Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Your Vacation Is About To End

As a writer in Roger Corman’s stable during the 1950s and 1960s, Charles B. Griffith had no equal, penning instant classics like LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, BUCKET OF BLOOD, THE WILD ANGELS, IT CONQUERED THE WORLD, and many other adventure, horror, and science fiction melodramas with lurid titles. But he wasn’t a director. Outside of perhaps EAT MY DUST, none of the six movies he directed are highly regarded, and UP FROM THE DEPTHS is certainly one of the worst JAWS-inspired killer-fish rip-offs ever made.

Corman’s New World Pictures released this Philippines-lensed horror movie, produced by Cirio H. Santiago, with an ad campaign resembling that of PIRANHA. Like Joe Dante and John Sayles’ successful JAWS homage, UP FROM THE DEPTHS is supposed to be both scary and funny (Sam Bottoms’ credit is imposed over a shot of two hula girls’ gyrating asses). Screenplay credit goes to Alfred M. Sweeney, a pseudonym for Griffith and New World secretary Anne Dyer, who took a story credit on BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS.

UP FROM THE DEPTHS takes place at a Hawaiian resort where the tourists are being chomped to death by a prehistoric fish released by an underwater earthquake. The heroes are Greg (a heavily sideburned Sam Bottoms) and Earl (Virgil Frye), a pair of con artists swindling tourists, and Rachel (Susanne Reed, just off the canceled CODE R TV series), the hotel’s public relations director. They manage to destroy the monster with an admittedly clever and darkly funny method trying to earn hotel manager Forbes’ (the tall, bald Kedric Wolfe wearing a pink suit) reward for its head.

First and foremost, when describing UP FROM THE DEPTHS’ ineptness, is the monster. Effects soon-to-be-giants Chris Walas (THE FLY) and Robert Short (BEETLEJUICE) built the big fish, but it reportedly never worked right, so most of the attacks occur more or less offscreen with a lot of camera jiggling and some red dye splashed in front of the camera. What glimpses we do get of the twin-finned fish are lifeless and ludicrous and not to be taken seriously, even in this tedious comedy.

Occasionally a gag will work, and one can’t fault cinematographer Ricardo Remias’ (VAMPIRE HOOKERS) good-looking substitution of the Philippines for Hawaii. Denise Hayes (also in Griffith’s DR. HECKYL AND MR. HYPE) provides Corman’s nudity requirement for the R-rated picture. That’s about all the positive attributes one can muster for UP FROM THE DEPTHS, a boring, awkwardly dubbed, and indifferently performed horror comedy that’s never frightening and too rarely funny.

Eight years after producing UP FROM THE DEPTHS in his native Philippine Islands for Roger Corman, Cirio H. Santiago produced a rough remake and directed it as well. Both films even had similar ad campaigns. DEMON OF PARADISE is bad, but a slight improvement over DEPTHS. The only thing in its favor is that it has a more entertaining cheap monster, and you see more of it than director Charles B. Griffith showed of his prehistoric fish in DEPTHS. Both films had the same director of photography, Ricardo Remias, but DEMON OF PARADISE is a more dismal-looking picture, probably due to Santiago’s slipshod methods. One shot sees leading lady Kathryn Witt reacting with surprise to an actor firing a shotgun next to her ear in a blooper that made the final cut.

DEMON is set at a Hawaiian resort plagued by a scaly fish-man that’s killing the guests. Some rednecks trafficking in homemade dynamite (!) woke it up from hibernation, leaving it to sheriff Keefer (William Steis) and local herpetologist Annie Essex (Kathryn Witt, a long way from starring in CBS’ adventuring-stewardess drama FLYING HIGH) to destroy it. Unfortunately, there’s precious little monster-hunting or tourist-killing in the film, as Santiago prefers to pad the film with interminable subplots about a coke-snorting model and other uninteresting characters. Similar to the reward for the monster’s head the hotel offers in UP FROM THE DEPTHS, this film sends the guests on a silly hunt for the monster’s eggs.

The sea monster is played by a guy in a rubber costume, and it really doesn’t look too bad. Some imagination went into its design, and it looks more expensive than you might expect. However, Santiago doesn’t know what to do with the monster besides having it rear out of the water and wave its arm. The climax is kinda fun with lots of gunplay and an astonishing bit where the monster pulls a balsa helicopter out of the air. Santiago includes a bit of gore and nudity to attract undiscerning monster-movie fans looking for R-rated fun, but DEMON OF PARADISE is too dull to recommend.

Although I can think of no good reason you should buy it, UP FROM THE DEPTHS and DEMON OF PARADISE are available this week on one Shout Factory DVD. Part of the Roger Corman Cult Classics collection, the best you can say about the disc is that the prints look extremely good. I'd be surprised if these movies looked so good when they unspooled in theaters. Both are anamorphic 1.78:1 presentations with mono sound.

Shout Factory has included a few extras, the most entertaining of which is the (never before seen by me) trailer for FIRECRACKER, "the screen's first erotic kung fu classic" (!), that shows Jillian Kesner--"grand prize winner at the Black Belt Olympics" (Corman totally made that up)--running around in her underwear a lot. Hopefully, this means FIRECRACKER will be coming to DVD soon. It's a lot better than either film presented on this DVD.

Also included are trailers for HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP, CAGED HEAT, JACKSON COUNTY JAIL, and both films represented on the disc, as well as TV and radio spots for DEPTHS. Surprisingly, Shout Factory has included a new featurette, only a few minutes long, with Corman, Walas, and Short talking about UP FROM THE DEPTHS. It mostly concentrates on the special effects, and though it's slight, it's a welcome addition.

1 comment:

Paul said...

FIRECRACKER is reportedly coming out in the Fall as a quadruple feature of Cirio H. Santiago madness with TOO HOT TO HANDLE, TNT JACKSON and FLY ME.