Category Archives: 1980’s Flashback

1980’s Flashback offers a retrospective on movies released during the 1980’s — the flux capacitor to my Delorean.

1989 Flashback: Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

bill and ted's excellent adventure poster

Bill: So-cratz – “The only true wisdom consists in knowing that you know nothing”.

Ted: That’s us, dude.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)

I didn’t have the pleasure of seeing Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure in the cinema. It snuck into theaters and snuck out of theaters before I or any of my friends really knew what to make of it. I remember, vividly, however the Friday I rented the VHS. In Marcellus, Michigan, a town of only about 2000 residents, we were blessed with as many video rental locations as gas stations/convenience stores (2). Surprised to see one copy remaining on the first weekend of release, I grabbed it and rushed to the counter.

On the following Saturday afternoon, I convinced my parents to sit down and watch this movie about high-school dimwits who travel through time. At this moment in 1989, I can say with the utmost assurance that I’d worn out my father’s patience for movies featuring dimwits. I was, after all, a devout Police Academy (and its sequels) fan and watched Three Amigos! almost every week.

bill and ted's excellent adventure

My father boasts a laugh of a certain magnitude. It’s impossible to mistake pure enjoyment from snores of indifference. If he does not care for a movie he will just fall asleep or start reading a book and then probably fall asleep, totally immune to anything happening around him. He watched Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure from start to finish. I don’t remember his exact words (he’s always prepared with an immediate post-movie assessment) but it felt like “Let’s watch it again right now.”

Why Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure Resonates

To me, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure represents the best of the 1980’s modus operandi. An inherently absurd high-concept that falls apart upon any scrutiny — but the viewer’s too entertained by the movie’s pure joy of existence (and puerile historical gags and references) to bother with anything as tedious as how an entire high school career can depend on a single oral history report. Screenwriters built and entire decade on arbitrary goals.

bill and ted's excellent adventure

The film also — and this is perhaps the most important aspect of Bill and Ted’s success — celebrates positivity rather than sneering derisively at its characters. Consider the basic differences in approach between Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and something like the certain Bill & Ted descendant, Dude, Where’s My Car?

Despite the slacker wrapping, Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted Theodore Logan are given agency that turn caricatures into fully-rendered, relatable humans. A movie in which two failures (in the near future) have already saved the world with the power of a transcendent guitar riff — but first have to pass an oral English exam by traveling back in time to collect figures of historical interest.

bill and ted's excellent adventure
Bernie Casey had a long and interesting acting career, but he’ll remain best known as Bill and Ted’s history teacher.

It’s like borrowing the 1927 Yankees to coach your kid’s T-ball game — if upon that T-Ball game the fate of the world rested. If you spend too much time dissecting the time travel mechanics of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure you will break your brain. It will also lose the magic that makes it special.

The Problem with Critics and Low Intelligence Characters

Contemporaneous critics struggled with Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure because it was, as Chris Williams of the LA Times suggested, “a glorification of dumbness for dumbnesses’ sake.” The New York Times’ Vincent Canby called it “painfully inept.” WaPo’s Hal Hinson: “undernourished.”

I’m not going to give critics a pass just because they’re critics. I’ve been in their seat and I chose to walk away after a couple of years because the job of being a critic started to suck the joy out of moviegoing. If my job is to watch a movie and find fault, my focus naturally drifts toward negativity. I found reasons to dislike movies and hated the terrible movies even more. Dumb characters in a high-concept movie full of logic gaps and impossible (not just improbable) scenarios almost necessitates a killjoy hammer.

bill and ted's excellent adventure rufus
One of the most ingenious casting decisions and happy accidents of all time — George Carlin as Rufus, Bill & Ted’s “Virgil.”

How often have you read a review by a critic that acknowledged that a movie fails most standard narrative tests of success, but excels because it’s just a good time? (It happens, but it’s rare and I’m always surprised to see it.) Can you ever imagine Bosley Crowther admitting something was pretty dumb but still a ripping good time? (If you know of a review in which this happens, I’d love to read it.)

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure outsmarts its audience?

Moviegoers, however, are not saddled with the honus of specific scrutiny at the expense of the overall experience. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, like the best of the pure entertainment 1980’s, presents joie de vivre. The characters’ intelligence doesn’t pose an artificial barrier to their success. In many instances stupid characters arrest the narrative as a result of an inability to movie the plot forward.

Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter boast tremendous on-screen chemistry, as if they’re acting as displaced halves of the same brain. You could analyze Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure from dozens of different directions, but the success of the film relies on this synergy.

bill and ted's excellent adventure napoleon
Napoleon fighting a teenage girl for the last spoonful of ice cream remains an inspired narrative aside.

Though lacking in book smarts (Caesar will always remain “a salad dressing dude”), Bill and Ted demonstrate quick wits and even an ability manipulate the logic of the film, thereby outsmarting the viewer that’s assured himself of his higher intelligence because he knows a thing or two about Napoleon. One of the most magnificent moments in the film undermines that relationship and involves Ted’s dad’s missing keys.

Early in the movie, Ted’s dad asks Ted about these keys, but he has no clue to their whereabouts. When Bill and Ted need to rescue their historical figures from jail, they claim they’ll go back in time, steal the keys, and put them outside the police station. Presto! The keys appear, as if by magic behind the sign — but it’s not magic — it’s our “dumb” characters riffing on the concept of the time-travel film and playing with audience expectation. They might not know how to pronounce “Socrates” correctly, but they’re clever enough in a crisis to manipulate time and space on the fly. “Hey! It was me who stole my dad’s keys!”

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure Final Thoughts

When I revisited Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure for the first time in many years, I worried it wasn’t going to hold the same spell over me. Indeed, I started to dissect the movie to see how the nuts and bolts held it together. I focused on the time-travel fallacy and questioned how or why any of it would have worked.

It still didn’t matter.

bill and ted's excellent adventure circuits of time
The “circuits of time” have no aged well, but they still fit the scale and aspiration of the film.

I found myself enjoying the ways the movie manipulated expectation (the scene with the keys, for example, or the early meeting of the Bill and Teds) despite acknowledging the smoke and mirrors. A viewer will only care to pick apart a narrative if they’re not entertained to distraction. Pure entertainment doesn’t necessitate the “how” or the “why;” it just requires a willing ignorance… or embrace of our own dumbness as viewers. With regards to Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure I’m more than happy to glorify my own dumbness if it means I can still feel childlike enjoyment while watching movies.

The face-value absurdity of Joan of Arc taking over an aerobics class or Genghis Khan attacking a sporting goods store on a skateboard, Beethoven commandeering two electric pianos. Napoleon throwing a tantrum at a water park called Waterloo. These remain simple, bordering upon lazy gags — albeit simple gags blessed with an ingenious high-concept wrapper.

Director Stephen Herek had a solid 1980’s movie career before the studios got ahold of him and ushered him into routine, forgettable fare. He began his career with Critters, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, and The Mighty Ducks (all crowd pleasers) before taking on more “grown-up” films like Mr. Holland’s Opus, Rock Star, and Holy Man. The pace of those so-called “dumb” movies just agreed with him.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure cost $10million to make and returned $40million, but it wouldn’t be made today. $10million for a dumb teen comedy (without more exploitative elements) has no place in our present day box office. Thankfully its stars and writers (Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon) recognize that the Bill and Ted chemistry remains special. Even if studios would never greenlight that movie today — at least someone had the sense to continue the Excellent Adventure.

Casting Martha Davis (The Motels), Clarence Clemons (Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band) and Fee Waybill (The Tubes) as the Leaders of the future made for great cameos that I wouldn’t totally understand until I finally recognized Clemons. And I was a big fan of The Motels.

Bill and Ted will return in the Summer of 2020 with Bill & Ted Face the Music. Not bad for two idiot teens from Sam Dimas, California that surprised us all with a deceptively smart, super dumb movie back in 1989.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is available on a Shout Factory Blu-ray set — Bill and Ted’s Most Excellent Collection — alongside it’s totally bodacious sequel, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.

bill and ted's excellent adventure

James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add whatever this is to that list. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

1989 Flashback: The Experts

the experts 1989

The Experts (1989)

If The Experts is known for anything at all (and it’s really not, I’m being generous), it’s known as the origin of the John Travolta and Kelly Preston love affair. On a related note, if it’s known for anything else, it’s known as the movie in which Kelly Preston dirty dances the hell out of mullet-clad John Travolta.

The Experts Story

In a town inside the Soviet Union, the KGB trains future spies in a fake American town called “Indian Springs, Nebraska.” All of the Soviet residents of the town speak perfect English and adhere to American customs — except that the town’s stuck in the era of its establishment and more resembles 1950’s Mayberry than Reagan-era America.

