The Unfathomable Eighties Movies (part 1)

The Unfathomable Eighties Movies (part 1)

This piece has been on a backburner for a while.  However, the OceanGate Incident has forced me to turn up the gas on it.

At the tail end of the 1980s, right before the world would “wake up from history” and then roll over and go right back to sleep again, there was a flood (sorry) of deep-water horror movies.  At the time we didn’t know why we were being drenched (I’ll try to control myself) with these things.  Although now we know that this torrent (okay, you’ll just have to deal with it) of super deep sea monster films all started because the hottest director in Hollywood who wasn’t Stephen Spielberg was making a new movie.

In 1987 James Cameron was the king of the world.  Or at least Hollywood, which does think it’s the whole world.  If there is one thing that Tinsel Town loves, it’s an overnight rags-to-riches story.  In the space of just four years, Cameron had gone from directing the no-budget Piranha II* to captaining two mega hits, The Terminator and Aliens.  

The newest wunderkind was riding so high you get the feeling that Cameron’s pitch meeting with 20th Century Fox went something like this.

20th Century Fox: So, I hear you have a movie for me?

James Cameron: Yes sir, I do. It’s called the Abyss…

20th Century Fox: I love it! Greenlit!!!

Yeah, Fox came to regret their eagerness to jump on that bandwagon.  However, this is not a RE:View of The Abyss. That disaster absolutely has to have its own RE:View.

What is important here is that everyone in Hollywood knew that Cameron was gold.  So, they all figured that underwater horror movies would be the next big thing.  The Abyss really wasn’t that, but we are talking about a pre-internet word-of-mouth world.  And nobody in Hollywood likes to think about anything over long.  They just picked up the keywords, “Cameron, deep sea, weird thing found,” and immediately decided that meant horror.  Fair enough, James Cameron’s movies had all been horror film until The Abyss.

They also heard the words “production delay.”  Which they interpreted as “Window of Opportunity” rather than “Heaven’s Gate Disaster.” Regardless, with The Abyss delayed, they all had time to slap together their own shlock from the deep movie and hose it into theaters riding the crest of the wave (you had your chance to leave) of Cameron’s next mega-blockbuster movie. 

Now I will say this much for it.  It wasn’t a completely terrible idea.

Something that needs to be remembered about Generation X is that we had an interest in the briny deep that was a little out of the box.  Not as much Cameron was banking on, but truthfully there was something there for us.  Part of it was kid’s shows we’d seen like Stingray and Sealab 2020 but most of it was The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. The thing about Cousteau was that we didn’t get to see him that often, those were only National Geographic Specials. And specials were precious to us.  If you’re the right age you understand and if you aren’t you never will.

We had been promised lunar colonies and underwater cities when we were kids.  We weren’t getting either, but we were still interested.  The once unreachable Titanic had been found. Forms of life that survived on chemosynthesis had been discovered. Manganese nodules were valuable enough to make deep-sea mining financially viable. However, there was still a lot of mystery attached to the deep dark abysses of the worlds.  Traveling into the depths of the ocean is much more dangerous than going into space. The ocean floor harbored strange forms of life and strange could mean hostile.

So yeah, Generation X had an interest in the depths of the seas.

Just not enough to get us in theaters.

The first bomb to detonate was…

DeepStar Six

I suspect that Tristar knew they had turkey on their hands because they released it in January.  That month is a legendary dumping ground for movies that studios are contractually obligated to release but know won’t make a dime.  Which is kind of sad because Tristar is the one that screwed this up.  

You can tell this script started life, not as a monster film, but as a disaster movie script.  It had probably first been outlined as such when Towering Inferno was in the theaters and got perma-shelved when Meteor cratered (I don’t know what’s wrong with me today).   Then came rumors of Cameron’s newest sure-to-be-a-blockbuster wet gold and there was a mad studio scramble to get anything vaguely damp shot.  Somebody went digging through the script morgue and found this treatment.  The monster is obviously a last-minute addition.

