Thursday, January 10, 2013

Creatures from the Abyss (Massimiliano Cerchi, 1994)

When I saw the names Sandy Stockwell and Ted Stuart appear in the opening credits, I let out one of my world famous inaudible chuckles. Just to be clear, my reason for uttering unheard laughter had nothing to do with who they are as people, as I'm sure Sandy and Ted are two of the most upstanding individuals to ever walk the face of the earth. No, it had more to do with what they brought to this stupefyingly awesome piece of cinematic tomfoolery. After the stealthy giggles had subsided, I thought to myself: Where does a film called Creatures from the Abyss, or even one called "Plankton" (it's alternate title), for that matter, get off having a production designer and an art director? As hard as that is to fathom, or, I guess, imagine, that's what Sandy Stockwell (production design) and Ted Stuart (art direction) ended up bringing to this sticky, fish-fucking endeavour. Okay, whatever you say. On top of making with the ha-ha's that were impossible to hear, I also noticed that I was starting to roll my eyes a lot more than usual. Well, for one thing, the opening scenes are dark and muddled. Wow, I thought to myself, for a film that boasts a production designer and an art director, things are looking pretty threadbare. Meaning, I think the producer was doing someone a favour by giving them a credit on their low budget horror movie about killer fish who stymie a whole dinghies worth of teens off the coast of Florida. (Just for the record, "Before I die, I'm gonna fuck me a fish.") Here's the scenario I envisioned: The nephew of one of the producers asked if he could get a couple of his or her friends cushy jobs on the film they're currently working on. And, after much begging and pleading, they agreed by saying, "Fine. They can be the film's production designer, and, oh, let's say, the art director."
Great, you mean to say I'm about to watch a film where half the crew has been hired under erroneous circumstances? Well, I can't speak for director Massimiliano Cerchi or screenwriter Richard Baumann, as their unique brand of batshit is on a whole 'nother level of localized loco. But the amount of sheer talent displayed by Sandy Stockwell and Ted Stuart was astronomical. Didn't you just say the film was, and I quote, "dark and muddled"? Yeah, but that's because the opening scenes take place at the middle of the goddamn ocean. If you're going to blame anyone for that, you should place it squarely on the shoulders of David Williams, the film's cinematographer. Though, to be fair, I wouldn't call shooting five frightened young people on a dinghy at night the most ideal conditions to work in as a  photographer.
Anyway, the moment the mostly brain-dead characters at the centre of this tale of radioactive plankton and bikini-clad co-eds enter the lounge located on an abandoned research vessel, all my doubts pertaining to Sandy and Ted's skills simply melted away. No doubt helped by set decorator, Eddie Reinhold (you thought I forgot about you, didn't you, Eddie?), the work they put into the creation of the lounge, kitchen, and the cabins aboard this yacht was downright exquisite. Yeah, that's right, exquisite. You got a problem with that?
An evening of sun, sand, and fun soon turns perilous for five young people as their dinghy gets caught in one of those rare summer storms. Forgetting their spare gas on shore, Margaret (Sharon Twomey), Mike (Clay Rogers), Bobby (Michael Bon), Dorothy (Laura di Palma), and Julie (Ann Wolf), the scantily clad fivesome find themselves stranded in the middle of the ocean without a paddle. Oh, don't get me wrong, they have paddles. I just wanted to use the expression "without a paddle."
When all seems lost, Julie, of all people (she's probably the dimmest bulb in the group), spots a light emanating from a large ship in this distance. Paddling towards the light, they eventually reach a yacht that apparently belongs to the Oceanographic Research Institute. It should be noted that as they were paddling (well, I should say, as Bobby, Mike, Dorothy, and Margaret were paddling - Julie was too busy having a conniption fit to do any paddling), we're treated to these brief flashes of weirdness. (Do my ears deceive me, or does that sound like a tentacle being wrapped around a chemist's neck?) Hey, I love weirdness as much as next transvestite, but the fact we're given a sneak preview of what the inside of the yacht looks like is the real reason to celebrate. And judging by what we see in the brief flashes, it looks the yacht's interior is not going to disappoint.
The headstrong Bobby, a guy who clearly knows a thing or two about winning John Stamos look-alike contests (personally, I'd put him in the coked-up sex offender division), hops aboard the yacht first. After giving the all clear, the rest climb aboard, and immediately start poking around the yacht's laboratory. Filled with tubes, tanks of water in the vicinity of tubes, and bowls connected to tubes, the place seems to be set up to study fish. But these fish aren't your average fish. Uh-uh, these fish, to quote Dorothy, "have an evil expression."
Declaring the yacht to be a ghost ship (the helm is completely deserted), the group head downstairs to relax in the ship's lounge. Holy crap! Would you look at this place? First of all, the glass spiral staircase is simply divine (you can totally see right through it). Oooh, check out the fish-shaped floor mosaic made entirely out of shards of mirrored glass. Stunning. And the walls have been painted silver, creating the illusion that we're inside a giant TV dinner (the so-called "tin foil effect" is in full effect up in this nautical dojo).
Featuring a fully-stocked bar, an aquatic bonsai, an equally fully-stocked kitchen, a spacious couch (it can seat up to five scantily clad young people in one sitting), an erect penis lamp (stroke it gently to turn it on) and a state-of-the-art stereo system.
In other words, why weren't Sandy Stockwell and Ted Stuart recognized? Now, I don't know who exactly I would want to do the actual recognizing, but I'm sure there's someone out there, one who gives out recognition like it were a bodily function, who is willing to recognize what they accomplished in Creatures from the Abyss, 'cause I was blown away by the amount of work that went into the lounge set.
