Review Date: October 25th, 2013
Released by: Shout Factory
Release date: 1/18/2011
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.78 | 16x9: Yes
1979 and 1987
Roger Corman was nothing if not a master recycler. He was famous for reusing sets, costumes, music scores and footage, and in some cases he would repeatedly loot the same movies for the same shots. Not quite as obvious, but no less Cormanesque, was his tendency to remake the same screenplay over and over again, changing locales, tweaking characters, adding monsters, but keeping the same basic plotline intact – at least until it had evolved so much as to be unrecognizable. And so it is that the second of the two films on this double feature, Demon of Paradise
is often listed in the reference books as a remake of the first film, Up from the Depths
, presumably for the fact that both take place on isolated Hawaiian islands (actually the Philippines), they both have a monster, and they share a handful of similar characters. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.
In 1957 Corman and his team went to Hawaii to film a pair of exploitation features. One of them became a picture called Naked Paradise
, which is almost impossible to see now but which told the story of gangsters in Hawaii trying to escape after a robbery. Many writers consider Corman’s more famous Creature from the Haunted Sea
to be a remake of Naked Paradise
. Both films had scripts written by Charles B. Griffith, but the new film relocated the action to the Caribbean and got political. The gangsters stayed, but the new script added both a monster and Cuban military officers fleeing Castro’s regime with gold from Batista’s treasury.
Nearly twenty years later Griffith would be given another of his infrequent opportunities to direct, this time helming Up from the Depths
from a screenplay by New World secretary Anne Dyer and one Alfred M. Sweeney (who has no other film credits and seems to have been one of Charles B. Griffith’s own pseudonyms). Considered a remake of his own script for Creature from the Haunted Sea
, the new film relocated the action back to Hawaii, removed the gangsters and the politics, but kept the lowbrow humor and the monster. And while Griffith would have nothing to do with the subsequent Demon of Paradise
, echoes of his films would find their way into it. While it lacked the intentional comedy of several of his efforts, its Hawaiian setting, its monster and some of its characters are strangely familiar, and Demon of Paradise
thus has a longer and stranger pedigree than many other cult movies.
(We won’t even get into the fact that Griffith’s Naked Paradise
screenplay also served as the template for movies like Ski Troop Attack
and Beast from Haunted Cave
; I imagine that some of you are probably confused enough as it is.)
The Hawaiian Archipelago is home to many small islands, and Up from the Depths
takes place on the beautiful and isolated (and fictional) Mahu Island. A popular destination for vacationers, Mahu is home to the usual assortment of creeps and charlatans that like to lurk around tourist traps and take advantage of the naive folks from out of town. Greg Oliver (Sam Bottoms
) and his mangy uncle Earl Sullivan (Virgil Frye
) are two such people. They run a boat tour business that actually specializes in conning tourists by taking them on phony underwater treasure hunts. Greg and Earl's antics continuously antagonize Oscar Forbes (Kedric Wolfe
), manager of the nearby Tropical Palace Hotel, where Greg's girlfriend Rachel (Susanne Reed
This tourist season, though, it's not just business as usual for anybody. The trouble starts when local marine biologist Dr. Whiting (Charles Howerton
) sends his young female assistant scuba diving into the deep for specimens, only to be horrified when a cloud of bloody water floats to the surface and she is never seen again - though her severed arm is later found in shallow water by a local. Then soon after Rachel goes out on a remote beach with a photographer. Seeking the best possible angle for some pictures of her, the unfortunate man wades out into the surf where he is promptly devoured by an unseen sea beast. And the body count only gets higher from there.
Dr. Whiting believes that the disappearances of his assistant and the others are the work of an unknown type of sea creature and is determined to capture it alive. Fishermen have brought him specimens of fish that are of species completely unknown to science, and he hypothesizes that a change in deep sea currents is bringing unknown marine life out of the ocean depths and into shallow coastal waters. But fearing talk of a sea monster will scare all his guests away, Forbes makes a concerted effort to cover up the presence of the monster…at least until the monster attacks the resort beach and he decides to sponsor a hunt for the creature!
In 2005 I reviewed the Japanese DVD of Up from the Depths
for this very website. To quote from the salient portion of my old review:
Anyone who watches Up From the Depths soon discovers that, rather than being the straight horror thriller that it is usually promoted as, the film is actually very much of a comedy piece. Though the monster attacks are treated in a serious fashion, in between there's a lot of mugging and tomfoolery involving some of the human characters. It is not a movie that takes itself seriously, but ultimately the combination of horror and comedy doesn't work. It's neither scary, nor is the majority of the humor actually funny. Instead it's mostly a just chore to sit through.
The only humor that works at all is that spouted off by the character of Oscar Forbes. As played by Kedric Wolfe (who is a dead ringer for an ex-boss of mine), Forbes is a ridiculously exaggerated caricature who can never be taken seriously. Though a large part of the film's goofiness can be attributed solely to Wolfe's performance, he is a lot of fun to watch, and almost every memorable line that screenwriter Alfred Sweeney comes up with goes to his character (my own personal favorite Forbes moment comes when Rachel enters the hotel just after her photographer is devoured; looking understandably upset, Forbes asks her if she's pregnant, and then exclaims, "Oh my god! You've been raped!"). Though the rest of the cast is not bad, the only other performer who makes an impact is Virgil Frye as Earl, who is both amusing and convincing as the gruff con man who seduces tourists with tales of sunken treasure.
