Directed by Charles B. Griffith, Up from the Depths is a gloriously hokey film that is less monster horror and more spoof horror, although that may not have been its intention. Capitalizing on the shark mania created by Jaws, the film echoes its film predecessor in delightfully absurd ways. The plot is a relatively straightforward one. After a significant underwater earthquake, a prehistoric shark rises up and immediately begins feasting upon the vacationers of a high-end resort. That the resort in question looks more like a set reject from Fantasy Island and less an affluent playground is just one of the many ways this film continually reminds us not to take it too seriously.
Unlike most horror films which begin by establishing some sort of normalcy, Up from the Depths begins on an ominous note as the camera pans along dark corridors of the ocean bed while predictably sinister music plays in the background. Any tension created by the scene quickly dissipates when the camera jumps between the underwater environment and a not so happy couple drifting atop the water. Because we aren’t in either environment long enough for any type of tension to build, the impact is less a sense of dread and more a feeling of confused whiplash.
The cinematography of the film is surprisingly strong as is its framing of key shots. For example, the image of the children playing in the water while sunbathers and families frolic on the shore works well to suggest a lurking danger. Of course, these types of shots are just evocative enough of Jaws to render it less homage and more blatant rip off. But where the film really shines is in its utterly ridiculous dialogue. From the moment where the mumble mouthed sea captain exclaims, “I found a severed arm and put it on ice” to when an exasperated husband tells his wife, “Snap out of it! Fish can’t walk!” the dialogue is so gut busting funny that you’re guaranteed to rewind scenes just to catch it all.
In a sea of questionable performances, two stand as so delightfully campy that I am confounded as to how this film has not achieved underground cult status. As Oscar Forbes, the scheming resort manager, Kedrick Wolfe is equal parts Lurch from the Addams Family and Keystone Cop. The scene where he almost defecates on a dead shark is so ridiculously overplayed as to render it comedy gold. Similarly, Denise Hayes’ Iris Lee is a vapid supermodel with an unexplained propensity to break out into high kicks during conversation. Her big moment comes when she takes to the water for a photo shoot while the shark swims below. Unfortunately, the character is so overwrought that it’s hard not to root for the shark.
Up from the Depths is one of those horror films that leaves you scratching your head in confusion as the credits roll, not because of some sort of philosophical ending but because you just can’t imagine anyone involved meant for it to be taken seriously on any level. But its eminently quotable quality makes it well worth a watch, preferably with liquor in hand.
R | 85 min | 1979 | USA | Charles B. Griffith
Grade: F for horror, A for laughs
There’s a hard to find special issue DVD from Shout! Factory of Up from the Depths, paired with Demon of Paradise: