Movie Review - Deepstar Six
A decently acted but light on scares 80's action/horror, with more than a few nods to other thrillers from the time period.
If there’s one thing I truly love about cinema, and especially with the horror genre, is that you can go back and re-watch movies as an adult, which generally completely changes how you feel about the film. Maybe something scared you when you were younger, but watching it now you simply find it funny. Or, as is often the case for me, I go back and see things I completely missed, since I was viewing things through a different set of eyes, not yet colored by life’s numerous experiences. It’s an interesting experiment, revisiting the “scary” movies from yesteryear, determining how well, if at all, they still hold up today.
And you know, for a movie that heavily borrows some thematic elements from a few well-known 80’s classics, Deepstar Six actually kinda does.
Let me get this out of the way now…Deepstar Six isn’t really a great movie. It wasn’t in the 80’s, and it still isn’t now. And, for a movie that is trying for scares, it generally misses the mark by a mile. But even if it’s not great, it still has heart, as well as some surprisingly effective production values (in most scenes anyways). And the cast is 100% on board, which helps sell the drama, even when the scares (and sometimes the logic) fall flat. Oh, and the fact that the poster has not one but TWO taglines? Priceless!
Released in 1989, Deepstar Six is the story of a ragtag group of marine contractors, stationed at a large undersea research center, who are placing ICBM missiles in underwater silos at the behest of the US Navy. While performing their normal day-to-day operations with mini-subs and remote submersible drones, they inadvertently attract the attention of something in the deep, and much undersea mayhem ensues. Now if you are thinking this sounds familiar, it’s because it certainly does. It bears more than just a passing resemblance to another undersea adventure tale about a band of plucky undersea contractors working in a large undersea station. For you see, James Cameron’s The Abyss also came out in 1989. I get the feeling that Carolco Entertainment had gotten wind of James Cameron’s highly ambitious underwater film and wanted to get ahead of the power curve, and so released their own movie to try to beat the competition to the finish line. Of course, there was also ANOTHER undersea creature feature that came out in 1989, starring Robocop (Peter Weller) himself! And you’d be forgiven for thinking that maybe Deepstar Six was plagiarizing Star Trek’s Deep Space Nine, but since that sci-fi classic came out in 1993, maybe it’s the other way around? Oh, and let’s not even go into the OTHER undersea sci-fi/horror movie from 1989 with the word Deep in the title (the one directed by Roger Corman, which means less budget and more boobs). Hmmmmm…us Americans sure do like it Deep, don’t we? And I have to wonder if there was some amazing price reductions in undersea cameras in 1988, given the shit-ton of water movies that came out in 1989. Of course, James Cameron bought the better cameras, like he is wont to do, as his film is the best looking of the bunch. Oh, and speaking of the great JC, The Abyss isn’t the only 80’s movie that he directed that Deepstar Six borrows heavily from. But we’ll get to that later.
Even though there aren’t any big-name 80’s movie stars in this one, there are few actors that you’ve definitely seen in other 80’s films. The male lead, a sub driver named McBride, is played by Greg Evigan, and it must be said that the man sports a great short beard. The female lead, Joyce Collins, is played by Nancy Everhard (my inner 12-year-old LOVES that surname). And while she’s actually pretty good in the movie, I still have no idea what her actual role was on the station. From there, it’s kind of a who’s who in the zoo kind of casting. We have Nia Peeples playing Scarpelli, a marine biologist. There’s Matt McCoy, who you’ve DEFINITELY seen in other 80’s movies, playing McBride’s buddy and fellow sub-jockey Richardson. Oh, there’s also Miguel Ferrer (another actor who was a supporting character in like nearly every 80’s action movie) doing his best Sean Bean impression, and by that I mean dying badly in every movie he’s in.
But you know what? Even without name-brand actors, I have to say that the performances in Deepstar Six are actually pretty good. Like I stated above, everyone is fully committed to their characters (even if Richardson can be seen smiling jovially in one scene immediately after several of their crew have been killed). The science in the film is wonky, but the lines are delivered with verve and conviction, so it’s not too hard to overlook the logic flaws.
