Release Date(s)1979 (September 27, 2016)
Studio(s)New World Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: D-
- Video Grade: C+
- Audio Grade: C+
- Extras Grade: C
Ever since Jaws hit the screen in 1975, everybody in and outside of Hollywood has tried to ape its formula, rarely succeeding, if ever. Up from the Depths certainly wasn’t one of the first, but it’s certainly one of the more obvious ploys for that particular audience. Released in 1979 by Roger Corman’s company New World Pictures, it tells the story of a giant fish creature that’s eating both local and vacationing islanders one by one off the coast of Maui. Director Charles Griffith, who only directed a handful of movies and was mostly known as a writer, was apparently unhappy with the film and claimed that Corman had the movie re-edited with newly-shot footage.
There’s just no nice way of saying that Up from the Depths is flat out awful for most of its running time, but it’s a lot more like Jaws than most due to most of the movie’s running time being taken up by characters and character relationships rather than solely focusing on the creature. The problem is that, in this movie, we don’t really gives a hoot about said characters. Most of them are either bland with nothing to them or just downright annoying. The overzealous overdubbing of the actors doesn’t help much either. So there are no real stakes set up and no actual characters to gravitate toward, and because of this, the movie can be a real chore to sit all the way through. A lot of the elements ripped off from Jaws in terms of structure and score, right down to an explosive ending, wind up having little bearing on the movie as a whole.
Up from the Depths is one of many movies from Roger Corman’s vast traveling band of filmmakers that was shot on location in the Philippines. The oddball cast includes Sam Bottoms of The Outlaw Josey Wales and Apocalypse Now fame, the latter of which was made around the same time in the same part of the world. There’s also Susanne Reed as a potential love interest, whom was mostly known as a TV actor before and after this. Playing the Quint-type stand-in is Virgil Frye, who had a long career of playing mostly cops and cowboys at that point. Interestingly enough, the movie was released on a double bill with The Brood, and was also released in Japan under the title Jurassic Jaws, which calls on two Spielberg references in one fell swoop.
Besides just ripping off Jaws, it’s clear that Roger Corman wanted more of what he got with Joe Dante’s Piranha. It was a big hit for him at the time and Up from the Depths was an attempt to capture some more of that box office take. Unfortunately, the elements just weren’t the same. The movie was sort of remade later into Demon of Paradise in 1987, and the two were later paired up on a Shout! Factory DVD release together. If the movie hadn’t been hampered by underwritten and unsympathetic characters, it might have fared a little better. If anything else, there are some unintentional laughs to be had at times, but they’re few and far between.
Scream Factory’s limited Blu-ray release contains a presentation that’s very organic-looking, but due to it being taken from a couple of different sources (which is merely a guess), it has some uneven grain and levels of quality. It’s definitely watchable, but a little problematical. There’s actually some surprising depth and detail at times, Color and skin tones are merely ok, and blacks are pretty deep with a bit of a lack of shadow detailing. Contrast and brightness are generally good as well, and there’s no apparent signs of digital enhancement to be found. There is, however, lots of film artifacts leftover: dirt, scratches, lines, changeover cues, weak frames, flashes, slightly faded frame edges, and some instability throughout. However, given the fact that, according to Shout! Factory’s Cliff MacMillan, Roger Corman didn’t take very good care of his negatives, having anything at all is probably a miracle. The audio, which is an English mono DTS-HD track boosted to stereo, carries many of the same age-related problems. While there’s always clear dialogue, good sound effects, and a strong score, there isn’t much in terms of directionality or ambience, and it’s all mostly flat and centered. There is some good clarity though, as overdubbed dialogue stands out more than ever before. There’s also lots of hiss, crackle, and occasional dropouts leftover. And for those who might need them, are also subtitles in English included. Extras include an 8 minute making of featurette, which contains interviews with Roger Corman, and special effects technicians Chris Walas and Robert Short; the original theatrical trailer; a TV spot; and 2 radio spots.
For Roger Corman fans, having a Blu-ray upgrade of Up from the Depths is definitely a must. For others, well let’s be honest. There are more well made and entertaining Jaws rip offs available. If you have the aforementioned Shout! Factory double feature release, you’re probably not missing much, but while the transfer isn’t totally ideal, it’s still a bump up in quality. And if you’re wanting a copy, you better act fast it’s limited to only 1,000 copies.
- Tim Salmons