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Up From The Depths / Demon Of Paradise
Roger Corman presents ... two ultra-schlocky Jaws rip-offs that barely deserve release, and if they do, it's only to keep completists from scouring second-hand stores for used VHS copies. You can watch these double feature collections in a fashion that recreates the grindhouse experience - scratchy previews and jazzy music for title cards, but thankfully, no muggers, junkies or bums. However, this particular grindhouse double feature would find you and your angry audience mates yelling and throwing soda and popcorn at the screen in an adrenaline-fueled rage. Yes, these are bad, bad movies, fit only for a derisive booze party. And that might be fun, right?
Up From the Depths surely should have stayed down there, as its risible premise finds a giant prehistoric fish woken from its sleep by an underwater earthquake. That premise is not entirely the problem, but everything surrounding it is; from corny acting to uneven tone, and on through the fact that our hero monster is onscreen for a total of about 15 seconds, and looks stupid as hell when we actually get to see it. Another thing that looks (and acts) stupid as hell is Kedric Wolfe as Oscar Forbes, director of the resort that stands to lose money if people get panicked by the stupid fish. Wolfe is rubbery, goofy, over-the-top and totally unbelievable, as if he stepped out of a Three Stooges short.
With Forbes derailing things every time he hits the screen you might find yourself begging for some scares or a bit of aquatic gore to ease your mind. A few super-quick, blurry, underwater close-ups of a fishy mouth shaking in bloody water, and like one prop severed arm will have to suffice, and suffice it to say, it's not enough. Or is it enough? (No, it really isn't.) But then, who knows exactly what schlockster-director Charles Griffith and Corman had in mind, because while it seems as though they want to create a few scary thrills, the film veers wildly into comedy territory towards the middle. A dopey 'catch the beast' contest is cocked up to lure tourists in instead of scaring them away, and the parade of ridiculous caricatures hopping in dinghies, toting spear-guns and acting like idiots is enough to evoke memories of Gilligan's Island.
Up From The Depths isn't remotely scary or thrilling, it lacks sufficient violence or gore to please the punters, and its mid-course switch to comedy isn't all that funny either. We're talking about a real heap of bronze-plated crud, so if your taste runs to Z-movies, you'll still probably have to get real drunk to eke any pleasure out of this one.
Demon Of Paradise trades Depths' '70s schlock for '80s suck, but at least it preserves the idea of a Jaws rip-off in which the resort owner attempts to cash in on having a monster in the midst. This time the crummy resort owned by an idiot is plagued by two things; mobsters fleecing the customers, selling coke, and trafficking in black-market dynamite, (it's an age-old mob money-maker, doncha know) and an ancient indigenous fish-man-monster-god or something. Native fisherman using dynamite awakened that aforementioned demon. At least we know where they got the dynamite.
Director Cirio Santiago knows from exploitation, having helmed The Big Doll House and TNT Jackson among others, but seems to have taken leave of his senses while lensing this hunk of junk. While Demon ultimately dishes up a healthy dose of conflict, (way more than Depths) so much wasteful talkity-talk-talk precedes the fun that you'll be frantically searching for that extra 40 of malt liquor that you like to have handy for making it through trash like this. Trouble is, the resort owner is a blonde bimbo not fit to shine Judith Who's The Boss? Light's shoes. She's bold, she's brassy, she's a bust, and when she begs the authorities to not shut down her resort, you beg them to throw her in the slammer.
The other problem is that until the end, the titular demon acts very peculiarly. Pretty much all he does is spring out of the water, and stand there in slightly menacing fashion while limply waving a single claw, before jumping right back down into the water. I guess his godly powers cause bad things to happen, because I can't figure out what the hell else he's doing. At least he looks cool, in a Gill-Man/Milli-Vanilli way.
Though both Demon and Depths are chock-full of fun caricatures, that's about as far as their bad-movie pedigrees go. Neither movie is either remotely scary or thrilling, and they both stint on the bloodshed. In a word, these movies are flat-out stupid. Maybe it's a good thing that we can find the both of them on one DVD for about the price of four lattes, rather than haunting mom-and-pop VHS rental stores, (what are those, anyway?) but a lot of the fun that made getting boozed-up to watch such tripe is gone.
Both prints enjoy new anamorphic widescreen transfers (1.78:1 ratio) and are fairly clean. Sure, there are many scratches to remind you from where these prints came, but the damage is pretty mild and not distracting - it's more like an additional dose of grindhouse authenticity. Colors are rich and naturalistic, and despite the fact that both features are crammed onto one single-sided disc, little in the way of compression artifacting is present.
Both movies also receive perfunctory English Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio tracks. Neither movie sounds all that spectacular, and dialogue can be a little hard to hear at times - not that that matters much. Balance between dialog and music is sometimes uneven, with the music often gaining the upper hand.
Each movie comes with a Theatrical Trailer, while Depths also gets TV and Radio Spots. You can also play both movies back-to-back as a Grindhouse Double Feature with old-fashioned 'feature presentation' (etc.) cards and sleazy trailers. Depths also gets an 8-minute Making Of featurette with contemporary interviews.
This is a true grindhouse double feature, both movies are crammed onto a single disc, and neither one is worth a damn. Two seriously goofy sea monster flicks with low budgets and even lower scare quotients. The movies aren't good, but they might be fun if you are seriously lubed-up or incredibly forgiving of your bad entertainment. Bad movie aficionados with loads of cash will want to pick this up for a rainy day. If you're a little bit more average than that, you may still want to Rent It.
- Kurt Dahlke