head of hair.  While I’m sure he probably isn’t thrilled on how things went with this career, you can’t accuse him of half-assing it.  He is essentially playing the same role he plays in UFO’s two EPOCH films, but you never get the feeling he is bored.  Well, except for that framegrab above. I guess it is that Southern accent.

One thing that is pretty disappointing is the CGI eels. (No grown man should be writing a sentence like that.)  Check out the cover at the beginning of the review and look at that badass monster.  Pretty cool, right?  Well, sadly, that isn’t what we get on display here.  According to the IMDb, an American company was supposed to do the computer effects but then it got handed over to a Bulgarian outfit.  Google must have been down at the office the day they designed their eels because these look nothing like eels and instead come off looking like a combination of Chinese dragons mixed with Jimmy Walker.  Yes, I demand realism when it comes to my intelligent underwater space alien eels. Also, this film totally tops DEEPSTAR SIX (1989) when it comes to showcasing onscreen computer graphics.  I was going to do framegrabs, but then realized I’d end up with 500 of them and a severe case of framegrab carpal tunnel syndrome.  So I’ll just offer up one of my favorites.  Yes, the United Nations is all about computer voting when it comes to nuking the world.

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