Saturday, June 14, 2014

Abyss-mal Cinema: CREATURES FROM THE ABYSS (1994)

True story: I once got a disc from Tom that had no title on it, just the words “worst film ever made?” written on top.  The film in question turned out to be THE MUMMY THEME PARK (2000), an Italian disaster-piece from director Al Passeri.  And it lived up to that hype.  Another true story: When we were divvying up the titles for this Abyss-mal Cinema category, Tom freely allowed me to have CREATURES FROM THE ABYSS (1994).  That film’s director? Al Passeri.  (Raises fist in air) Tooooooom!

We’re including this water-bound entry because – shockingly – it is the closest the Italians came to doing a rip off of America’s banner year of H20 hokum in 1989.  If you know anything about the Italian film industry, this is incredibly surprising.  There wasn’t a subgenre they didn’t love to exploit, from westerns to post-apocalyptic to slaying sharks.  Perhaps they were like, “Eh, water issa too mucha work.  I likea rock quarries.” Sadly, one of the reasons is because the Italian film industry was dying around this time and exploitation that required a bit more effort like underwater bases and aliens took a bit more money and work.  So while Spain gave us THE RIFT (1989), the closest the Italians came to an underwater flick was Bruno Mattei’s SHOCKING DARK (1989), which had a setting of a submerged Venice but was mostly an ALIENS (1986) remake filmed in factory boiler rooms.  It is truly a shame as I would have loved to have seen what Xerox cinema masters like Mattei or Claudio Fragasso would have done with a riff on THE ABYSS (1989) or LEVIATHAN (1989).  As it stands, the closest we can get is CREATURES FROM THE ABYSS, which might not be from one of the replication masters but is definitely a kindred cinematic spirit.

The film opens on a beach in Miami, Florida (onscreen: Miami, Fla) as five friends head out for a day in the ocean in their rubber raft. They are a loveable and carefree bunch, evidenced by their playful antics of getting Mike (Clay Rogers) caught in a fishing net and leaving their gas can onshore.  D’oh!  The kids include Mike’s girl Margaret (Sharon Twomey), macho braggart Bobby (Michael Bon), and sisters Dorothy (Laura Di Palma) and Julie (Ann Wolf).  Running out of gas at night, they get stuck out in the middle of the sea during a raging storm.  If things couldn’t get any worse, they also bump into a chewed up dead guy floating in the ocean.  Lucky for them they see a ship off in the distance and paddle towards it.  The ship reads Oceanographic Research Institute on the hull, but no one responds to their calls for help.  They board only to find no crew seems to be on board and they find a creepy looking laboratory filled with weird aquatic specimens.  Proving he can read, Mike says, “It’s an Oceanographic Research ship.”


The boys head up to the ship’s bridge and find the radio not working and no one at the helm (symbolic of this film!).  Eh, not a big deal as the kids soon find out this scientific vessel has a sweet ass disco area (!?!) with a fully stocked bar and kitchen. What they don’t see is a mysterious creature (shown via fish-eye lens POV) that is scurrying around and sounding like a cat with severe allergies.  The boat also has some fancy quarters for sleeping that look like they were designed by Larry Flynt and a high-tech bathroom that includes a shower that has a creepy female video command that encourages one to fondle oneself while showering.  Bobby the Genius decides that this boat must have really been a front for drug dealers (after all, he found white powder in the lab so it must be drugs) and feels that the legally sound finders keepers rule of law will let him turn this into one bitchin’ party boat.

However, the dream of sweet sailing on someone else’s dime is quickly squashed. After the kids eat a dinner of fish, they hear a noise down below.  Mike and Bobby check it out and find a catatonic survivor hiding along with some journals and more of that white powder. The old guy turns out to be a professor on this scientific expedition and he impresses the ladies by going into a drooling seizure and then hiding under the staircase.  Mike appears to be the only inquisitive one in the bunch and decides to investigate in the lab, where a frozen fish comes to life, flies around the room and bites Margaret on the neck.  Surprisingly, she is the only one freaked out by this and wants to get the hell off this ship.  Bad news – their rubber dingy is flooded and the boat’s lifeboat has a hole in it thanks to an axe.  So this means they just have to stay on this ship and deal with whatever comes their way.  Badder news – Mike starts reading about the discoveries of this scientific team and it seems they found a deep sea fish that swims into a rage when sexually aroused (“This is some weird shit,” Mike exclaims) and the fish have mutated due to some toxic plankton.  Baddest news – the kids have some of this fish in their bellies from dinner and Bobby is a total horndog!

We here at Video Junkie have always considered Al Festa’s FATAL FRAMES (1996) to be the death knell of the Italian horror industry.  I’d formally like to nominate CREATURES FROM THE ABYSS for that honor as it really has that Italian exploitation B-movie spirit – something Festa’s insanely bad film was lacking – going for it. FRAMES was just depressing while CREATURES is depressing but with slime.  That makes it all better.  Having dreaded watching it due to the aforementioned THE MUMMY THEME PARK, I was pleasantly surprised by this film.  Was it good? Hell no!  But it did have that wacky Italian flair that I like from their low budget films from back in the day like Fragasso’s TROLL 2 (1990) or Joe D’Amato’s THE CRAWLERS (1993).  You know, where the depiction of Americans is just a tad off and events unfold in the most nonsensical manner.  Where a person will find a white powder in a lab and their first instinct is to lick it.  Where two fish come alive and scream while in a frying pan and the people react with the “hmmm, that was odd” reaction.  If you can tune into that goofy wavelength, it is all good (in a bad way).

The English dubbers seem to be having a bit of a laugh at the film’s expense as well, throwing in random non sequiturs here and there.  The biggest example is when Mike confronts the professor about his work and we get this exchange.

Mike: “Professor, how long have you been fucking fish?”
Professor: “They were old enough, they were old enough!”

Truthfully, that actually brings the film down as I much prefer the unfiltered weirdness that emerges from straight dubbing. Not a lot happens in the first hour or so of the flick, but once things start rolling the film is surprisingly over-the-top.  First off, this is one of the few Italian films where they used some stop motion FX.  Second, the monster stuff is actually pretty gross (a woman giving birth to fish eggs) and the mutant fish are pretty well realized.  So plan your post-viewing meal at Red Lobster accordingly.  Believe it or not, Media Blasters actually got this flick into stores like Best Buy back in 2001.  It is truly a testament to how strong the DVD industry was back then that something of such low quality could share shelf space with the latest Harry Potter blockbuster.  It was a strange time.

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