Thursday, November 24, 2016

"When the Doctors Go Out for a Coffee Break During an Operation" - Creatures from the Abyss (1994) - Part 1 of 3

The last nautical-themed horror film we discussed was the adventure classic Blood Surf (Part 1, Part 2). Now we look at 1994's Creatures from the Abyss, a colorful and terrifying Italian film shot in Florida.

Again I must single out the prominent critics of your universe who fail to appreciate the brilliance of this exciting romp. For example, a reviewer on writes rather uncharitably,
"I can sometimes forgive a horror with either bad effects or bad acting, but the presence of both make it exceedingly difficult to tolerate." On Amazon, Wayne Cooper cruelly writes, "Well this is pretty close to the bottom of the barrel." On IMDB, Leofwine_draca foolishly writes, "Most aspects of the film are amateurish....Performances are abominable, the dubbing is also on the crude standard for the genre. The camera-work too is pretty dodgy...lots of cheap music to complement the cheap action and flimsy-looking sets." Such unsupportable vituperation must, again, be refuted once and for all.

The sun is going down. A group of five twenty-somethings carries an inflatable raft with pontoons and an outboard motor down a Florida beach toward the water. They pass a common sight on any beach: a chain link fence decorated with a dead piranha and an octopus tentacle. Then they board the raft and head out into the dusky ocean, leaving a can of gasoline on the beach.

In the dark, the group realizes they left the fuel behind. Fortunately, they have brought an electric lamp and a compass, so they know where the shore is. The girls are frightened. "What if we're attacked by a shark?" one asks. "That only happens in the movies," is the reply. "What if there's a storm?" "Storms don't happen during the summer."

Lightning cracks and rain starts to pour down on them.

Scenes of the group paddling and bailing water out of the raft are intercut with mysterious shots of fish, eyeballs, and a shipwreck.

Cleverly, the young people lighten the raft by jettisoning the outboard motor. Eventually, their oars strike something in the water, though it turns out to be a human head, which is not as useful as other floating debris might be, such as an outboard motor. In the confusion of seeing the human head, they lose their oars in the ocean.

Finally, they see a light through the rain. They come alongside a yacht called the Oceanographic Research Institute. They climb a convenient ladder onto the large vessel, then start to explore.

The first room they enter is a lab filled with specimens of sea life. One of the jars is broken, which the characters realize means something was alive and has escaped, but they pay this no heed.

One of the men finds a powdery substance in a container and tastes it, looking for drugs.

The audience is treated to the point of view of some unseen creature resting on the floor, watching the young people.

"What are you looking at those disgusting creatures for?" asks Dorothy.

"But Dorothy, they're only fish," says another girl.

"They frighten me," says Dorothy. "They have an evil expression."

The two men, Mike and Bobby, explore further, finding the empty pilot house. Apparently the good ship Oceanographic Research Institute is a ghost ship.

Next, they explore below decks. It is at this point that the film reveals it is interested in  much more than other films that show us creatures from this or that abyss. The production design and decor of the vessel's living quarters is truly visionary. The bar/living room is a blue neon masterpiece just a step or two away from a brothel in Michael Mann's wildest dreams. The sleeping quarters are wallpapered in silver foil, decorated with guitars, neon sculptures,  blue plastic princess phones, and six-foot stuffed polar bears. The "clock" in the hallway is an animated talking fish sculpture whose voice announces the time at inopportune moments. (Not only are the designs brilliant, but they will tie into the plot at a later point.)


One of the girls opens a closet. Startled, as one would be, she says, "It's full of clothes!" One of the guys replies, "Hey, what size?" Then the men get out of their wet clothes and slip into the absent crew members' clothes, while the women remove their swimsuits, dry off, then put their swimwear back on--Julie appears particularly comfortable in her pink gingham bikini.

Mike goes back to the lab with Margaret to check it out. They find more equipment hooked up to anethsesized fish, and a refrigerator full of frozen fish. "It's like in a hospital, when the doctors go out for a coffee break during an operation," Margaret says, perfectly describing the viewer's thoughts.


Mike and Margaret are observed again by something unseen on the floor with a fisheye lens for an eye.

Later, at the bar, Bobby describes his ambitious plan to steal the ship and outfit it through his brother, who runs a nautical maintenance company. He believes the ship's crew members were drug dealers and the frozen fish are just to fool the Coast Guard that the ship is really an oceanographic research vessel.

When his plan gets little traction with the others, Bobby puts on a disco CD and gets the party started by dancing with Dorothy. They are also being observed by the unseen eyeball.

Meanwhile, Mike orders Margaret and Julie to go to the galley to see about dinner. They find fresh fish in the refrigerator, along with French's yellow mustard, soy sauce, and more tin cans than might be expected in a refrigerator.

As Julie fries two of the fish, she sees a vision of both fish wriggling and screaming in the pan. She screams and burns the fish, so there is no choice but to fry the one remaining fish.

Everyone enjoys the meal of fish, mayonnaise, and some kind of sausage, served alongside a tray of red wine, yellow mustard, and a stick of butter. But their meal is interrupted by something banging somewhere below them.

Mike and Bobby investigate, which entails finding a door to a wooden staircase that appears to lead to the ship's basement.

In a highly suspenseful scene, the two men move through the dark basement. Suddenly, a human skeleton appears out of the darkness, but it was just Bobby playing a prank with a skeleton he found. Nothing to worry about.

Eventually they find plastic sacs full of powder in the basement that Bobby is certain are drugs. A self-described expert, Bobby says he'll fix a dose later so they can try these drugs, which should help them have sex with the girls. "I think you're nuts," says Mike. "I don't need drugs to make love."

They also find books and drawings. 


"What kind of animals are these?" Mike asks. "They're horny ones," replies Bobby.

They turn to leave the basement, but then they hear the banging again. It is coming from behind a steel door, which turns out to be unlocked. Behind it, they find an unconscious man. "Is he still alive?" Bobby asks. Mike replies, "No, I don't think so."

The man opens his eyes and moans.

Mike changes his answer. "I think he's alive."

We shall break here. Don't miss Part 2 of our discussion of 1994's brilliant nautical adventure Creatures from the Abyss.