As fans eagerly await The Abyss to return to physical media (someday soon hopefully), they can satiate their thirst for Aqua-Sci-Fi with Roger Corman’s daffy knockoff Lords of the Deep. Directed by Mary Ann Fisher and starring Priscilla Barnes and a delightfully unhinged Bradford Dillman, the film threads the line of smart Science Fiction and cheap monster movie with some rather impressive VFX work. Now on Blu-ray for the first time from Scream Factory, the A/V presentation is solid and bonus features include the new classic MST3k episode! Worth A Look
You’ve got to love it when a big-budget production inspires a slew of cheap made-on-the-quick knockoffs. In the case of The Abyss, James Cameron’s tumultuous and prolonged production period gave plenty of time for other studios and filmmakers to rush their knockoffs to market. Now sometimes this is a good thing. In the cases of Leviathan and DeepStar Six, we actually got two solid and very entertaining monster movies. For Lords of the Deep, Roger Corman gave us the cinematic equivalent of an underwater fart bubble - while still a stinker, the film proves to be a fun piece of amusement to divert our attention.
Our aqua-opus pits the ocean depths as the last place on earth for humans to survive. Without an ozone layer, the surface is cooking. Led by C.O. Dobler (Bradford Dillman), the research crew made an incredible discovery of extra-terrestrial alien life in the deep. Head research technician Clair McDowell (Priscilla Barnes) insists the creature requires more study, but Dobler and the company home office commander (Roger Corman) disagree. Are the alien creatures friendly, or deadly? As members of her crew are found dead under mysterious circumstances, Clair has a slim chance of survival as a massive earthquake is set to destroy the complex.
There were many Abyss knock-offs between 1989 and the early ‘90s. Taking the basic concept of people deep underwater encountering a mysterious alien creature, these films just ran wild with varying results. As I mentioned in our announcement article that Lords of the Deep was on its way to Blu-ray, I pegged it as the third-best Abyss knock-off but it’s actually the closest film to being more thoughtful science fiction with creatures that look remarkably similar to Cameron’s NTI’s than the bloody creature features of DeepStar Six, Leviathan, or the critters in 1990’s The Rift.
But just because it’s the closest thematically to The Abyss doesn’t make it a great movie. In true Roger Corman fashion, it looks amazingly cheap. While director Mary Ann Fisher attempts to make the most of Howard Cohen and Daryl Haney’s script, the sets feel paper-thin and the cast’s onesie uniforms look like cast-off 1980s Holiday Inn drapes. All credit to the cast for doing their best to sell their goofy lines and try to lend some measure of urgency to the film. The drunken "honesty" sessions are a hoot while trying to add some character depth.
While we have Three’s Company and The Devil's Rejects star Priscilla Barnes and Piranha’s own Bradford Dillman hamming it up, the real star of the film is the underwater miniature special effects. Crafted by the legendary effects team of Mark Williams with Robert and Dennis Skotak (who also did work on Cameron’s Terminator 2 and Aliens), these “underwater” sequences genuinely look impressive giving the film some amount of scale and dimension. The film also features early cinematography from Oscar-winner and Steven Spielberg’s right-hand man Janusz Kaminski. Kaminski may have been doing second-unit work and was apparently fired midway into production and it's kind of easy to spot his work.
While there’s a lot to admire about this film, it’s a bit of a stinker - albeit in a good way! At just under 80 minutes long it feels like two hours slogging by. There are bursts of excitement here and there but there’s a lot of shoe leather in this film making it an easy mark for riffing. Mystery Science Theater 3000 did a gangbuster job on this film for their 12th season effort on Netflix becoming a new favorite episode of mine. There’s so much dead air the riffs fill the time and make the flick feel breezy and easy. But if you insist on watching it straight, gather a bunch of friends and pour some drinks because it’s a great flick for a crowd of people with varying levels of inebriation. Thankfully, for the uninitiated, that MST3k episode is included in the bonus features.
As we eagerly await the day that James Cameron’s The Abyss finally comes home to Blu-ray or 4K - and not my silly Ultra SD LaserDisc April Fools Day Gag - we at least have these knockoffs to enjoy. DeepStar Six got a great Blu-ray from KLSC and a new Leviathan 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray is in the works (hopefully arriving soon). The Rift hit Blu-ray back in 2016 and that disc has gone out of print, but various foreign markets have some Region Free options so it’s not completely unavailable. As the third best of the knockoffs, The Lords of the Deep is a daffy flick produced by one of the greatest masters of schlock cinema.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Lords of the Deep surfaces for its first Blu-ray release from Scream Factory. Pressed on a BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in a clear case. The disc loads to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options. This release is limited to 1500 copies and is available exclusively from Shout Factory's shop.
Reportedly sourced from a new 2K scan, Lords of the Deep makes a pretty healthy splash on Blu-ray. Fine details are appreciable letting textures in the goofy uniforms, the sponge-painted walls, and our gooey creature come to life. I most appreciated the fine details for the models used for the submersibles and underwater research base. Film grain is fine and well resolved, but a few sequences could be a little noisier but not distracting. Colors are very 1980s Holiday Inn mated with a Dixie Cup, so lots of hot pinks and purples - but deep true reds and blues are well resolved with healthy skin tones. The cinematography is pretty flat and overly brightly lit, but as previously mentioned you can tell when Kaminski’s work kicks in, there’s actually some dynamic lighting and shadows - but that's all part of the fun for this fishy flick.
On the audio front, the film kicks in with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track. Since it’s been the better side of 30 years since I saw this film straight, my closest memorable comparison is the MST3k episode, and without the obvious riffing, the mix is solid. Dialog is clean and clear without issue. Scoring is pretty minimal but it fits the mood well enough. Outside of some alarms and sparks and fires, the soundscape isn’t that aggressive but this track serves the film well.
Bonus features for this release are on the slim side in that there’s nothing really pertaining to the making of the film, but you do get the excellent MST3k episode. This was previously released on Blu-ray already and quickly comparing the two I didn’t spot any differences. It’s a damn funny episode, one of the best of the new cast so fire that up and enjoy!
It’s no The Abyss but Lords of the Deep is a fun knockoff. It's a true Roger Corman film making the most out of a slim budget and accelerated production period. Rushed to beat Cameron’s science fiction epic to theaters… or at least video rental shops, it could be considered the Third Best of the knockoffs. It’s entertaining throughout, even through the long shoe leather scenes, it’s a fun one to laugh with. And if you can’t make it through the film straight, Scream Factory’s limited edition Blu-ray thankfully includes the excellent MST3k episode. Until Disney/20th Century gets off their backsides - Lords of the Deep will have to tide you over. Worth A Look