Avast ye, mateys, and welcome ye, one and all, to the NOFS Video Vault. Before we get to the grog o’ the matter, I need to ask ye: hast thou ever been t’ sea? Course ye haven’t, ye landlubber! Only the bravest of men would dare a life on the waves. And it’s not just the waves you’ve got to be wary of when sailing the seven seas, tis the things that stir below the waves that should worry ye the most. For those be the things most likely to take a man’s life.
As we’re were mired in the doldrums of the world’s current state of affairs, we were keeping a weather eye open this month, matey. And just when it looked as though we had been hornswoggled by the’ Lord above, up out from the deep came a film good enough to wet my pipe by. Shiver me timbers, it’s me hearty Sean S. Cunningham’s DeepStar Six (1989).
Back of The Box Review: A Deepstar Shanty
A US Naval engineering team is put in charge of constructing a top-secret underwater base called DeepStar Six in the depths of the ocean to house a bunch of nukes. But in their efforts to stay on schedule our team gets sloppy and they disrupt the lair of a giant prehistoric sea creature… and it’s angry. The monster attacks, the crew tries to evacuate but in the melee, the garrison is badly damaged. Then as a breach occurs, the crew becomes separated from one another and the thing from below begins picking everyone off, one by one.
The team his headed by Taurean Blacque (Rocky II, 1979) who plays Captain Phillip Laidlaw, the station commander. The resident medic Joyce Collins, played by Nancy Everhard (Urban Legends: Bloody Mary, 2005) heads up the sickbay while Cindy Pickett (Sleepwalkers, 1992) plays the physician, Dr. Diane Norris. Heading up the research team is Marius Weyers (Gandhi, 1982) as Dr. John Van Gelder, Nia Peeples (Werewolf: The Beast Among Us,2012) plays Dr. Scarpelli, and rounding out the Ph.D.’s is Elya Baskin (Silent Screams, 2015) as DeepStar’s geologist, Dr. Burciaga.
No military operation could exist without the grunts to do all the heavy lifting and DeepStar is no exception. The late Miguel Ferrer (The Guardian, 1990) plays Snyder, cowardly mechanic while Greg Evigan (Stripped to Kill, 1987) plays McBride, the head submarine pilot. Rounding out McBride’s crew is Matt McCoy (The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, 1992) as Jim Richardson, submarine co-pilot, Johnny Hodges, remote submarine pilot played by Thom Bray (The Prowler, 1981) and his co-pilot and partner in crime Osborne played by veteran character actor Ronn Carroll (Friday the 13th, 1980).
From Script To Screen: A Deepstar Journey
DeepStar Six was produced by Carolco Pictures (The Changeling, 1980) with an estimated budget of $8 million. Producers Mario Kassar (Superstition, 1982), Patrick Markey (Joy Ride, 2001), Andrew G. Vajna (Jacob’s Ladder, 1990) along with director Sean S. Cunningham (House, 1985) helped get DeepStar Six in front of cameras after Cunningham started work on the production two years prior in 1987.
Director Robert Harmon (The Hitcher, 1986) was originally tapped to helm the deep-sea monster movie but eventually left the project for reasons unknown. Producer Cunningham then stepped into the role and brought in F/X guru Chris Walas (The Fly, 1986) to design the creature for the picture. From there Walas gave the reins to Mark Shostrom (A Nightmare on Elm Street, 1984) who made slight alterations to Walas’ design. The result is a pretty impressive creature that looks to be a cross between a Graboid (Tremors, 1990) and a Demogorgon (Stranger Things, 2016-present).
First Out of The Gate: Christening The Deepstar
As post-production of DeepStar Six came to a close, Cunningham felt the urgency to fast-track his film since a slew of underwater imitators were circling the choppy waters of the domestic box office below him. So on January 13, 1989, while the other sea monster pictures were still nursing their new year’s hangovers, DeepStar Six opened in over one thousand screens across America.