Speaking of blowing things, I'm about to blow your freaking mind. You know who should recognize the production design and art direction in this film? No, who? You. And you know what? You just did. Your enthusiasm for the production design and art direction in Creatures from the Abyss beats any stupid, namby pamby award. You wanna know why? Your expressions of love come from a sincere place. Really? Most people like what they're told to like. You, on the other hand, are able to see past the mounds of disingenuous tripe that litter the marketplace, and make decision that are based solely on taste and intuition. Wow. After giving what you just said some thought, I have to say, you're absolutely right. I am the only one who is qualified to praise the cast and crew who worked so diligently on this awe-inspiring slab of moistness-inducing cinema.
You know how most surfaces need to be scratched in order to get at their nutritional nimbus? Well, I haven't even begun to scratch the surface on how trepidatiously fantastic Creatures from the Abyss actually is, as this randy fish out of water tale is chock-full of the right kind of chowder. After exploring the nooks and crannies of the lounge, the fellas head to the yacht's cabins. However, before they do that, they must transverse a hallway. That doesn't sound too hard. Simply place one foot in front of the other, and you should be walking up and down that hallway like a real human being in no time. No, it's not the walking that will trip you up, it's getting past Jessica that's the hard part. Who's Jessica? She's the one-eyed mermaid on the wall who tells you the time in a squeaky voice whenever you walk past it. Flummoxed is the only way I can describe my reaction Jessica, or, "cutie time," as she is sometimes called. I've never seen anything so inexplicably awesome in my life, and that's saying something, as I've seen plenty of stuff over the years that could best be described as "inexplicably awesome."
As the guys are changing out of their wet clothes and the girls dry themselves (thankfully, the boat has no ladies apparel for them to change into), you'll notice that something is watching them through a fisheye lens. Which is apt, since the something doing the watching is probably a fish.  But not just any fish, carnivorous fish...who live out of water. Wondering what kind of fish the scientists were studying, Mike, the smart member of the group, rules out piranha. Actually, he's says, "We all know piranha live in river water." Are you sure about that, Mike? I mean, Margaret's bicycle-style shorts have flowers on them, hence, she might know that. But as for Bobby, Julie, and Dorothy? I don't think so. They're idiots. Though, to be fair, Julie and Dorothy do look amazing in their bikinis (the former is wearing a pink and white gingham number and the latter's bod is sheathed in a tight dark green bikini), and therefore, don't really need to know anything about stuff and junk.
The first sign of trouble comes when Julie's cooking fish and the fish start to move in the pan. Do they take Julie's claim about seeing roly-poly fish heads seriously? Of course not (people who wear pink and white gingham are rarely ever taken seriously). At any rate, according to Jessica, it's 8pm, and that means it's time for the ladies to eat fish with their legs crossed (I don't what looks more scrumptious, the fish or Dorothy's stems locked together like a pretzel), and for the film to employ one of its many top-notch synth flourishes. Unleashed just as Dorothy, who, on top of being leggy, is an itty bitty tittied goddess if I ever saw one, was a about to shovel some fish in her mouth, this particular synth flourish, like I said, the film is replete with flourishes of synthy nature, penetrates my wax-laden eardrums with a gingerly softness. In fact, the entire score by Elokonia Group provided me with the synthy goods I crave on a semi-regular basis. A score, by the way, that reminded me of  Vangelis (Blade Runner) and Krisma circa their  Clandestine Anticipation period, especially the song "Water."
When they discover a demented chemist cowering in the basement, Bobby's theory that the yacht's lab is a cover for a super-secret cocaine lab begins to crumble. Since there's nothing they can do for the demented chemist (he's foaming at the mouth), the young people decide to go to bed. Remember the synth flourish that accompanied Dorothy's fish intake? Well, get ready to watch Dorothy return that fish to dry land in the form of yellow, sludge-like vomit. While the initial barrage of puke looked normal–well, as normal as yellow, sludge-like vomit goes–the second barrage is filled with unknown creatures. A panic-stricken Dorothy runs out of the bathroom to sneak comfort from her friends. Which she receives, but only from her female friends. The guys doubt that her puke contained anything out of the ordinary. And that doubt remains when they discover a bathroom floor covered in nothing but vomit.
Keen observers will notice that Bobby tells Jessica to "shut the fuck up" when she tries give him the time during the whole situation surrounding the contents of Dorothy's puke. In my mind, Bobby's anger toward Jessica was when things started to go off the rails for the group. Though, I should point out that Suzanne, the woman who lives inside the computerized shower, doesn't receive the same level of abuse that Jessica does. But then again, Jessica's job, reminding young people what time it is, is a lot tougher than Suzanne's, whose job it is to basically tell people to fondle themselves for a living. Nonetheless, the carnivorous fish who live out of water are about to make the presence felt in the not-so distant future. And it's a good thing they strike when they do, as the film's dialogue really seems to come alive when the carnivorous fish who live out of water come out of the woodwork.
My favourite being Mike's frequent use of the phrase, "damn it!" As in, "Damn it! It's the fish, you idiot!" or "Now do you see why this ship has no crew! Damn it!" The best non-damn it line has to be, "Professor, how long have you been fucking fish?"
"It's midnight. I'd be careful if I were you." ~ Jessica
Will Mike, the smart one, Bobby, the simple one, Margaret, the sensitive one, Dorothy, the slender one, and Julie, the shapely one, be able to resist the fishy onslaught that is about to come their way? Who's to say? All I know is that Creatures from the Abyss is a barn burner crossed with two sparsely attended hootenannies. In other words, it's Italian-conceived idiocy at its finest. Hands down, the best film ever to be made about radioactive plankton.