Agent Smith (regular character actor and poor-man’s Rick Moranis — Charles Martin Smith), one of the progressive KGB trainers believes that the town needs to get hip in order to compete in this brave new  world. His bright idea? Hiring aspiring club owners and mid-30’s losers Travis and Wendell (Travolta and Arye Gross) to teach the town how to be cool cats. He hires them to run his club in “Nebraska,” sedates them, and ships them off to the good old U.S.S.R. Here they will run their own nightclub and certainly never discover that they’re behind the Iron Curtain.

the experts 1989

The Experts Bombs, But Nobody Notices

After Urban Cowboy and De Palma’s Blow Out, John Travolta released Staying Alive — a box office success but practical disaster. He followed this up with the one-two punch of Two of a Kind (1983) with Olivia Newton-John and Perfect (1985) with Jamie Lee Curtis. Other than a TV movie and an appearance in Michael Jackson’s “Liberian Girl” video, Travolta wouldn’t make another movie until 1989’s The Experts. He’s still trading on his 1970’s It-Boy status. In the late 1980’s. At the age of 35.

Made for $3million and dumped onto screens during mid-January of 1989 opposite DeepStar Six, The January Man and Gleaming the Cube, The Experts failed to reach the Top 20 ($169,000 at the domestic box office). It would have been called a bomb if anyone had noticed the explosion.

I assume the film was panned upon its “release” by critics, but good luck finding a contemporaneous review to blurb. I’m sure Vincent Canby of the New York Times would have said something like “The comedy, less amusing than the perestroika it’s attacking with a Louisville slugger, required similar ‘cool’ coaching to become anything more diverting than a half-page advertisement for Happy Days reruns in Tiger Beat.”

And yet. If you’re going to phone in a comedic premise rooted in culture clash and political aphorisms, The Experts made a fundamentally wise decision in creating a U.S.S.R. stuck in old-fashioned Main Street U.S.A. Accents? (Who needs them?) Exotic Soviet locales? (Why bother? Actors cost money.) A Tiki-inspired night club? (Absolutely!) Fun character actors that all just act like stiff white dudes no matter the color of their skin? (Done!)

This allows the film to indulge in comedic freedoms that might not have otherwise been available. The downside? The freedom they chose? Mostly laziness.

The Experts, Accidental Genius

Having just directed Strange Brew (1983) based on his and Rick Moranis’ SCTV characters Bob and Doug McKenzie, Dave Thomas manages to imbue The Experts with little of his wit and timing. What’s present feels like a first draft, but an amiable and often entertaining piece of low-aspiration entertainment. Not quite kitsch, exactly, but time has actually improved The Experts.

Thomas’ film gives his agency-free characters just enough to do so that the audience sees their attempts to succeed in this wonky endeavor as futile. Sporting rat-tail mullets and dangly earrings Travis and Wendell come off as pathetic, fad-chasing pop-culture sheeples. Success eludes them at every turn. As a result the audience’s perspective offers a very interesting relationship between them and the film they inhabit.

Among the many talented supporting actors, The Experts offers Tony Edwards and Steve Levitt. Not pictured: Brian Doyle Murray, Rick Ducommon, and James Keach.

The Soviets see them as cool Americans. The movie itself portrays them as if they’re part of some insular “scene.” As the audience, however, we know the premise and we recognize that Travis and Wendell represent studio-manufactured “cool.” Some old studio suit wanted to grasp one last slice of Cold War hilarity. The Wikipedia page even mentions that Paramount chief Ned Tannen requested several uncredited rewrites of the script.

Practically, this means that the movie stumbled into something interesting and wholly unintentional. There’s something perfect about the parallels between the pathetically out-of-touch Soviet KGB agents in The Experts and the studio execs pushing this movie through the birth canal that think this is 1989 hip. Do not discount the utility of unintentional entertainment.

Yes, the woman in the terrible hair is the amazing Deborah Foreman. In The Experts she’s forced to be a button-down Soviet stick-in-the-mud who makes out with Arye Gross. The movie’s greatest sin is wasting her effervescence.

The Experts Verdict

The Experts wants to cobble together a movie based on other more successful 1980’s films and fails, at least at face value. It wants to be a fish-out-of-water comedy like a Soviet Gung Ho, a spy comedy like Spies Like Us, and trade on the 1950’s nostalgia in the same way as Back to the Future.

