Blu-ray Review: Leviathan (1989, Dir, George P. Cosmatos)

(Warning! Spoilers Contained Within!)

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“Say, ‘Aaaaah,’ motherfucker!”

1989 was the year of the underwater monster movie. Five of them were made and four of them were scheduled to roll out that year. Three were major theatrical releases (DeepStar Six, Leviathan, The Abyss) while the remaining two (The Rift, Lords Of The Deep) were straight-to-video and/or cable. I saw all of them but Lords Of The Deep.

I believe I saw The Rift (1990, aka Endless Descent) in 1991 on cable, but I distinctly remember reading the Fangoria article in 1989, where they acknowledged DeepStar Six and Leviathan, saying both of them died at the box office.

Personally, I had high hopes for all of them, but at that time only being truly impressed with The Rift and James Cameron’s science fiction aliens-underwater-epic, The Abyss. DeepStar Six had a great monster, but if memory serves, that monster only ends up killing two of the cast members, all the rest die by some secondary cause caused by the monster, or the other characters.

The Rift was just a plain old fun creature feature directed by the late Juan Piquer Simon of Slugs (1988) and Mystery On Monster Island (1981) fame. Cameron’s The Abyss clearly is the standout in the bunch, technically it wasn’t a monster movie, but a true science fiction/adventure with not entirely “evil” aliens as the antagonists, but I always tend to lump it in with the others whenever I think of the other flicks.

Even Roger Corman cashed in on this craze by cranking out the 77-minute Lords Of The Deep. Fangoria covered all these movies but this one. All I remember seeing was a photo of it in an article that was devoted to something else. As I mentioned before I never saw this flick; it never even played on cable, but I still want to see it.

When I first heard about Leviathan, if you can believe it, it wasn’t from Fangoria but of all places from Entertainment Tonight. This was back in the day when these kind of Hollywood news shows used to actually cover movies and I used to watch it religiously because of that, plus I used to think Leeza Gibbons was super hot.

It was a very short piece they did on the movie, and they did even tout it as a monster movie.

ISSUE #82

ISSUE #82

It was an onset visit and the only thing they said was that it was a new action adventure set underwater. Curiosity was piqued but not so much that I was looking forward to it. I soon forgot about it until a photo from the movie showed up in Fangoria. A black and white one in the Terror Teletype section, (I think that’s what that section was called) of that scene where actors Peter Weller and Richard Crenna discover the weird, merged bodies of Daniel Stern and Lisa Eilbacher (what ever happened to her? I always thought she was smoking hot, too) in the medical infirmary. I quickly made the connection to that Entertainment Tonight segment and the caption was touting the movie as being somewhat reminiscent of The Thing (1982). That first Fangoria glimpse had me hooked. Later on Fangoria (issue #82) did a formal article on the movie and showed quite a few eye candy shots of the monster in its various forms.

Where was I in 1989?

I was a 20-year-old working at my first job (3pm-9pm, when the store closed) in the stockroom of K-Mart. Typically when a movie came around I wanted to see I always made it a point to see it as soon as possible, which meant Friday night, and getting out of work at 9pm was perfect, because generally the late showing was like around 9:30, 9:35, 9:40, and I would simply punch out, hop in the car and drive ten minutes over to the cinemas.

I was palling around with some dude who was also working at K-Mart then (can’t for the life of me remember his name) and we both headed off to see Leviathan. When the movie was over my reaction was one of utter disappointment, kind of like how I felt after seeing DeepStar Six. The main problem I had at the time was that since it was called, Leviathan, a word that generally means something gigantic, huge, fucking huge really, I was expecting this metamorphosing horror to grow into some huge leviathan-sized beast that would threaten the whole undersea base.

Yeah, that never happened.

FINAL FORM OF THE CREATURE

FINAL FORM OF THE CREATURE

Plus, I never liked the fact that you never saw the beast in all its glory. Well, you do, actually, at the end, but it’s not photographed in a way that satisfied me. I remember seeing it better in those Fangoria photos.

For a long, long time I detested this movie until it finally hit DVD for the first time in 1998. I bought it with the sole intention of seeing if it still sucked. Keep in mind up up that I hadn’t seen it since that night at the movies in ’89, so there’s roughly a decade in between of me not really having thought about it to any serious degree. Saw it once, hated it, out of sight, out of mind. Well, apparently something had changed, after watching that DVD, I just came to sudden conclusion now that is was pretty damn good movie.

So, there you have it, a chronicle of how a movie can be hated upon first viewing and then loved upon a second a decade apart. And I’ve also had the reverse occur, but that’s a review you’ll probably never read.

Leviathan has a who’s who of who was famous in the 80s starring in it. One of many reasons I love this film. Casting is perfect. I still find it astounding that we know more about space than the deepest parts of our ocean, well, in this movie we actually start giving a shit (to a degree) and have created an underwater base, albeit it’s an underwater mining base, but, hey, at least it’s a start. In real life we don’t even have that. At least, not to my knowledge we don’t.