As for the movie itself, it definitely tries hard. Aside from some rather poor “environment” shots that definitely don’t stand the test of time (there’s even a scene where a mini-sub goes tooling away from the station, and the “underwater” shot is clearly a desert scene that just got colored blue in post-production), the set pieces are actually not half-bad. For most of the movie, there is the impression that these characters are actually in a submerged scientific facility. Of course, if you have an undersea movie, you also have to have imminent danger by incoming water from some rupture or other, and so we are obliged to have it here. I have to admit, it’s rather fun watching our gang of plucky heroes getting pummeled again and again by hundreds of gallons of water as shit goes from bad to worse for them. The screenwriters and director clearly understood what made the original Alien work, as they channel that here with our blue-collar workers facing off against something horrific. It’s a fun dynamic, as the characters play well off each other, and definitely sell the illusion that they’ve been working underwater for six months. It’s a close-knit group and diverse group, and you don’t want to see any of them (well, maybe ONE of them) get offed. Of course, once the creature shows up, all bets are off, although anyone who’s ever seen an 80’s movie can tell right off who’s going to make it or not. Again, taking a page from Alien, we don’t actually see the creature for the first half of the movie. Whether this was by budget or design (or both), it actually works rather well, as we have to imagine what is attacking our heroes. Sadly, this IS a lower budget 80’s film, so once the creature does make an appearance, it’s not the most frightening thing. I mean, it’s not terrible by any means, but it’s no Xenomorph either. And of course, once the creature gets into the facility, the movie goes almost straight into Aliens mode. That’s right, James Cameron’s other 80’s hit gets liberally lifted from, as our remaining heroes get picked off one after the other by a lurking menace, while a reactor (conveniently damaged) is counting down to their imminent demise. Accidental friendly fire? That’s in Aliens, and it’s here as well! Patching in to other systems? Hey, that was in Aliens, and it’s here too! A member of the crew who complains loudly and often, and who constantly seems to be screwing up? Pretty sure that was also Cpl. Hudson in Aliens!
So yeah, the horror is pretty minimal, and so is the gore. In fact, for a rated R movie, there are only a handful of gory moments…though what we do get actually works rather well. I mean, some dude gets ripped in half while wearing a deep-sea diving suit, and we get to witness his legless corpse (still in the diving suit) flailing around for a bit. That was a good time. We also get to see some dude’s chest explode (but NOT in an Aliens ripoff for a change). And some other dude decides to make a speedy ascent to the surface WITHOUT decompressing first, and I certainly don’t need to tell you how THAT works out for people. But what’s strange is that there are a few other deaths in the movie that certainly could have had some cool gore effects, and they totally don’t go after it. Death by large sliding pressure door? I mean, come on! You’re killing me Smalls!
Speaking of rated R, since there really isn’t any nudity, the rating had to come from the brief moments of gore and the sparse naughty language. That said, it barely earns that R rating.
Earlier I mentioned revisiting movies, and I’ll address that here. I remember seeing this (on VHS!) back when it came out, and of course, since I was a pre-teen, I remember being decently impressed. It was a semi-novel concept at the time (though there were obviously many other sea-based thrillers released that year), and I have always loved a little science-fiction with my horror. Of course, once The Abyss came out and I realized how much better ACTUAL mini-subs looked underwater as opposed to shoddy models, I really never gave a second thought to Deepstar Six. Revisiting the movie nearly 30 years later, I can still enjoy how much effort went into the production, even if I still feel let down by how little actual horror is in it. Yes, many of the effects don't hold up well, but all in all Deepstar Six is still a rather enjoyable little movie if you're in the mood for an only slightly cheesy slice of 80's cinema. I might even like it more than my younger self, since I can tell that the production crew managed to do a lot with so little. That doesn't mean that I all of a sudden think it's a good movie...cuz yeah, that ain't happening!
2.5 out of 5 waterlogged and stars!
1) Shittiest rowing machine ever!
2) Recycled Star Wars set-pieces!?
3) Why is that dude drawing on a globe, when they are UNDER the water, where he should be working with topographical schematics and seismic charts? Dumbass!
4) Hey, a drone before there were drones!
5) So it's only the pilots (white males, of course) who get the chicks? What is this, Top Gun?!
6) If light attracts the monster, then why does the dude swim down to the terminal with the flashlight on? Why not turn if off, and then only turn it on only when you actually need it? Dumbass!
7) The heater must be broken, because there are a lot of pokies showing through those criminally skimpy shirts.
8) Hey, that crab just ate half of a deep-diving suit! It’s gonna have the shits tomorrow! Dumbass!
9) Not a single person on this whole team has a goddamn wetsuit?! Since when did flannel and short jackets become standard underwater attire?
Nipples and skimpy shirts on the women, and plenty of chest hair on the men. Essential 80’s!
Everyone really gives it their all. No, nobody is going to win any awards, but the cast is dedicated for sure! And Miguel Ferrer plays a cowardly douchecanoe, like only he could!
Aside from some dodgy effects, the film really does well at selling the underwater location and the danger our heroes are in.
Middle of the road. Some kills are pretty great, while others significantly miss the mark.
There was one…and that’s about all I can say about it. I honestly don’t remember it at all.