Frankly, the creature ruined what was a fairly decent story. It was a very character-driven piece.  Of the Eighties Unfathomables, this one could have been as good as The Abyss but the monster ruined it.  It has a 12-member ensemble cast of people who all have decent resumes.  The one who hit it the biggest was Nia Peeples a few years later.  Greg Evigan was the lead and really did carry the part of a Chad who’d fallen in love and didn’t want to make things permanent because he “just wasn’t ready yet.”  Evigan had some success (?) on TV with BJ and the Bear and he would have bigger success with My Two Dads, but this was his only shot at the cinematic brass ring.  Honestly, the dude had more business being a movie star leading man than a lot of other men, but the breaks never came his way, largely because of DeepStar Six.

The standout was everyone’s favorite evil Yuppie, Mel Ferrer.

Hey asshole!

Miguel Ferrer was an excellent actor from an old acting family and knew damn good and well he was (a) always going to be a character actor because of his looks and (b) he was being typecast as a cocky, Eighties Yuppie and the year was 1989.  He was too well known for a cliché role that was about to vanish.  So, he took a job playing completely against type.  His character was kind of a redneck Doctor Smith. It was his screwup that caused the disaster, and he didn’t want to answer for it.  He really delivered on his range as a performer. Mel floored it. He gave it his all.  Of all the Unfathomables this one had the third-best budget and Ferrer had reason to believe a lot of people would see it.  While he never hit it as big as he deserved, he was never out of work either.  Fans always found him a welcome addition to any film in our genre and he died too young at 61.

This is the first film that I can remember where they extensively used an atmospheric diving suit.  

ADSs are nothing new.

This horror is from 1884 and not Bioshock.

But in the mid-Eighties, they had advanced enough to go well past SCUBA’s hard cap of 300 feet.  In 2023 an ADS can go down 2,300 feet (700 meters).   In the Eighties, they were limited to 1500 feet (460 meters), which is good enough for dramatic purposes. 

Oh yeah.  


The military is testing an undersea colony/lab and of course nuclear missile base.  Because Eighties Hollywood.  Tinsel Town always has something it’s being completely retarded about and in the Eighties it was nukes.  An undersea cavern is found, Captain Retard for reasons I don’t remember orders it destroyed.  Hot Scientist Woman is Big Mad about that because she wants to go look at the mysterious undersea life it must contain.  But Captain Retard figures it’s just a shit test and blows the cavern anyway annoying the crap out of a rubber monster that lives in it.  A ROV is sent to take a look and is destroyed. So, Captain Retard sends out a manned sub which gets the same treatment and the ten little Indians scenario has begun.  Someone gets bisected by a hatch and Mel Ferrer asks the computer what to do.  It says blow up the nukes so he does, severely damaging DeepStar Six. The base is going to implode AND be irradiated.  Mel gets very bloodily decompressed. Everybody dies except for Sub Pilot Chad and Hot Scientist Woman Stacy.   They get the mini-sub to the surface, but the creature follows them topside and does NOT explode which it probably should have given the depths it lives at.

Never fear, sub-driver Chad cleverly blows up the sub killing the rubber monster, leaving Chad and Stacy to die of thirst in a collapsible raft unless the navy gets lucky while searching them with 1980s SAR technology in a really big ocean.


Not as good as DeepStar Six but not terrible either.  Or at least not completely terrible compared to a couple of movies that would follow it. Nonetheless the ending fucking retarded.  There was some serious money pumped into this thing, clearly more than DeepStar. 

It was directed by Rambo’s George P. Cosmatos and the cast was an Eighties Who’s Hot Right Now list.  In the Seventies, this flick would have had a poster with little pictures of all the cast members in it at the bottom, but by 1989 a poster like that was box office death. It starred Peter Weller (Robocop), Richard Crenna (Rambo), Earnie Hudson (Winston from Ghostbusters), Daniel Stern (Home Alone). And Amanda Pays (Oxford Blues) as the Hot Woman.  Pays’ job was to be in her underwear, I’m pretty sure the producers wanted her to get out of her underwear, but she wouldn’t do it. When her career flamed out she married Corbin Bernsen and had four sons, she seems content. Good for her.