video uploaded by BadMovieRealm


  1. Oh, that lamp! My eyes!

    By the way, Mariangela Melato has died. :(

  2. Pretty tacky, eh? I'm surprised the lamp didn't get mentioned in the credits.

    Me sad. :(

  3. I'm pretty sure I used that Mr. Show sketch in one of my reviews. Of course I did.

    This movie rules of course, and I think an underrated aspect is the whole aquagel aesthetic that makes you feel as if the movie is taking place inside of an ultraswank 80's aquarium. I know your run-of-the-mill punters care not about such things, but I am not your run-of-the-mill punter it would seem.

  4. Do you remember which film it was? 'Cause, I must say, my usage was apt as all get out. ;)

    Wasn't there a magazine geared towards fish aficionados called "Ultraswank 80's Aquarium Weekly."?

    You punt with an easy, breezy elan. :)

  5. No one appreciates a finely dressed film set quite like you.

    This sounds like a goddamn hoot. Now I want to watch it.

    But were those kids dumb enough to actually EAT scientific samples?

  6. The fish they ate were from the fridge located in the fully-stocked kitchen. So, I'm not sure if they were technically "scientific samples." But it should be a reminder to everyone to be more careful when poking around stylishly decorated abandoned research vessels drifting off the coast of Florida.

  7. This movie was hilarious, I remember reading your review for it and went and actually bought this (couldnt pass it up for only 3 bucks!) and honestly, I had a blasty blast with this one. Hilarious! They all talk like freaking robots! The sexual stuff is so freaking crazy, that lamp, the girl having sex with that monster, the terrible effects work...the terrible editing. The cliches galore....I laughed like a mad man.

    The movie feels like they filmed it on one set and went back and forth, back and forth from one to the next. By the way, the set was hilarious.

    And of course, "the smart one" had to wear glasses. ha ha ha..

  8. I'll admit, a wave of terror shot through my body when I read the part where you stated that I was partly responsible for your decision to pick up this movie. However, that terror quickly turned to relief when you mentioned that enjoyed the movie, despite its obvious flaws. :)

  9. Yeah, it was a fun movie, I love movies like this one because yeah they are bad, but they are also shocking in a way, I mean who the hell says "yes I'll give you a couple of millions to do that" to a script like this? The results were amusing thats for sure!

  10. Judging by the quality of the dubbing, it looks like the script was probably written long after the film was shot.