It’s pleasantly xenophobic and wallows in the narcissism of its main characters to such a degree that it’s impossible to see them as pro-active humans. When the movie forces Travis and Wendell into action upon discovering their actual location in the Soviet Union, they rely upon the townspeople who’ve tasted U.S. freedom in the form of microwaves and massaging showerheads to lead them to freedom.

But because of all this — and not in spite of — The Experts becomes surprisingly likable. The Experts gives Travolta time to ooze charisma and dance sexy sexy with Kelly Preston and lip-sync a cover of “Back in the U.S.S.R.” Travis and Wendell don’t mature. They stumble through life and fail to achieve any kind of self-recognition. We don’t need moralizing here. We just need a decent way to spend 90 minutes. The Experts inadvertently complies with that dictum despite all evidence to the contrary.

The Experts can be rented or purchased on Amazon Streaming. It was released on VHS and Laserdisc, but has to date not made an appearance on DVD.

the experts 1989

James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add whatever this is to that list. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

 

1989 Flashback: Skin Deep

Dr. Westford: A scorpion who couldn’t swim asked the frog to carry him across the river on his back. The frog said, “Do you think I’m crazy? Halfway across the river, you’ll sting me and I’ll drown.” “That’s not reasonable,” said the scorpion. “If I sting you and you drown, I’ll drown too.” Frog thought about it, he said, “Climb on.” Halfway across the river, the scorpion stung the frog, and as the frog was drowning, he said to the scorpion, “But now you’ll drown too.” The scorpion said, “Yes. I know.” “That’s not reasonable,” said the frog, and the scorpion replied, “Reason has nothing to do with it. I’m a scorpion. It’s my character.”

Zach: You know what I feel like saying to you?

Dr. Westford: Yes. You feel like telling me to go fuck myself, and you probably will, because it’s your character.

Zach: See you next Tuesday.

skin deep 1989

Skin Deep (1989)

What is it with Blake Edwards, weird beards, and unhealthy relationships with women? Because Blake couldn’t get enough of all these things in The Man Who Loved Women (1983) with Burt Reynolds, he’s back to the grindstone with Skin Deep. John Ritter’s deeply troubling facial hair reflects the grotesque human that is Zach Hutton beneath the Jack Tripper skin.

I’m sorry. I’m not ready to move on yet. It’s just such an awkward length. No one grows a beard like that, a don’t tell me it was just “the 80’s” and shrug.

skin deep 1989

A Skin Deep Story

John Ritter plays an unrepentant alcoholic womanizer who says he wants to change but does everything he can to preserve his selfish, self-destructive ways. He compulsively chases every pretty skirt, his wife leaves him, his agent’s dying, and he gets arrested for drunk driving on the average Tuesday.  It’s Clean & Sober (1988) or Leaving Las Vegas (1995) wrapped in screwball gift wrap.

John Ritter vs. Burt Reynolds

The differences in John Ritter being a huge dick and Burt Reynolds being a womanizing asshole boasts so many unsubtle nuances. While I like Ritter in most everything, he’s a little out of his element here. His travails feel utterly pathetic rather than symptomatic. Skin Deep doesn’t do enough to differentiate his legitimate metal illness from his leering, roguish tendencies. At a certain point Skin Deep can’t even highlight any of the character’s redeeming qualities.

The viewer must believe that women cannot resist Ritter’s Zach — that their attraction to him occurs at such a primal level that his face value inadequacies fail to pose obstacle to copulation or god forbid, a relationship. We don’t, and yet every single woman that crosses his path cannot help but be pulled into his black hole. He’s amiable, but he’s no Rudolph Valentino… or Burt Reynolds.

That said, the movie still has something to say about alcoholism. It’s just buried a little bit deeper than you would have liked. Blake Edwards has attempted to delve into the unrepentant mind of the alcoholic through a haze of farce and bleak humor all while serving up a puerile and unlikable anti-hero.

Skin Deep’s Redemption

The women needed more time to become human rather than brief caricatures and conquests. Even the woman that’s supposed to ultimately change his life feels like a cardboard standup that walked out of Blockbuster Video. It’s a scriptural-level problem that will cause many people to tune out before the 30-minute mark. No amount of Ritter charm could make that completely palatable.

