There was something in the water in 1989. Literally. That year, not one, not two, not three, but four underwater monster-themed movies hit theaters.
The first and best known of these was James Cameron’s The Abyss. The Abyss, a story of an underwater oil crew’s encounter with marine aliens and paranoid soldiers, had the biggest budget and stars as well as best story. It also had ground-breaking special effects that made headlines. It is the only blockbuster of the four and is certainly the best remembered of the four.
But that doesn’t mean that the other three are entirely without merit. There is much to be said for the second of these films, Leviathan. It had big enough stars (Peter Weller, Meg Foster, Amanda Pays, Richard Crenna, and Ernie Hudson) and a decent story (underwater miners stumble across a Russian genetic experiment gone horribly wrong). It also had several good moments (I always liked the final escape at the end, which was somewhat copied in Deep Blue Sea, and [SPOILER] Peter Weller punching Meg Foster in the face at the end). And it had social commentary, first in the form of a speech Hector Elizondo gives the crew about why they are better off underwater than facing the societal ills on land, and second in Daniel Stern, who plays a character named “Six Pack” (Six Pack! Get it? Because he loves beer so much. Well, it worked in the ‘80s.)
There is also something to be said for DeepStar Six. It had stars (Greg Evigan, Matt McCoy, Nia Peeples). It had an okay story (research crew meets monster). And it had the iconic image depicted on the movie poster, the image of a heavy diving suit whose bottom half has been bitten off. Even better, this image related to something that actually happened in the movie. A person in such a suit was actually bitten in half in such a way. And let me tell you, it was plenty awesome.
There is sadly not much to be said for Lords of the Deep. It had stars (Bradford Dillman and Priscilla Barnes), but it didn’t have much of a release. I was aware of it at the time, but I don’t think it was ever released to theaters near me. I may have seen it on VHS, but I also may not have. If I did, I don’t remember anything about it except its existence.
Beyond these four, there were at least two more: The Rift (or Endless Descent) and The Evil Below. Why were there so many of these underwater monster movies? Nobody knows for sure. Maybe the smaller production companies were plagiarizing the larger ones, maybe it was great minds thinking a like, maybe it was just fate. Or maybe, just maybe, it was something in the water.