Friday, November 25, 2022

DeepStar Six: Walking in the Outsized Footsteps of Ridley Scott's Alien

(Sean S. Cunningham, 1989, USA, rated R, 99 minutes)

It's hard to imagine that DeepStar Six would exist if Ridley Scott's influential Alien hadn't come along first. Friday the 13th director Sean S. Cunningham's science fiction disaster movie may take place 40,000 leagues beneath the sea, but the defining elements bear an uncanny resemblance, from the diverse crew stuck in a claustrophobic workspace to the insatiable creature prepared to devour every one of them. 

If the budget was smaller, the actors less famous, and the ideas less original, the script, the performances, and the special effects prove surprisingly persuasive. With expert assistance from composer and frequent collaborator Harry Manfredini (Swamp Thing), Cunningham effectively ratchets up the tension as the crew's situation grows increasingly perilous. 

Collins (Nancy Everhard, The Punisher) and McBride (Greg Evigan, B.J. and the Bear), anchor the scenario as a couple whose relationship may not survive the return to topside, as they term dry land. She has ambition, he doesn't. She wants to get married, he doesn't. There's no doubt that the challenges to come will bring them closer together--or tear them apart. Assuming they even get out alive. 

Their crew mates include a steadfast captain (Taurean Blacque, Hill Street Blues), a dependable doctor (Nancy Pickett, Ferris Bueller's Day Off), a genial jokester (Matt McCoy), an underdressed marine biologist (pop star Nia Peeples), and a loose cannon (Miguel Ferrer, RoboCop) ready to blow. 

The trouble begins when they attempt to set up a missile silo, and the bottom drops out of the ocean floor. They send out a remote camera to explore the situation, but it breaks down. Then, an unknown force starts hurtling towards them at great speed, ramming into one of the mini-subs. 

At that point, the body count rises as systems malfunction, leading to power outages, waterlogged passageways, and frozen pod bay doors. Then, the crustaceous Eurypterid Monster, aka Depladon, slithers its way inside, terrorizing the remaining crew members who have few places to hide. 

If Cunningham ends things on an optimistic note, which predicts Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim, it isn't an especially convincing one as a certain character emerges from a fiery conflagration without a scratch. 

In their dishy commentary track, co-writers Lewis Abernathy and Geof Miller help to explain why some things work so well, while others don't. For one thing, they had intended a nastier affair with an entirely different director, but the studio had other plans, resulting in a more predictable picture. 

They also note that they titled the shooting script Claws, an indication that they hoped to capitalize on the success of Steven Spielberg's Jaws. In regards to Alien, Miller acknowledges an engagement in "wholesale theft." 

The production was such a shoestring affair that a former So-Cal supermarket, burdened by the occasional rodent visitor, served as their set. The actors also did most of their own stunts. For all those disadvantages, though, the film looks pretty good for the era. 

Other extras offer insights into Manfredini's score and the special effects, including models, miniatures, and an animatronic arthropod nicknamed Buffy. Not exactly essential, DeepStar Six is still an enjoyable watch.  

DeepStar Six is available on Blu-ray through Kino Lorber. Images from Zeke Film (Deepstar Six crew and Matt McCoy in the diving suit), the IMDb (Alien crew), and Trailers from Hell (Miguel Ferrer, maxing and relaxing).  

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