If you can overcome a rough start, the movie offers a few base pleasures, namely one truly inspired comedic set piece. Zach overcomes his crippling erectile dysfunction by turning his penis into a lightsaber. It’s true. This happens.

The bit reminds us all that Blake Edwards had some creative demons, but we reaped the benefits of that mania though the beauty of glow-in-the-dark penile slapstick.

Get it? Slap. Stick? Oh never mind.

Skin Deep Final Thoughts

I hadn’t caught up with Skin Deep until this #Watch1989 exercise because it’s just never seen much fanfare. It certainly wasn’t a film I caught at the Multiplex during it’s theatrical run and it’s never received a Blu-ray release. Skin Deep has its proponents, but there’s not a lot here to recommend over a dozen other movies that dare explore the effects of alcoholism on-screen.

And yet.

There’s just enough that works beyond glow-in-the dark penises to warrant a watch. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that the movie dishes out a number of quotable exchanges and enough Ritter charm to smooth out the roughest edges. It might be personally damning, but if I’d seen this movie at a more formative age, I have no doubt I’d be a Skin Deep fan.

Skin Deep is available to view on Amazon Prime Streaming.

James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add whatever this is to that list. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

1989 Flashback: Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects

[after making the pimp named Duke swallow a diamond-encrusted watch]

Duke: I’m dying!

Lieutenant Crowe: No, you’re not… But you are gonna have to stick your head between your legs to tell the time.

kinjite 1989

Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects (1989)

I’m certainly capable of acknowledging some of the more problematic aspects of older films with regards to their treatment of gender and race. Without getting into a much broader philosophical debate about placing films in their appropriate context, some movies are merely a reflection of contemporaneous pre-evolved attitudes and some movies are just plain gross.

Welcome to Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects — where the population of Asians becomes a scourge on Los Angeles and the only man standing between your daughter and child prostitution is Charles Bronson.

Kinjite’s “Perspective”

Released on February 3rd, 1989, the ninth and final collaboration between Bronson and director J. Lee Thompson requires a bit more editing to make the 67-year-old Bronson a believable action hero. As part of his character makeup, Bronson’s Lieutenant Crowe is a xenophobic revenge-filled vigilante surrounded by lunatics with even more warped frames of references.

And to showcase exactly how warped this movie’s point of view is, I’d like to highlight one particular scene. Crowe confesses to his captain that he’s off his A-game because some sombitch oriental  molested his daughter on a bus. The captain, straight out of the angry-for-no-reason police captain playbook, goes off his rocker. He tells Crowe about how his “nephew Stevie was touched by a priest in choir practice. NOW WHAT THE HELL’S THAT GOT TO DO WITH YOUR WORK?”

Why is that dialogue in your movie? Not even the “It was the 80’s!” defense can make that okay. That wasn’t ever okay! None of it, but then again, the movie never actually ties up that molestation thread because it doesn’t think so much of it either. Like the police captain, Kinjite suggests “Hey, this daily mistreatment of women doesn’t much matter because THERE ARE MINORS BEING KIDNAPPED AND FORCED INTO PROSTITUTION.”

Just to clarify, while we all believe that just because one is totally heinous that doesn’t absolve the relatively lesser, but still abhorrent, sin, right? I’m not insane here.

Kinjite’s Story

Bronson’s hot on the trail of a pimp by the name of Duke who runs a child prostitution ring. Now Duke’s not Asian (he’s reliable bad-guy character actor Juan Fernández) and Duke’s crew is mostly black so at least the movie spreads around it’s racism.

The movie’s focus on the growing Asian influence in southern California seems ancillary to the premise of the film. The movie borrows the Japanese term “kinjite” for the title. There’s also that aforementioned secondary narrative about how it’s apparently permissible to molest women on public transportation — specifically in Japan. Due to their culture of shame they won’t speak out. None of this, however, ties directly into Crowe’s vendetta against Duke.

If the kidnapping and ultimate “rescue” of a Japanese girl from Duke’s clutches intends to soften our protagonist, there’s no on-screen evidence to suggest his newfound appreciation of cultural diversity. He’s just satisfied that he’s achieved his goal of putting baddies behind bars.

Kinjite: A Verdict

Though a dud at the box office (for good reason), Kinjite offers viewers a few lasting images in exchange suffering through the gross bits and hackneyed Golan-Globus dialogue.

