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War-Gods of the Deep
Directed by the late, great Jacques Tourneur and written by Charles Bennett, AIP's 1965 film War Gods Of The Deep opens with a great sequence in which Vincent Price reads Poe's City In The Sea. From here we see the body of a man discovered on the English coast by Ben Harris (Tab Hunter) and his team. The man, a lawyer, was staying at a nearby boarding house run by an American woman named Jill Tregillis (Susan Hart) and Harris and his men bring the corpse back there. Harris arrives to tell Jill and another resident, Harold Tiffin-Jones (David Tomlinson) and his beloved pet chicken Herbert, about his discovery but shortly after is startled by some loud sounds in a nearby room. When he brings the door down he and everyone else is shocked to find a sea man of some sort, covered in scales, ransacking the place. Ben and the creature scuffle but it escapes.
When Jill disappears later that night, Ben and Harold notice the wet trail of seaweed leading out of the study where she was last seen. They head out to look for her and wind up finding an underground passage that leads to an underground chamber exposing a massive underwater city complete with a massive volcano and various ancient symbols of religious significance. Named Lyonesse, the place is ruled by a man named The Captain (Vincent Price), an eclectic character whose army of sea men do his bidding above and below the surface…
More of a Jules Verne style adventure story than the horror movie that Poe's mention in the opening credits might lead you to expect (particularly as this is an AIP film with Price in the lead!), War Gods Of The Deep is as interesting as it is flawed. The good? The effects are really solid for a modestly budgeted picture of this era and the production design is excellent. The sea men are nicely design and interesting looking, borrowing elements from The Creature From The Black Lagoon without completely ripping that iconic design off. The underwater footage featured in the last twenty minutes or so of the movie is also exciting to watch as we get a bit of a payoff in these moments that deliver some of the thrills and chills you'd want out of a movie like this. The film also features some great English locations, most of which involve the ragged, rocket coastline, and the set design for the scenes that take place in the underwater city are also impressive.
Then, of course, there's the presence of the inimitable Vincent Price. Cast here as The Captain, Price puts his all into the role. There are times where he comes a little close to overdoing it but he never quite gets there and instead delivers a very devoted and passionate performance. He looks great all dressed up in his fancy period attire and as he so often does he uses that great voice of his to really conjure up some memorable moments.
It's a shame then that the movie suffers from some pacing problems. It starts off quite well but the middle part lags as if the script is in need of some direction. It builds to a satisfying conclusion but there are stretches of the film that are overly long and too talky for their own good. These might have worked better had the supporting players delivered more interesting work. As it stands, Hunter is sufficient enough as the male hero here, but he's not particularly memorable. David Tomlinson's comic relief and constant back and forth about his pet chicken is distracting and it brings the movie down a good couple of notches while Susan Hart, as truly gorgeous as she is in this film, delivers a performance we'll charitably describe as flat.
And so War Gods Of The Deep is a mixed bag. There are elements here that work and few that excel, while at the same time there are some obvious and hard to miss flaws in the picture that don't do it any favors. Price fans will definitely get more out of it than the average viewer simply because he is very good here, and his presence does make it worth seeing, just go in with your expectations in check.The Blu-ray:
War Gods Of The Deep debuts on Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 2.35.1 widescreen from Kino Lorber's Studio Classics line. This is a strong one, presenting a very clean image free of almost all print damage (some of the underwater shots have noticeable vertical scratches but that's about it) while still retaining enough natural grain to make this look like film. The colors are beautiful and there are scenes here where they really do pop quite nicely, while detail is impressive throughout, though again the underwater scenes aren't quite as strong as those shot above ground simply due to the nature of the original photography. Compression artifacts are a non-issue and there's no sign whatsoever of any edge enhancement or noise reduction. The movie looks great here.Sound:
The English language DTS-HD Mono track on the disc is also quite good. The levels are balanced properly, as you'd hope, and the track is free of any hiss or distortion. The score has good presence and the dialogue is easy to follow. There are no alternate language options or subtitles of any kind provided here.Extras:
Aside from a static menu offering chapter selection, the disc contains a trailer for the feature and an interesting eleven minute on camera interview with star Tab Hunter. Here he speaks about his time under contract with Warner Brothers, how he got cast in this role, what it was like working on the film, his experiences with his co-stars and his thoughts on the film itself.Final Thoughts:
War Gods Of The Deep is a mish-mash of different genres and sources and as such, it's not the most consistent of Price's AIP pictures but his performance alone makes it worth seeing. There are some good ideas here and the effects are fun to watch. Kino's Blu-ray is light on extra but the Hunter interview is fun and the transfer is excellent. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.