Terror Beneath the Sea (1966)
Starring Sonny Chiba, Peggy Neal, and Erik Neilson
Directed by Hajime Sato
There were few things the mid-60’s Saturday matinee audience loved more than rubber suit monster movies and James Bond-style spy flicks. 1966’s Terror Beneath The Sea combines the two by taking a mallet and smashing the genres together like a round peg through a square hole. You have all the mechanics of an over-the-top Sixties spy flick, but based around megalomaniacal mad scientists and their dream of an underwater world populated by mutant fishmen. God bless the Sixties.
Sonny Chiba and Peggy Neal play intrepid reporters Ken and Jenny. Since this was filmed during a time period in which interracial romances were frowned upon on both sides of the Pacific, their relationship is played strictly platonic. The two of them are at a United States Naval facility somewhere in the Pacific covering the testing of a new Navy homing torpedo. Things take a turn for the strange when Jenny claims to have seen a humanoid figure swim past the view screen in what is without question one of the most confusingly executed scenes you’ll ever see.
This leads Ken and Jenny to begin skin diving in the vicinity of where she saw the poorly animated figure in the water. Do you like scuba diving scenes? Do you like long scuba diving scenes? You better.
It isn’t long before the scuba diving reporters find themselves in the clutches of some of the silliest-looking gill-men ever. They awaken to find themselves in the undersea base of the Dr. Rufus Moore, a crazed scientist in Roy Orbison shades. Three thousand feet beneath the ocean’s surface, Dr. Moore has built a futuristic model city and with the help of similarly minded scientists and the "theory of processed man," has developed a means by which to transform humans into silly-looking, cross-eyed, squid-faced, silver fishmen. Why? The great thing about being insane is that you don’t need to justify your actions with rational reasons.
Dr. Moore refers to those goofy gill-men as "water cyborgs" because he claims them to be mindless drones that he can control via supersonic brainwaves transmitted from a control mechanism with a dial that can be turned to such vague instructions as WORK and FIGHT. Given the smackdown he orchestrates between two of his "water cyborgs" to demonstrate his complete control over them, I think that dial probably should have been changed to SLAP FIGHT. Not only are they laughable in appearance, their ferocious behavior is anything but fierce, usually consisting of slapping and strangling, which is quite amusing considering Dr. Moore claims they currently exist solely to protect his underwater lair from outside forces, namely the US Navy.
The mad doctor gives the duo an ultimatum: join him or be subjected to the stop motion animation process that will transform them into mindless fishhenchmen. Meanwhile, the United States Navy’s state of the art Oscar Mayer Weiner Submarine is closing in on the location of his undersea kingdom. I’m sure you can imagine much of what happens next. Just make sure it involves the "water cyborgs" going berserk, picking up handguns, and attempting to gun down everyone that crosses their path.
Fans of Sonny Chiba will probably be disappointed that he displays little of the karate-kicking action that would make him a martial arts superstar in the 1970’s, though he still fares better than Peggy Neal and the worthless character she plays. Clearly this film was made before the women’s lib movement had fully taken hold because her role consists of little more of her screaming in terror, sobbing in angst, and needing to be consoled or protected by a man, preferably Sonny Chiba. By the end of the movie she’s reduced to constantly crying in the most shrill manner possible about how she doesn’t want to go on living after seeing what the first stage of the fishman transformation process has done to her skin, which just looks like she has a few patches on her face, neck, and hands that appear as if...Well, how do I put this in a non-obscene manner? These dried-up patches make it look as if she never bothered to clean herself off after a session with Peter North a week earlier. Not exactly top notch make-up effects here.
Having been out of circulation since the early Eighties when it was last seen on Saturday afternoons and weekend late nights as part of AIP’s syndicated movie package, Terror Beneath The Sea has only been available in the US via bootleggers; a copy of which I admittedly possess. I can assure you this is the best looking print of the film I’ve ever seen, although I suspect some will be disappointed that Dark Sky Films didn’t release the DVD complete with an original Japanese audio track with English subtitles. Oh well. It’s a pristine print and widescreen with Dolby 2.0 audio available so you can’t complain too much even without the original Japanese track or any extras to speak of. Personally, I say this is the kind of Japanese genre mumbo jumbo that’s enhanced by cheesy dubbing that doesn’t match most of the actors’ mouths.
You got good guys, bad guys, mutant monsters, miniature buildings, model ships, toy torpedo battles, gun battles, speargun battles, karate, escape pods, and heroes having to flee an underwater lair before a counter reaches zero and the whole place blows up. Terror Beneath The Sea actually feels like the kind of yarn that would have been perfectly suited to an old time adventure serial along the lines of Radar Men From The Moon, but serials were passé by the Sixties and so they instead streamlined it down to 80 minutes, having the story play out in the flimsiest manner possible. Terror Beneath The Sea is the epitome of a disposable movie. It’s just utter nonsense from beginning to end and never takes the time to develop any characters or allow for the story to build naturally. It’s just a mad footrace to the finish line that only stops for a few sequences that play out in such a lackadaisical manner you can’t help but suspect it was done that way to help stretch out the film. Fortunately, it’s lightweight enough and features enough retro kitsch (especially the trippy electronic score) to not be a complete waste of time.
2 out of 5
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