Up from the Depths (1979)

New World Pictures.  Director: Charles B. Griffith.

Creature Feature Bleachers Award: Most Surreal.

“Up from the Depths” is decidedly worth a watch.  This unique film is so bizarre that I’ll need all of my literary skill to even attempt to capture its madness with words.  And to be completely honest with you, I don’t even know how to classify it.  Is it a horror film?  Is it a farce?  I simply don’t know.  Every single character embodies the worst characteristics of human beings; throughout “Up from the Depths,” characters are crass, selfish, dishonest, greedy, vain, and/or drunk.  The action is also a bit ludicrous.  At one point people grab decorative spears from the hotel lounge in order to hunt the shark.  Yet to my mind at least, these parts aren’t really played up for the laughs.  They’re just there.  You’ll have to watch and decide for yourself whether or not this film is serious (feel free to chime in with your own opinion!).  Please note, however, that “Up from the Depths” contains some brief language, comical (?) gore and unnecessary nudity.

On a Hawaiian island, tensions run high between the management of a resort and a pair of local opportunists.  Both sides swindle tourists for their money, but at least the hotel tries to maintain some dignity while doing so.  After an underwater earthquake, however, a creature unknown to science appears and begins eating people.  Both the hotel staff and the con artists realize the threat that the creature poses to their livelihood.  It’s open season on the shark that came… “up from the depths!”

The DVD Cover.  Bonus points if you’re able to watch both movies back to back.

While the creature in “Up from the Depths” isn’t exactly a shark (more like a toothy worm-shark monster), the characters in the film treat it like one, and I think we are safe in classifying this as a sharksploitation film.  The only notable difference between the creature and a real shark— aside from the fact that it’s made out of rubber— is that the monster apparently spits blood at its victims before devouring them.  We all know from other sharksploitation films that blood turns the water red or pink when a shark attacks, but in “Up from the Depths” the water changes color before the creature even takes a bite.  Spitting blood must be an intimidation technique or something.

I think he’s kinda cute, though.

And in case you are wondering, that pink-and-white Barbie boat is actually the fearsome craft that the protagonists commandeer in order to hunt the creature.

Banking on the theory that the creature has bad associations with the Tunnel of Love.

Unlike most sharksploitation films, in which the characters are meant to be sympathetic but actually come across as jarringly dumb or excruciatingly annoying, “Up from the Depths” offers a cast completely composed of reprehensible reprobates.  They’re all scum, from the easily duped American tourist couple (Chuck Doherty and Helen McNeely) who buy trinkets as often as they bicker, to the hyperactive, sniveling hotel manager (Kedric Wolfe) with a salmon color suitcoat, to the drunken shyster of a ship’s captain (Virgil Frye) who’s never more than 5 feet away from alcohol, to the vapid glamor model (Denise Hayes) who doesn’t even know where she is, to the professor (Charles Howerton) who becomes romantically involved with students and wishes to capture rather than kill the beast, to the herd of hotel guests who greedily chase after the creature to get the reward for killing it.  And yet, I enjoyed all of these characters 100% more than your run-of-the-mill sharksploitation cast because they are unrelentingly bad people.  No one ever changes for the better.  No one realizes how horrible they are.  Everyone simply looks out for number one.  Sharksploitation films always assume that humans are inherently more moral than sharks, so every once in a while it’s nice to see the very worst side of humanity.

Or in this case, the best side.  Also, there’s no way this shot wasn’t intentional.

If “Up from the Depths” has a weakness (generally a fair assumption here on The Creature Feature Bleachers), it’s the boring underwater scenes.  Given the murkiness of the water and the impracticality of spoken dialogue, these scenes have the equivalent entertainment value of the fuzz that used to appear on the screen when your rabbit ears were out of whack.  While we are all fervently waiting for the invention of smellovision, the filmmakers should have known that the movie medium is currently limited to just two senses, sight and sound, and that denying the viewers both of these is a no no.

I think I can see a hand.

Like the film itself, the trailer is enjoyable:

The Trailer

You might also like to see one of the movie clips that Shout Factory has uploaded to herald the DVD release:

“Up from the Depths” is available on Amazon.

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