“There’s something down here…something not us.”
That is a line from The Abyss, a far better movie about underwater creatures interacting with humanity. The Abyss is better than Leviathan which starred Peter “Buckaroo Banzai” Weller, which was released close to the same time. Both The Abyss and Leviathan are, however, leagues better than Deep Star Six (1989) which comprised the third panel of the waterlogged triptych. In order to fully appreciate the magnitude and majesty of Deep Star Six, I’d like to tell you what I’m going to do once I’m done writing this thing. I’m going to jump into my car and find me a small quiet patch of land where I can grow strawberries, and maybe some roses. I’m going to find me a lovely woman who will be with me through my happy days of quiet contentment and…
AGH! I’m dead!
Spoiler alert: this is the reoccurring theme of Deep Star Six. It is not that the crew of underwater researchers are being picked off by a bottom-dwelling nasty, or that the crewmembers keep putting themselves into the most absurd positions of jeopardy, or that Miguel Ferrer’s career has certainly survived much better than Greg Evigan’s. It is that the movie is so reliant on that hoary old screenwriting trope of having a character tell you about their future plans, only to have them immediately bumped off into the realm of No Future At All, one can only view the movie now as a comedy. It is that predictable. If connected to a drinking game, it would probably be deemed illegal for having caused too many alcohol poisoning deaths.
So what we have here is a ragtag underwater crew of the usual cliches: the black captain (played by the awesomely named Taurean Blacque) who should have run like hell the moment he realized he was the only black guy on the crew (“Why don’t you just stick me in a damn red Star Trek uniform while you’re at it,” I imagine him saying); the loner-type who has to become the heart and soul of the crew, the foreigner who is isolated from the pack because he is different, the love interest who is always in jeopardy. Could she be carrying the loner’s baby? Could be, could be!
Evigan is trying mightily to rise above as a Kurt-Russell-As-McReady-type here but falls short of any true bad-assery. Instead he seems to devolve into “can’t we all get along” diatribes and pleas. This film was long after B.J. And The Bear but likely before My Two Dads and, frankly, it probably could have been worse for him.
More pity goes to Nia Peeples who had the unfortunate role of being “the former castmember of TV’s Fame who was not the pregnant character” which, when translated, meant she was toast.
The true star of the show has to be Ferrer who doesn’t chew the scenery so much as he sprays copious amounts of mouth-foaming all about in spastic frenzy, and the spittle corrodes the scenery to nothing more than pasty drywall mush. He has the task of being the loose cannon who is going slightly mad down in the depths, feeling everyone is turning against him, and feeling that if there comes a time when someone gets singled out for sacrifice, it’s going to be him. Let’s ignore that his crappy treatment of his teammates facilitates that belief more than anything else. His manic explosions and occasional Homer Simpsonry (re: the final scene of him with the aforementioned foreigner is a marvel of ridiculousness) elevate a terrible movie to a terrible movie that is worth watching. It’s for all the wrong reasons, of course, but you can’t pull your eyes away from Deep Star Six.
We can blame Agatha Christie for the “Ten Little Indians” plot convention of having a large group being whittled away one by one, sewing fear and distrust among the pack, until finally there is confrontation. The Thing From Another World, John Carpenter’s adaptation as The Thing, and Ridley Scott’s Alien trumped the formula by adding a totally foreign beastie. In each of these, tension builds because the viewer is never truly sure who is going to bite it next.
With Deep Star Six, and all of the future-gazing monologuing, that is never a problem. In recent years I have heard crosstalk that the crew knew exactly what they were doing and that the film is really meta-satirical. And if you truly believe that line, I have a bushel of strawberries and rose petals I’d like to sell you.