Charles Bronson waves around a dildo for a brief moment in the opening scene and later makes Duke swallow a massive watch. He accidentally drops a perpetrator off a balcony because he’s wearing fancy loose boots. When he gives Duke some “poetic justice” by gleefully walking the “pretty boy” into prison, Danny Trejo makes an early film appearance as one of the very hardened catcalling inmates excited to welcome their new friend.

Like I said – gross.

1989 Flashback: Deepstar Six

Well, at least Snyder will get his name in the Guinness book of records. I mean, causing two nuclear explosions in one afternoon has to be some sort of record.

deepstar six poster

DeepStar Six (1989)

DeepStar Six has the distinct honor of being the first “terror from the deep” film to reach the 1989 box office — making Leviathan, The Evil Below, The Rift and The Abyss nothing more than simpleminded pretenders to the throne… of first into the water. DeepStar Six is the jerk kid that yells, “Last one in the water’s a rotten egg!” as he’s already jumping into the lake.

In its rush to grace theater screens, DeepStar Six forgot a few key elements of narrative film. Namely script… and characters… and originality. The dialogue’s trash, and producer/director Sean S. Cunningham (Friday the 13th, House) cast so many of “that guy” and “that girl” in supporting roles that he forgot to cast charismatic leads. While amiable and easy on the eyes, Greg Evigan and Nancy Everhard would be a good choice to carry a CBS drama that’s cancelled after 13 episodes.

DeepStar Six arrived early to the party, but that doesn’t do anyone any favors in 2019. There would have been a splash of novelty in January of 1989 — but from our perspective, Cunningham’s underwater thriller feels like bilious regurgitation.

The DeepStar Six Story (Stop Me if You’ve Heard This Before)

An experimental U.S. Navy deep sea laboratory surveys the ocean shelf, researching the potential for underwater colonization methods and installing a nuclear missile storage platform. The 11 crew members have one week left on their tour of duty when they discover a massive system of caverns beneath the planned site. Crotchety project manager (Marius Weyers) wants the cavern detonated and filled in order to proceed on schedule. Wide-eyed scientist (Nia Peeples) wants to study the potentially untouched ecosystem inside.

deepstar six 1989

The detonation causes a massive fissure in the ocean floor, unleashing a beast from the deep who consumes and torments the DeepStar Six residents (notable among them: Taurean Blacque, Miguel Ferrer, Matt McCoy, Cindy Pickett).

And Yet, A Reason to Watch DeepStar Six

Aside from playing “Let’s Remember From Where We Know That Actor Without Using Our Phones,” DeepStar Six gives movie fans reason to queue it up.

If we write off the film’s turpitudinous screenplay (which does indeed torment unnecessarily) as a sunk cost, practical effects fans will enjoy the budget-conscious model work and creature effects. Cunningham attempted to spin his success with Friday the 13th into a similarly-styled underwater slasher film. Low budget thrills and water-based filming, however, generally make unpleasant bedfellows. The suspense elements just don’t work — largely because we’re not given reason to care about these people.

deepstar six 1989

If viewers stick around for the film’s finale, however, they’ll be treated to a course in the budget-conscious deployment of a practical effects monster. (The creature itself looks like an underwater version of the Graboids from Tremors.)

In a masterful thriller like Jaws, Spielberg manages to hide the shark as much as possible while achieving maximum bang for a relatively minor buck. Even the most cursory search uncovers stories about how Spielberg maintained the illusion of reality despite repeated shark failures. DeepStar Six, due to its lack of mastery, telegraphs its shortcomings. Notable absence and notable success show like neon seams binding the special effects to the rest of the film.

deepstar six

DeepStar Six, A Verdict

There’s an old mantra that you learn more about the creative arts by studying bad examples than you do good ones. I believe this to be 100% true, but you have to study the good ones first to recognize the how/when something fails. Jaws works so beautifully as suspense that the film never severs the viewer connection to the screen. You’ll never know what didn’t quite work.

No punches pulled, DeepStar Six doesn’t work. It doesn’t have the actors to sell the illusion and it doesn’t have the money to distract from the acting with glorious effects. It does, however, showcase how Cunningham went about hiding the creature until absolutely necessary. He used sound and shadow and restraint to maximize an $8million budget, and I know some big budget filmmakers who could take a few of these tips to heart. A few of DeepStar Six‘s dollars should have been reallocated to script development. That would have been the wisest of all uses.

DeepStar Six is available to view on Amazon Prime Streaming.

James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add whatever this is to that list. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.