The plot was Alien meets The Thing, and I would lay money that is exactly how it got pitched to MGM.   

This feels like another reworked script and I’m willing to bet it was originally about an asteroid mining base.

The Plot:

An undersea mine owned by Tri-Oceanic Corp is working the ocean floor and establishing the two-dimensional cardboard cutout character of the characters: Young geologist manager, drunk has-been doctor, comedy horndog redneck, hot chick in her underwear, Earnie Hudson, and a not-as-hot-as-Amanda-Pays slut, plus the rest of the monster fodder.  

The deep-sea miners discover a Russian shipwreck named Levithan.  Rather than carefully plan a dive, they just blunder right in, again using Atmospheric Diving Suits and find the ship’s video logs along with some vodka. 

Robocop and Colonel Trautman examine the ship’s log and discover there were a bunch of mysterious deaths aboard the ship.

 The comedy redneck is named Six Pack, he’s the one that found the booze he offers it to the not-as-hot-as-Amanda-Pays slut as a carnal bribe, and sadly for her, it works.  Turns out the evil Soviets were conducting mutagen experiments on the crew using the vodka as a delivery method. Six Pack and his slut die, then merge together into a monster.  The crew tries to chuck the blob out of the airlock, but a tentacle gets left behind and starts absorbing various crew members.  They want to evacuate but Tri-Oceanic Corp says, sorry, hurricane, you’re stuck for a bit.  Some more of the crew die and are absorbed then Colonel Trautment fires off the escape pod so that the contagion will remain down there with them and not destroy the surface world.

A little later and the crew discovers that Tri-Oceanic has declared them to be dead and there is no hurricane topside.  The ten little Indians are down to three; Robocop, Amanda Pays, and Winston. The friend I saw this with said, “You watch. Earnie Hudson is going to be dead before the end of this.”  Back then Earnie Hudson was famous for two things, Ghostbusters and being the Black Guy Who Dies.

Robocop comes up with a plan and the real-life Peter Weller had to have been saying, “This is some kind of bullshit,” on the set.  The escape plan is to attach balloons to the ADS suits.  Then somewhere along the line the suit breaks in half, this was part of the plan and no, the suits weren’t designed for it, but it does let leg men can admire Amanda Pays naked gams as she swims topside. 

It wasn’t a great plan. Assuming they aren’t killed by any kind of lung congestion or have their eardrums explode, or die from nitrogen narcosis or decompression illness, they would have died when the suit broke.

But they get to the surface and again the critter follows them and promptly kills Earnie Hudson, my friend and I both laughed. Anyway, Robocop blows up the creature with a handy Jaws bomb.  Robocop and Amanda Pays are rescued.

Tri-Oceanic was later acquired by Weyland-Utani.

These two movies came out so close to each other they tend to blend in people’s memories.  I actually had to watch them again to separate them in my mind.  Bad as they were, they are better than any movie Disney has made in the last five years.  

Of the two, I would have to say DeepStar Six is the superior effort.  Levithan had much better effects and a monster that clearly had a much better design design and construction.  That said, George Cosmatos’ strengths as a director were action scenes, hell, he rewrote the film school grammar when it comes to those. However, he was never an actor’s director.  The cast was doing minimum effort, “just phone it in” work. Except for Earnie Hudson.  I don’t know if Earnie genuinely wanted to be in this kind of picture or was just determined to make the best of some studio summer sausage popcorn burner, but he seemed to actually be having fun with his part.  But he was the only one.

Okay, there actually was more material here than I thought, I am now at 2300 words and have two more movies to go.

So, this just turned into a two-parter.  Next time, the lesser films in this mini-genre: The Rift and Lords of the Deep.

Okay, I’m done here. 

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*Starring Lance Henricksen? I did not know that.

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