Steven Beck (the almighty Peter Weller who’s populated more awesome movies than I’ve bedded women) is a geologist and the reluctant head honcho of this particular underwater mining facility of the Tri-Oceanic Corporation. Other rank and file miners are a wanna-be astronaut, ‘Willie’ (Amanda Pays), ‘Sixpack’ (Daniel Stern), Jones (Ernie Hudson), DeJesus (the late Michael Carmine), Bowman (Lisa Eilbacher), Cobb (Hector Elizondo) and the facility’s resident MD, Dr. Thompson (the late Richard Crenna).

Meg Foster shows up in a small role playing the oily and untrustworthy, but insanely hot, CEO of Tri-Oceanic that Beck ends up decking in a hilarious exchange at the end of the movie.

Even though Alien had come out way back in 1979 its influence was still echoing out across the time stream (which it still manages to do to this day), imbibing Leviathan with a similar plot of confining a bunch of blue collar characters in a location and unleashing a monster on them that goes through several stages of development.

One day while out mining Sixpack and Willie stumble upon a sunken ship (more Alien echoes), a Russian one, in fact, called Leviathan. Sixpack locates a trunk from it and declares himself rich, bringing it back to the base to rummage through.

The mystery of the ship deepens when they discover a video tape, a bunch of records of the crewmembers being deceased, a bottle of vodka and a flask of similar that Sixpack quickly secrets away for himself.

Did I forget to mention the monster here is also a slight homage to Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)? The horror begins with that flask Sixpack stole that he also shares with Bowman. later on. Soon after they begin getting sick, showing signs of weird, scaly lesions on the body, chills, and general sickness the Doc chalks up to a hangover initially.

Eight hours later, while everyone is outside working, Sixpack kicks the bucket. Bowman starts showing signs of “sickness” too, but commits suicide when she stumbles into the medical infirmary where Sixpack’s body is and sees how mutating.

The Doc learns the Russians were experimenting with genetically altering their crew in hopes of creating a new form of human that can exist underwater, and they did this by putting the altering agent in their vodka.

This metamorphosing horror is composed of marine life traits as well as human ones from the victims it assimilates into itself. Contact with the creature pretty much dooms you as Cobb finds out after being clawed in the chest early on. It’s ultimate form is composed of menacing tentacles tipped with mouths attached to a Lovecraftian-like body that’s somewhat humanoid, bulky, two massive human/fish arms and a head that looks like a giant, mutant, angler fish, not to mention having the human faces of the victims it assimilated on it’s back.

When seen, in parts and as a whole towards the end, the creature is actually mighty impressive, it should be—it was built by Stan Winston! Years later when the late director George P. Cosmatos pseudo-directed Tombstone (it’s rumored Kurt Russell was the actual director) I remember finally putting two and two together and thinking ‘this is the same guy who did that awful Leviathan movie?’

Some of the monster logic is a bit iffy, I’ll admit, as victims are transformed, but we never see how they meet up with “main mass,” and it’s kind of tricky to remember but there are actually two monsters. While watching you have to remember the two merged corpses of Bowman and Sixpack that were jettisoned into the ocean. This will explain the sudden appearance of the second monster Jones, Beck and Willie encounter at the end on the surface.

All the actors are in stellar form including Weller, who maintains a natural suave coolness, which he innately does for a lot of his characters. No nudity in this one, just some underwear T&A by Amanda “The Kindred” Pays for a couple of scenes.

As I mentioned before MGM has released this movie before on DVD, and DVD only, back in 1998. It was decent enough, was in its proper aspect ratio, came with a trailer and a booklet, I had no complaints. Thanks to Scream Factory (Shout! Factory’s genre sub-label) we now finally get this movie on blu-ray and the 1080p 2.35:1 widescreen high definition transfer trumps that old DVD.

Audio configurations you get to choose from: 5.1 and a 2.0, both English only and both DTS-HD Master Audios.

Subtitles exist in English only.

Now we come to the extras:

  • Leviathan: Monster Melting Pot (40:26)
  • Dissecting Cobb With Hector Elizondo (12:35)
  • Surviving Leviathan With Ernie Hudson (15:01)
  • Theatrical Trailer

After watching the Monster Melting Pot segment I suddenly found myself wishing (I know a lot of other people probably wish this too) that Stan Winston had lived just a little bit longer, with Shout having remastered Leviathan, his Pumpkinhead and coming next year Invaders From Mars (1986), he’d most certainly have been included on these discs, and I would have loved to hear him talk about these movies himself. Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff, Jr., and Shannon Shea are pretty could stand-ins, regaling us with insights into how Stan Winston worked, how they worked with him and how he “worked” with director George Cosmatos. They also regale us with insights into Cosmotos’ personality as well as his decision to go with the “freakshow” design of the creature rather than what the FX guys thought might be better which was a creature more plausible and cohesive in construction.

Elizondo and Hudson’s interviews also shed light into what it was to be part of Leviathan. Both had fun doing the movie, but Hudson did not understand why his character had to die at the end, plus he couldn’t swim when he said, yes, to the movie.

Everyone on Monster Melting Pot pretty much echoed the disappointment I initially had when I first saw the movie, but I’ll reiterate this is one film I have definitely come around to and if you were a fan from the get-go, you’ll most definitely want this blu-ray.

REVERSE COVER ART ON THE RIGHT

REVERSE COVER ART ON THE RIGHT

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