Ya know, most come-n’-go cinematic trends make a kind of sense to me in retrospect — the 3-D craze of the 1950s, the second 3-D craze of the early ’80s, the third 3-D craze that we’re still enduring, the teen sex comedy explosion of the early ’80s, the second teen sex comedy explosion with raunchier humor but less nudity in the late ’90s — you can all sorta see where they came from.
One that I still can’t get my head around, though, is the short-but-damn-prevalent-for-a-minute-there plethora of underwater Alien rip-offs that came along at the tail end of the 1980s. It’s almost as if the movie industry in general — from the big Hollywood studios to B-grade fly-by-nighters — decided that, having exhausted the public’s appetite for blatant and obvious riffs on Ridley Scott’s classic with flicks like Forbidden World, Galaxy Of Terror, Contamination and Creature figured that, rather than letting the basic premise take a much-needed rest, they’d just move it under the ocean and see how it would play out there. What followed was a brief flurry of films that included such semi-memorable entrants as Deep Star Six and James Cameron’s syrupy The Abyss. Hell, the Italians even got in on the act with Antonio Margheriti’s Alien From The Deep. My personal favorite of the bunch, though — and the one under our reviewer’s microscope today — is 1989’s Leviathan, which one-ups the proceedings by liberally borrowing not only from Alien but John Carpenter’s classic The Thing, as well.
Set on an underwater precious-metals mining station on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean referred to by its crew as a “shack,” director George P. Cosmatos’ effective, by-the-numbers thriller takes from Alien the crew-obsessed-with-making-quota, monster-loose-in-an-enclosed-ship aspects of its premise, mashes it up with The Thing‘s genetic-mutation-that-stitches-its-victims-together and found-in-a-foreign-country’s-abandoned-encampment (in this case a sunken Russian “ghost ship” rather than a devastated Norwegian research base) ingredients and comes away with a story that’s by no means original, but certainly a thoroughly entertaining little sci-fi/horror amalgamation that’s every bit as much a collection of jumbled parts as the monster our erstwhile heroes are battling.
Also, at the end of the day (and yeah —this is, again, ripping a page right out of the Alien playbook) the true villain isn’t so much the monster itself but an evil, greedy mega-corporation. That’s always a plus in my book because that’s reality, folks.
What sets Leviathan apart from the other contenders for the throne to the undersea Alien kingdom, though — apart from the fact that’s it’s busy swiping its core concepts from two movies rather than just one — is that Cosmatos , who directed a little something you might have heard of called Rambo:First Blood Part II and later went on to work with Sly again on Cobra, is more than willing to fully embrace the inherent B-movie ethos of his film rather than bury it under a bunch of cleverness and faux-ingenuity. There are no pretensions of any sort on display here, this is strictly workman-like stuff, and is all the better for it.
A stellar cast of Hollywood also-rans, led by “Mr. Deadpan” himself, Peter Weller, as the “shack”‘s commanding officer (or whatever title they give guys in his line of work) and complemented by Amanda Pays, Daniel Stern, Hector Elizondo, Lisa Eilbacher, and Michael Carmine as his crew, Richard Crenna as their haunted-by-his-past medical doctor, and Meg “Haunting Eyes” Foster as an evil corporate CEO-type bitch, elevates the proceedings to a degree, sure, but in the end this is a genuinely Corman-esque affair that just happened to have major studio backing, and therefore a slightly bigger budget (though not big enough to take all the fun out of everything).
Like any good exploitation auteur, Cosmatos takes heed of the old “less is more” axiom and doesn’t give us a “full reveal” of his monster in all its — errmmm — “glory” until the very end, and while it’s pretty unimpressive by today’s standards, for 1989 this thing wasn’t too shabby. Certainly not memorable by any stretch of the imagination, I’ll grant you, but solid, professional, and in no way a letdown. Which makes it rather a decent a slimy, scaly, dripping, shambling analogy for the film itself.
Leviathan is available on DVD — and probably at this point Blu-Ray, as well, though I couldn’t say for sure — from MGM. It’s a bare-bones release with no extras to speak of apart from the theatrical trailer, but the widescreen transfer and 5.1 sound are both plenty good. It’s also currently playing on most local cable systems (for free, no less) on Impact Action On Demand. It’s hardly standout, earth-shattering stuff, but it will most certainly keep you entertained from start to finish, and heck — since it’s a pretty fair bet that’s really all Cosmatos had in mind, ya gotta tip your hat and say mission accomplished.