Friday, July 31, 2009

REVIEW: The Terror Beneath The Sea

海底大戦争 (Kaitei daisensô)

Released: 1966

Hajime Sato

Sonny Chiba
Peggy Neal
Franz Gruber

Steve Queens
Hideo Murota

Running time: 90 min.

Reviewed by Bob Turnbull

Hajime Sato's 1966 "The Terror Beneath The Sea" is, by all accounts, a pretty terrible movie. The acting (an entirely English cast except for Sonny Chiba and a few other random Japanese characters) is weak, the dubbing just plain bad, the story ridiculous and the action scenes poorly constructed. And yet, it's still very entertaining. Weirdly so, but entertaining nonetheless.

Chiba (in a pretty early role) plays a reporter who is covering an underwater guided torpedo test by the U.S. military. While watching the test via monitor (they must have lots of additional cameras underwater considering the many different angles we get to see), a shadow of some kind of strange being flashes across. This causes some consternation for the military brass and the test is shutdown. Chiba and fellow reporter Jenny (played in extraordinarily annoying and simpering fashion by Peggy Neal) decide to go scuba diving to check the region out. Indeed they come across one of these strange creatures (a half man, half fish, bordering on the Creature from the Black Lagoon) and snap a picture of it. Before being able to bring it back for proof of their discovery though, they are captured and brought to the lair of the mad scientist responsible for these creatures. If you guessed that his plan is to take over the world with a band of sexless lumbering fishmen, you'd be right on the money.

A highlight of the film is the lengthy transformation sequence demonstrated to both reporters. A dead body goes through shocks, chemical treatments, surgery and really pretty flashing lights to come out on the other side as a living beast. A beast that can be told to switch from "Work" to "Fight" at the literal flip of a dial. The effects are reasonable for a low budget monster film to be sure, but they occasionally feel like the crew simply grabbed whatever was left over from the catering table and slapped it on the actor to indicate a different stage of the process. The fun of this section of the film derives from a combination of this multi-layered metamorphosis, the shear length of it and the continuous cutting back to the reactions of Chiba and Neal. It all becomes quite memorable as Neal goes for being over-the-top horrified and Chiba works up some good facial tics and contortions. Both elicit many giggles.

Even with the dubbing, you can tell Neal is not cut out for the acting business. IMDB bears this out as she had only two more listings (both Japanese low-budget affairs) and each has her name lower down the credit roll. Granted, it's not all her fault here since her character is actively annoying. In dangerous situations all she can do is look pleadingly at Chiba's character Ken and wail "Oh Ken! Oh Ken!". After she and Ken are partially transformed (some initial peeling of their skin, etc.), instead of fighting for her life to escape all she can do is complain and worry about her looks. She's supposed to be playing a damsel in distress character of course, but she makes the helpless female victims of Italian Giallos seem like super heroes.

Fortunately there's still the very spiffy looking sets, lots of colour splashed about the place, the sweaty grinning villain played by Franz Gruber and an extremely goofy shootout to keep the viewer smiling. And there lies the film's main strength: it's never boring. For all its faults and poor execution, it never wavers in keeping things moving and trying to entertain its audience. What more can you ask from a low-budget monster movie?

Read more from Bob Turnbull at his blog.

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