‘Deep Rising’ (1998) Review

“This is turning out to be one hell of a day.”

A few weeks back Sailor and I had a brief discussion about the sort of movies that are comfort food for us, the ones we put on when we need a break from real life or just a warm blanket of escapism. We both love Japanese kaiju/monster movies, and I dig on Italian horror as well – but my favorite comfort food flicks are really 50’s monster movies. Them!, Tarantula, Creature From the Black Lagoon – these are my go-to movies when I’m having a bad day or week. And this week was a pretty bad week.

My wife, awesome person that she is, knows me well and enables my other loves as much as she can. Most of my Criterion discs are gifts from her. My blu-ray box set of classic Universal Monsters is another gift. This year she got me a copy of a film that… isn’t really on that level of quality. However, it really manages to be a 90’s version of those classic monster movies of yore. It’s a guilty favorite of mine, and it does the same thing for my mood that those films do. It makes me feel better. And that’s what I needed this week.

Deep Rising should really be called Deep Cheese, or maybe Cheap Cthulhu. It’s a low budget monster movie in a decade that really didn’t do low budget monster movies very well. You’ve got Mimic – which is halfway decent. Relic, which is also fairly decent – until the monster arrives. Does Anaconda count? I think so. Godzilla… Let’s not count Godzilla. No, that’s being mean, let’s count Godzilla. Really, the only monster flick in the 1990’s that didn’t come with a lot of caveats was Tremors, right? Deep Rising is at least as good as Relic. And I had a heckuva lot more fun watching it.

The Medium
For the longest time I had Deep Rising in a double-disk Blu-ray release with The Puppet Masters that I picked up for less than $5. I never really felt that the film needed to be on Blu-ray, and the certainly that release didn’t inspire, with a lackluster transfer and no extras to speak of. THIS year, my wife got me the Kino Lorber 2018 release, and I’m happy to see it DOES benefit from the upgrade. The picture quality is much improved, and Moe actually commented on how good it looked, though it remains a 90’s action flick with some dodgy CGI. (Do I really need to say that with 90’s CGI?) To my delight it’s also packed with extras, including commentary with director Stephen Sommers (The Mummy), interviews with some of the stars and features on the effects. I can’t wait to dig in!

For streaming options, Deep Rising is currently available for subs on Hoopla and for rent/purchase at most of the online vendors.

The Movie
Deep Rising is an unapologetic B Movie. There’s no meta awareness, really, none of the self-referential dialogue that seemed to infest 90’s horror films after Scream. There’s a monster, there’s a hero, there’s a damsel, there’s bad guys, there’s comic relief, there’s explosions and gunfire and a lot of running.

I think Roger Ebert called this movie a cheap knockoff of Aliens, except on a boat. I think it’s actually a throwback to a much older sort of monster flick. It’s really an adventure movie, more like King Kong than Aliens. Treat Williams even looks a lot like those square-jawed heroes of the old black and white monster films, like James Franciscus in The Valley of Gwanji.

The basic setup: John Finnegan (Williams) is transporting a group of mercenaries across the South China Sea. They’re rendezvousing with… something. He doesn’t ask questions. His crew, Joey (Kevin O’Connor) and Leila (Una Damon), are a little more nosey and find out that the mercs have brought torpedoes on board. Meanwhile, a huge ocean liner, the Argonautica, is on its maiden voyage. Somebody sabotages the navigation and communications and then something attacks the ship from below. When Finnegan and the mercs arrive the ship at first appears deserted, but there are survivors. And of course there’s what they’re survivors OF.

Everyone is introduced in typical action movie style, with some kind of unique quirk that’s supposed to suffice for character development. There’s the sex fiend, the Aussie with a chip on his shoulder, the tech guy, the African badass and so on. They’re caricatures, but it’s a monster movie and they’re all going to be eaten anyway, so why get attached? There’s a lot of familiar faces amongst the crew, which helps – including the great Wes Studi, Trevor Goddard, Jayson Flemyng and Djimon Hounsou (the same year he was nominated for an Oscar in Amistad). The ‘good guys’ are given slightly more to work with – Finnegan is the Crook With a Good Heart, very much in the same mold as Mal in Firefly. Joey is the Motormouth Mechanical Genius. We’ve also got Famke Janssen as a high-class thief and Anthony Heald as a slimy businessman, but there’s really not a lot of room for them to stretch – there’s way too much running for that.

The monster design is actually fairly cool, seemingly based off a bobbit worm (Google it if you feel like giving yourself nightmares.) The creature is all tentacles with hooks and multiple fanged mouths for most of it, but there’s a huge thing that shows up near the end that’s either part octopus or Cthulhu. The biggest drawback is that it’s early-days CGI, so it’s a bit dodgy at times and too smooth and shiny. (Still better than Relic, though, and it looks a lot better on the new Blu-ray.) Other effects, including a poor, half-digested mercenary, fare better and the gore factor is decent – the film earns its ‘R’ rating – though the blood and guts are more sticky and pink than slick and red. (The half-digested guy is a standout, given he’s not completely dead when he makes his appearance.)

Things go pear shaped pretty quickly once our heroes arrive and there’s a substantial amount of running, shooting and screaming. Parts of the film resemble disaster movies, including a bit where the survivors have to traverse a sunken corridor to get to safety. (Spoiler – they don’t all make it.)

I like the humor of the film quite a bit, but it’s one of those things that could make or break it for you. For a lot of people Kevin O’Connor is just annoying, but I think he makes the best of the gags he’s given and his resigned way of admitting how stupid they are is sort of endearing. One of my favorite bits involves a merc (Studi) who’s already being partly eaten by the creature, with only the upper part of his torso visible. He gestures to Joey to give him a gun that Joey has and Joey, realizing that eating a bullet would be more merciful than being eaten alive, gives it to him. And then the merc shoots at Joey! Joey screams “Asshole!” as he runs. The merc shrugs, then puts the gun to his temple – but that was the last bullet. Serves him right.

The ending of the film is the best part, though (no, not in the same way as hitting yourself with a hammer). The survivors find themselves on an island. So far so good. Then a roar erupts from the jungle and the camera pans back to give us a shot of your typical Monster Island setup with a volcano erupting in the background and some huge – thing – tearing up trees by the roots as it makes its way to the beach and our heroes. I really, really wish the movie hadn’t bombed at the theater (it made roughly a quarter of its budget), because I would love to see what happens next.

The Bottom Line
There’s not a lot of real quality meat in Deep Rising – to paraphrase The Simpsons, it’s all Grade-Z, mostly circus animals, some filler. It’s horror movie junk food, but sometimes that’s what you crave and a good steak-and-cheese (hold the steak) can be just as satisfying as a filet mignon if you’re in the right mood. And to be clear, I’m always in the mood.

And yeah, I would totally have gone to see a sequel.

Author: Bob Cram

Would like to be mysterious but is instead, at best, slightly ambiguous.