While Roger Corman, as either a director or producer, can deliver entertaining movies on a stunningly low budget, the law of averages demands that he comes out with a few clunkers. Even the best directors in Hollywood make a stinker now and then, so why shouldn't we expect the same from the King of the B's? And if you're wondering about the number of turkeys Corman has under his belt, think about his massive film catalog (close to 400 producing credits alone). And the budget from most of those films wouldn't cover the weekly catering cost on a major studio production.
Besides, even a Corman turkey can have moments of fun. Up from the Depths and Demon in Paradise, the latest double feature in the Corman Cult Classic series, aren't near as good as some of the earlier Shout! Factory releases, but you won't clawing your eyes out, either.
Both films are a continuation of Corman ripping off the basic plot of Jaws, with a monstrous aquatic creature terrorizing a tropical resort. Both films are set in Hawaii, but Corman acknowledges that Up from the Depths was shot in the Philippines. And though IMDb lists Hawaii as the shooting location for Demon in Paradise, it sure doesn't look it. The local village and area surrounding the resort look too isolated to be anywhere in Hawaii. Besides, I don't think Corman would spend the money to shoot a film on the islands, if a cheaper location existed.
Up from the Depths (1979) involves a carnivorous fish from deeper water coming up to the shoreline because of changing underwater tides. Of course, it snacks on a few tourists, the resort manager tries to cover up the fact that something dangerous is out there and it all culminates with a fishing contest to catch the monster. Oh, and the use of a human cadaver as bait for the beastie.
I remember seeing this in the theaters, but really only because of the moment early on when a tourist stumbles in the water and surfaces covered with real entrails from the local butcher shop. But the rest of the film is rather hazy, and it's no surprise. The movie drags in the middle, the monster attacks aren't very exciting and the filler elements of the story are just dull. Add to that some racial humor aimed at a Japanese tourist and it ends up as a very subpar Corman effort.
But the film has a few clever moments. My favorite is when the tourists run out of the water in a panic, continuing as they cross the beach and race through the resort, prompting a few characters to wonder why everyone is stampeding as the fish can't walk on land. Yea, it would have been priceless had the monster been amphibious, but let's remember the film's budget and the lack of CGI back in the 70's.
The acting is about as good as you can expect from a Corman production, with Sam Bottoms (just off his performance in Apocalypse Now) in the lead. The other main actors are good as well, and a few of the supporting actors have a lot of fun in their role as tourist caught up in the action.
The monster isn't too bad either, though it feels like you're watching two completely different fish at times. When viewed underwater, the creature looks like an over-sized sock puppet during its attacks. Fortunately, plumes of blood often obscured a clear view of the creature. But while the fiberglass shell used when the fish is cruising on the surface looks good, its lack of articulation makes you wonder if it's propelled through the water from the bloating and gas caused by a tourist-rich diet.
As I said, the feature does have a few fun moments, but it's buried under a smattering of The Deep (a silly buried treasure subplot that's dropped rather quickly), too much dialog between Bottoms and love interest/resort PR person, Susanne Reed (I couldn't figure out why the two were a couple, other than plot convenience), and several moments of rather lame comedic bits among the resort staff and tourists.
The same problems plague Demon of Paradise (1987). In this one, the basic Jaws plot is given a bit of a twist, as an amphibious lizard man (shades of The Creature from the Black Lagoon) takes the place of a giant fish. While it allows for land attacks, we don't really see the monster climb out of the river until the film's climax. And believe me, that's a very good thing.
Released from its underwater slumber by "dynamite fishermen", the creature chases away most of the native residents. This prompts the owner of a struggling resort (Laura Banks) to use the local legend as a theme event to draw in tourists. However, a police shootout with the local dynamite suppliers drives away the guests. But the monster revels himself when one of the bad guys tries to make a swim for it (with a hostage), leading the sheriff (William Steis) and a local herpetologist (Kathryn Witt) to help the National Guard stop the creature.
This movie is pretty bad. Once again, the acting is good, but too much plot gets in the way of monster rampages. The script delves into the sheriff's past, which does nothing but link him to Sheriff Brody in Jaws. The herpetologist comes across dead bodies while exploring the river bottom, yet she never tells anyone about it or even tries to retrieve the corpses. The script keeps the resort owner from expressing any remorse when one of her guests is gunned down during the shootout. And the dynamite subplot just keeps going for no real reason other than to act as filler.
On the plus side, Witt doesn't play the screaming heroine and the creature isn't interested in reproduction (For a moment, this is a serious possibility, but I think the filmmakers decided it was too late in the decade for another Humanoids from the Deep to make it into the theaters). And the end does pick up the pace, as the monster pulls down a helicopter, then spends the rest of the night attacking the remaining characters (and a constantly changing number of National Guardsman).
But the climax is undercut by the very appearance of the creature. It's bad enough when you only see the beast's head and shoulders poking out of the water, as it looks like a cheap gill-man adorned with rigid dreadlocks. But once it's out of the water, you understand why it was never seen swimming. The body looks like someone took the Godzina suit from Corman's Hollywood Boulevard, threw some aquatic plants over its shoulders to hide the seams and called it good. The actor is forced to lumber about like a bad Godzilla (with no model buildings to stomp on) and try to look menacing. If the heroes had just started jogging, instead of barricading themselves in the resort, everyone would have seen the light of day without breaking much of a sweat. The monster is that pathetic.
Once again, Shout Factory! does a great job with the transfer. Both films are given new anamorphic widescreen transfers, though the sound gets a bit muddy in Demon in Paradise. But the extras are lacking. You get trailers for both films, with television and radio spots for Up from the Depths, as well as trailers for Firecracker ("the first erotic kung fu thriller", starring "1981 Black Belt Olympic champion Jillian Kenser"; god, I hope this one gets the Shout treatment and is as cheesy as the trailer implies), Humanoids from the Deep, Caged Heat and Jackson County Jail (with Yvvette Mimieux and Tommy Lee Jones!). You also get a great 10 minute interview with Up from the Depth effects artists Chris Walas (who talks about overcoming his fear of water during the shoot) and Robert Short. I wish the DVD had more interviews like this, as Shout has produced some great extras in their other releases. Lastly, the DVD offers you The Grindhouse Experience, where the films are shown like a theatrical double feature, with trailers preceding each movie. It's the perfect way to watch this collection, as long as you have a good supply of munchies and beverages by the couch.
One last note, one you can use to prove your horror geek cred. Everyone knows that Corman had no problem recycling footage from other movies into his productions (in fact, the trailer for Up from the Depthscontains a few scenes from Piranha). But, if you look at the cover for this double feature, you'll notice that Corman lifted the female swimmer from the unused Piranha poster (shown on the slip cover of the recent DVD release, or the cover of Rue Morgue #103) for Up from the Depths. And the female bather menaced by the Demon of Paradise is none other than a touched up version of air mattress rider from the original Piranha poster. Feel free to use that little tidbit to impress your friends and fellow horror fans!
As a Corman fan, I'm having a hard time mustering up much of a recommendation for these films. Both features drag during the second act, the monster attacks are pretty mild and fans of the boobs and blood genre will be let down. A solid buy or rental for serious Corman fans, but everyone else should take a pass and check out some of Shout's other cult classics releases before wading into these tropical waters.
I think you nailed it. As much as I love these films, and others that are similar, the remembrance of them is often better than the reality. A little goes a long way. There are some true classics among Corman's oeuvre, but there are plenty of stinkers as well.
A mind is like a parachute. It doesn't work if it's not open.