The ‘90s often get a bad rap with horror fans. After the numerous successful slashers and creature effects films of the ’80s, the ‘90s offered a different variety of horror fare. Though there were plenty of hits, hidden gems, and misunderstood classics, the ‘90s usually don’t get the kind of love that other decades get when it comes to horror. It’s time to change that.
The term “aquatic horror” has cropped up in the last decade and has become a beloved sub-genre in its own right. While it’s been widely applied to any story that has some marine influence, there’s another subsection of aquatic horror: the fin flick. This is more specifically an aquatic horror movie that features a prominent creature of some sort. Most of the time, that’s going to be your usual sampling of sharks, octopuses, and other familiar forms of ocean life. But, every once in a while, a fin flick comes along that delivers a totally new monster.
That’s certainly the case with Deep Rising, the 1998 action film from writer/director Stephen Sommers (The Mummy). Sommers sets his story on an enormous cruise ship that comes under attack from a mysterious beastie. As the film progresses, we see horrific tentacles with mouths menacing our cast of characters. And don’t worry, you’ll find out what those tentacles are attached to. There’s more than a little Tremors energy in regards to how the monster is conceptualized and executed. And y’all know that’s a good thing in this house.
But, the unique monster isn’t the only reason Deep Rising is such a blast.
The reported budget for the film was $45 million, and that kind of budget just doesn’t get allocated to original horror effects films anymore. Sommers gets to go big and bold with the physical set pieces, including a giant room that is filled to the brim with digested human remains. Along with some incredible gore gags – the death of Billy alone is a marvel of effects work – this is a movie that revels in its production design at every turn. From the giant action spectacle to the nastier stuff, there is no expense spared when it comes to crafting this tale. Heck, this is a film that had Rob Bottin (The Thing) on board as a special effects makeup designer. What more proof do you need that this flick is delivering the goods?
Even if you didn’t enjoy the glorious production work, the cast is comprised of a number of notable actors that all clearly know what kind of movie they are in. Treat Williams plays the roguish lead with an abundance of charm. It’s a genuine shame that he never became the kind of leading man that he deserved to be. Williams saunters through the movie with the exact kind of swagger and joviality a role like this needs. He’s also backed by an all-time dweeb sidekick performance by Stephen Sommers stalwart Kevin J. O’Connor. You also get lively turns from Famke Janssen, Anthony Heald, Wes Studi, Jason Flemyng, Cliff Curtis, and Djimon Hounsou. It’s shocking that this delightful cast doesn’t get the praise they deserve.
Still, Deep Rising soars on its own thanks to a high adventure spirit that would become a trademark of Sommers’ projects. Blending a sense of swashbuckling pulp with creature horror is a chocolate and peanut butter situation. The movie moves at a brisk pace and never stalls. The gory, goopy fun is pretty consistent throughout the running time, and a sharp sense of twisted humor continually punctuates the movie with bright spots of levity. There’s no question that Deep Rising is going for laughs and thrills more than outright scares, but that’s okay when it’s as accomplished as this.
It’s exceedingly rare that horror films, especially creature features, get this kind of backing when it comes to budget and spectacle. Deep Rising is the kind of movie that a major studio will possibly never make again. On that merit alone, it stands as an impressive relic of a bygone era when fare like Anaconda was capable of being a box office hit. If you love drive-in monster movies and fin flicks, Deep Rising is a slam dunk that will assuredly leave you satisfied.