The early release managed to beat out the releases of Leviathan (1989), The Evil Below (1989), Lords of the Deep (1989), The Rift (1990), and The Abyss (1989), securing Cunningham’s film as the O.G. monster movie of ’89. Aside from James Cameron’s The Abyss, all other latecomers were not box office successes, though neither was DeepStar Six. The film finished in eighth place on its opening weekend and after its theatrical run was finished, it was pretty much dead in the water just having barely recouped its budget.
(Deepstar) Six Degrees: The Crystal Lake Connection
There is a boatload of connections between DeepStar Six and the Friday the 13th movies with the most obvious one being the film’s director Sean Cunningham. Aside from him producing and directing Friday the 13th (1980) and DeepStar Six, he was also instrumental in securing distribution through Paramount Pictures, the studio responsible eight Voorhees forays throughout the 1980s.
Cunningham also brought on a couple of actors from the Friday The 13th camp to play in the DeepStar pool as Ronn Carroll, who played Sgt. Tierney in the 1980 original, was cast to play submarine pilot Osborne. Sean also kept things in the family and brought is son Noel Cunningham on as an apprentice editor. Noel has grown up within the Friday The 13th franchise starting as a background actor in the original to working as an apprentice editor on Jason Goes to Hell (1993) and a producer on Jason X (2001).
The man who gave us the infamous ki-ki-ki ma-ma-ma, Harry Manfredini provided the soundtrack with his signature stylings it gave this low budget underwater horror a big-budget feel. Even Jason Voorhees himself makes an appearance in the film as Jason actor Kane Hodder did stunt coordinator duty in the film. Finally, the late James Isaac, who helmed Jason X also worked on DeepStar Six as the VFX supervisor.
Everyone’s A Critic!
Upon the release of DeepStar Six, both critics and audiences were not very kind. Even today the film sits at hard zero on RottenTomatoes.com. Variety had a review that called the film “diluted by implausibility” but this wasn’t due to plot problems, it was strictly a knock at the look of the monster and how it was so unrealistic, it became unthreatening. They also continued to point out a lack of centralized characters which was the polar opposite for Time Out’s review where they rather liked the look of the monster but had a problem with the dialogue and predictability of the story.
Janet Maslin’s New York Times review also had problems with the predictable plot and the jargony dialogue stating, “Even the fish lack personality in ”DeepStar Six,” a film that makes the exotic undersea world not much more interesting than the average bedroom closet.” She goes on to write about the film’s stock characters and the lack of suspense where the monster’s screen time was concerned, basically summing up that the movie would end up anticlimactic regardless of how often the creature was used.
In the VHS stages of the film’s home entertainment release, there were several versions from Image Entertainment. The first was released in 1989 with three more releases in 1991, 1995, and finally, 1999. DeepStar Six then got the DVD treatment when it was released for the first time in 2001 followed by two more in 2008 and 2014. From what could be found, there seem to be a couple of Blu-rays kicking around as well. One was released in October 2019 from Koch Media and another that is coming out in October of 2020.
Critics be damned, I watched Deepstar Six back when it was released n the theaters and I loved it! And rewatching it some thirty years later, I still love it. It holds up surprisingly well and despite some silly dialogue and a couple of dated special effects, the rest is a solid action/horror movie with a fun cast and a spectacular creature. It’s worth the attention of any fan of underwater monster movies and delivers a fun rollercoaster ride that only Sean Cunningham can deliver.
Yo-ho-ho, t’was quite a ride, eh wot? So what say ye, ye scurvy dogs? Did ye enjoy the riggin’s of this Jolly Roger of a film or what? Tis a tasty treat to feast one’s eyes upon if I do say so meself! Now before I make ye walk the plank where ye will most certainly become a part of Davey Jones’ locker, ye best be lookin’ at the NOFS Twitter, NOFS Subreddit and NOFS Horror Movie Fiend Club to get thyself abreast of what’s good, what’s bad and what’s badass in the world of horror. So fire in the hole, ye salty dogs! Dead men tell no tales! Y’arrr!