Synopsis: When a deep sea mining group discovers a mysterious sunken Russian ship off the coast of Florida, they discover that some mysteries are better left unexplored. According to official records, the Russian vessel Leviathan is supposed to be on active duty in the Baltic Sea. However, it is in an Atlantic watery grave, perhaps torpedoed by its own people. But why? With only a few days until their extraction from the undersea station, why would the mining crew want to jeopardize their pay and lives? Well, you see there’s the little devilish temptation in the form of a controlled substance. Booze is not allowed on the deep sea vessel with good reason: it’s 14,000 feet down and you can’t have people suffering hangovers performing highly dangerous tasks. Safety is a culture, here. However, when some high quality vodka turns up amongst recovered effects from the deceased Russkie crew, it leads to threats of a different kind. Instead of hangovers and accidents, this booze is the gateway source to genetic manipulation and unexpected horror. After imbibing the sauce, the crew contracts a skin condition that turns fatal. Little do they realize something awful has been unleashed, a fleshy horror show that hungers for human blood . . . the crew must do what they can to survive. What is the secret the Russian vessel was sunk to keep? Find out in George P. Cosmatos’ LEVIATHAN (1989)!
LEVIATHAN is an oldie but a goodie horror flick from the eighties, a riff on the sorts of working class characters populating Ridley Scott’s ALIEN (1979) as well as John Carpenter’s THE THING (1982) battling a body horror menace. With a cast including Peter Weller, Amanda Pays, Ernie Hudson, Meg Foster, Daniel Stern, Micheal Carmine, Hector Elizondo, Lisa Eilbacher, and Richard Crenna. It’s a sizable cast, who do all they can to make their characters memorable though this being a horror movie from the mean old eighties, it’s pretty much guaranteed a large percentage of them won’t be making it out alive.
The script is by a couple of cool flick veterans, including initial work by David Webb Peoples of BLADE RUNNER (1982) and UNFORGIVEN (1992) fame and later rework by Jeb Stuart, whose scripting credits include DIE HARD (1988) and THE FUGITIVE (1993). The story is a fast moving piece that offers some grounding in an the highly dangerous undersea world explored a couple of months before in DEEPSTAR SIX (1989) and a few months later in James Cameron’s THE ABYSS (1989). Yeah, 1989 was the year of undersea suspense!
The director is better known for real-world set action adventure flicks, such as TOMBSTONE (1993), COBRA (1986), and RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II (1985). While there are some “real world” thrills here, including an opening sequence with a faulty deep sea suit, the movie is ultimately a creature feature that builds tension and suspense through its first half and then going somewhat nuts in the latter half as the dwindling crew tries to lure the monster out of hiding and then runs around a lot when they realize that they have bitten on more than they can chew.
LEVIATHAN is one of those flicks that wears its inspirations on its sleeve. It’s THE THING meets THE ABYSS with the dark, chain clanking sets of ALIEN’s Nostromo. However, it has some intriguing bits to it regardless, which includes an over the top score by veteran Jerry Goldsmith and some fun practical creature effects by a host of FX artists in Stan Winston Studios (including Steven Johnson and Tom Woodruff, Jr.).
On a personal note, this movie contributed to quite a few of my nightmares after I caught it on cable during my teenage years. Catching it again on the big screen, I experienced several gleeful shudders at the not quite human faces peering from shadowed masses of doughy flesh and vastly weird shapes slithering through water just beneath grates. There are some goofier creature effects, of course, including an animatronic version of the deep sea lampfish head that has not aged terribly well (but still looks cool despite its cheesiness). It’s a fun little R-rated science fiction terror flick from the big bad eighties, which posits the Soviet Union still existing in 2027, which seemed ludicrous after Peristroika and the subsequent Glastnost in 1991 but has become a little too uncomfortably close to reality in today’s weird, unbalanced world.
LEVIATHAN is a time capsule of some of the best and worst stereotypes of the eighties, when scientists were often portrayed as wooden (then again, Peter Weller has always done cerebral-but-wooden characters well), doctors loved their golf courses, corporations were viewed as monolithic entities motivated solely by profit margins, and casual sexism/racism were expected. However, it does find ways to turn some of these expectations on their head. For example, it was nice to see none of the minority characters as the creature’s first victims, despite the irritating trope at the time known as “The Black Dude Dies First”. As well, despite characters stripping down to their skivvies, there is no actual nudity in the movie.
As monster movies go, LEVIATHAN is a lot of fun. I will be the first to admit am a sucker for funhouse creepshows set in unusual locations. This movie is a fun little roller coaster with plenty of atmosphere and fun moments. And monsters. Wow, do I love those monsters.
In the next MOVIE MONDAYS column, we will take a look at CREED (2016), the second collaboration between writer/director Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan. CREED was made before the team set the world afire (along with star Chadwick Bosman et. al.) in BLACK PANTHER (2018). Those wanting to check it out at home before you read the column are invited to grab a copy on DVD, BluRay, or streaming through amazon.com or other outlets.
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