From Here to Obscurity: Bermuda Depths (1978)

PLEASE NOTE: The movies reviewed in From Here to Obscurity have either never been given an official VHS or DVD release, have been released on VHS but are long out of print and very hard to find, or are readily available in some form but have generally gone unnoticed by most of the general public.

When you think supernatural monster movie you don’t normally think Rankin Bass, the production company that gave us such classic animated holiday specials as Rudolph, The Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty The Snowman, but that’s exactly who made The Bermuda Depths, a creepy little 1978 made-for-TV chiller that plays out like a feature length episode of “Night Gallery” or some other 1970’s horror anthology series. The story here is rather simplistic and, to be honest, fairly predictable, yet it still works. It’s one part gothic ghost story, one part doomed romance, and one part giant monster movie. A rare blend to say the least but somehow Rankin Bass pulled it off.

Magnus Dens (Leigh McCloskey) is a young man returning to Bermuda determined to uncover the truth behind his father’s death, which has traumatized him since childhood. Here he’s reunited with Eric (Carl Weathers) and Dr. Paulis (Burl Ives), old friends and former colleagues of Magnus’ scientist father. The two of them are searching for giant undersea life living in the deepest darkest depths of the ocean. And the ocean doesn’t get any darker than the Bermuda Triangle. Eric is obsessed with capturing one of these creatures alive to a reckless degree much to the ire of Dr. Paulis. Magnus soon meets up again with Jennie Hanniver (Connie Selleca), a mysterious young woman who was once his childhood friend. Romance ensues but nobody believes that this Jennie Hanniver woman even exists because Jennie Haniver is actually an old sea legend, the centuries old ghost of a woman that was on a doomed vessel in the Bermuda Triangle who made a pact with the Devil and is now herself doomed to spend eternity forever young in the depths of the Bermuda Triangle. Her ghost is said to appear as either a young girl or a beautiful woman and only to those that will drown at sea. As kids, Magnus and Jennie helped raise a sea turtle and now Eric is on the trail of a giant sea turtle in the Devil’s Triangle. I think you can put two and two together here. Since this is a rather simplistic straightforward tale to say anymore would be to give away too much and while you’ll probably be able to figure out where everything is heading, it’s still better to experience it for yourself.

A ghost story involving a giant sea turtle doesn’t sound like the kind of thing that would stay with you long after its over but I first saw this movie on late night CBS when I was just a kid and hadn’t forgotten it in the near 20 years since. Having seen it again recently I can say it hasn’t lost much of its luster. The movie boasts many a spooky visual and the score, particularly the haunting “Jennie” theme that is played throughout, will linger with you long after the movie is over. That music really gets under your skin after awhile. However, I could do without the closing credits “Jennie” pop song that employs the music but features vocals and lyrics that reek of sappy 1970’s cheesiness. Another thing that makes the movie stick with you is that it has a very un-Hollywood unhappy ending. I think a lot of producers forget that sometimes sending the audience home happy is not the best ending.

Cast wise, the movie’s standout is Connie Selleca herself. Not only was she an absolutely gorgeous young woman – she reminded me of Jennifer Love Hewitt only more womanly, with an ounce of grace and poise in her body, and capable of not constantly giggling like she’s overdosed on the Joker’s Smile-X gas – but she keeps the character of Jennie from becoming just a piece of eye candy with a subtle performance. Jennie comes across as being genuinely in love with Magnus, at times seemingly in denial about her eternal damnation. This only adds to tragic romance aspect of the film while slowly building up the sense of dread throughout the film. You just know this is going to end badly.

If the movie has any weakness it would have to be some of the special effects that are quite laughable even by late 70’s made-for-TV standards. There are some pretty sub par miniature effects being employed here. A few scenes involving the boat being rocked bring to mind the image of a toy boat churning in a bathtub. There’s also a scene involving a helicopter flying over the giant turtle that appear to be a model helicopter flying over a turtle hand puppet. Fortunately, this is not a movie that relies heavily on special effects so these are minor complaints about an otherwise wonderful movie.

Like I said earlier, this is probably the kind of genre movie that couldn’t get made today, in part because of it’s uniqueness and also because a lot of today’s genre fans wouldn’t have the patience for it, or so many genre producers would have you believe. Imagine The Bermuda Depths as a Sci-Fi Channel original movie. First off, you’d have wall-to-wall CGI and the ghost story aspect would probably be played down in favor of making the film an outright monster movie. You just know the giant sea turtle would be given a much larger role, probably eating people and sinking ships repeatedly during the first half. If UFO Films produced it then there would be a high-tech submarine instead of a boat, Eric would probably be portrayed as a villain, Jennie would be turned into an alien or Atlantian instead of being a ghost, and her part would probably be played (badly) by a former cast member of “Baywatch”. The movie’s strongest aspect, its atmosphere, would be gone in favor of things exploding, and I seriously doubt they’d keep the movie’s unhappy ending.

Many say that the 1970’s were filmdom’s greatest decade and that sentiment may even apply to made-for-TV genre movies. Sure there was plenty of junk like Killdozer and Ants but it’s kind of depressing when you watch a 25-year old made-for-TV genre movie and realize this is a movie that probably couldn’t have been made today.

The Bermuda Depths is a movie just waiting to be rediscovered and the fact that it remains on the shelf somewhere gathering dust while utter crap like Munchies and The Mangler can get a DVD releases is nothing short of a crime. It’s time this movie got its due. It’s long overdue.

4 out of 5

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Jon Condit

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