The monster is neither as good nor as bad as one would hope for. The creature looks to be many things (most especially plastic), but real is never one of them. Yet it also never looks as tacky and cheesy as would be necessary for laughs. Depending on the way that it is photographed, at times the creature appears to be a giant shark, which at least makes it look menacing. At other times it looks like an overgrown trout; rather than being scary it becomes more cute than anything else. Either way, it certainly never lives up to the image of that ghastly beast on the video cover when I was a child.
Overall, Up From the Depths is not a lot of fun. The humor mostly falls flat, and it is neither exciting nor scary. In fact, the movie commits the worst sin possible for a movie to commit, worse than cheapness, incompetence, bad acting, incoherent writing or anything else - plain and simple, it's boring.
I’m still of that same opinion in 2013. But I will add a postscript, because for years I have had a strange, acrimonious relationship with Up from the Depths
. I don’t particularly like it, yet I have purchased it three times now, first the Vestron VHS release, then the Japanese DVD, and now this remastered version. I always want to like it, and there are individual things about it that I like very much. And yet the movie always repels me in the end, and I think, after having had fifteen years to think about it, the reason that it repels me is now obvious. Like the guests at the Tropical Palace, who are conned by Earl and Greg, lectured by the blowhard Forbes, and who have their dream trips to Hawaii ruined by the marauding fish, I always end the movie feeling like I’ve come back from a really awful holiday, one where I’ve spent too much money and everybody – the filmmakers, the home video distributors, the store or online shop that sold it to me – has taken me for a ride. Up from the Depths
doesn’t just show people having a rotten vacation, it makes you feel like you are one of them.
Demon of Paradise
also takes place on a beautiful, fictional Hawaiian tourist island. This time it’s the island of Kihono, home to beautiful rivers and lakes, as well as a seedy waterfront resort run by a female entrepreneur named Cahill (Laura Banks
). Business at the resort is slow, and Cahill doesn’t know how much longer she’ll be able to keep operating. It doesn’t help matters that the adjacent wetlands are a hiding place for a gang selling illicit explosives to the locals, who use them for poaching fish on the lake. The criminals will attract all kinds of trouble through the course of the film, but the worst of it comes in the form of the Akua, an ancient god worshipped by the locals. Akua is really a prehistoric, bipedal reptilian monster that sleeps at the bottom of the lake and has occasionally awakened to terrorize the area. Now the gang’s customers have roused it with their dynamite fishing, and it’s ready to hunt.
Local lawman Sheriff Keefer (William Steis
) is on the case, investigating the string of mishaps and mysterious killings on the lake. Though Keefer is skeptical, the natives believe that Akua has returned, and herpetologist Dr. Annie Essex (Kathryn Witt
) thinks they may be onto something. Cahill doesn’t believe in the Akua, but that doesn’t stop her from trying to exploit the legend to bring more business for the resort. When a tour bus arrives she is ready to give them the vacation to end all vacations – and with the appearance of both the Akua and the explosives smugglers, that doesn’t prove to be too difficult!
Demon of Paradise
functions in an unusually logical manner, at least for a monster movie. While so many other films would have had the resort owner hushing up the creature’s existence to avoid scaring guests away, Cahill instead makes the smarter decision and embraces the legend of Akua as something to attract tourists. “The way I see it, this thing is a cross between the Loch Ness Monster, the Abominable Snowman and Bigfoot all wrapped up into one,” she explains, and normally she would be completely right, for monsters always make for good tourist attractions. Sheriff Keefer repeatedly pleads for Cahill to voluntarily evacuate the hotel, and when she refuses – and the Akua’s existence becomes impossible to ignore – he ends up shutting her down the way a real lawman would, by getting a court order. Keefer promptly sends for the National Guard (although he also foolishly adds to the body count by attempting to hunt the monster while waiting for the troops to arrive). And in a relative rarity for a movie like this, the beast is dispatched with raw military power. There are no scientific gizmos or gimmicks here, the Akua is tough but in the end they find a way to kill it using simple infantry weapons.
Though Up from the Depths
has a better cast, I have always found myself enjoying this film more. Griffith’s production has too many pretensions and is too focused on trying to recapture the glory of his days working for Roger Corman in the 50’s and early 60’s. In comparison, Demon of Paradise
knows what it is and is comfortable with what it is. It is a cheapjack monster movie, filmed overseas to save money. I don’t know that it even had a theatrical release in the United States, but even if it did, in 1987 everyone involved in a movie like this surely knew that it was quickly going to end up as video rental store and cable TV fodder. It has everything that it needed to fulfill that function. There’s a monster, there’s some action, there’s some gore (but not enough to cause problems with the MPAA) and there’s a nude scene (placed in a location that makes it easy to edit it out for basic cable). Video store owners were probably satisfied with the film’s performance, even if their customers might have been unimpressed. Demon of Paradise
aims low, much lower than Up from the Depths
. If nothing else it succeeds in fulfilling its own measly, meager ambitions.
Both films are presented letterboxed at 1.78:1, and both are enhanced for 16x9 displays.
Despite its tropical locations, Up from the Depths
has never been a particularly attractive looking movie, and this new transfer manages to improve on all previous home video editions without changing this underlying fact. The widescreen mattes give a much needed sense of balance to some shots while further skewering the composition of others. The color saturation is all over the place; sometimes colors are too hot, sometimes they’re too cold, and sometimes they look just right, with color consistency changing from shot to shot and scene to scene. Night scenes are no longer incomprehensible, although underwater scenes remain frustratingly murky. The transfer is exceptionally free of damage, with the only signs of wear and tear being the occasional vertical line that appears over certain shots.
Demon of Paradise
has appreciably better cinematography than its companion feature (which is a little odd, since both films have the same director of photography). Unfortunately, even though it is flagged for progressive displays, the transfer here clearly originates from an interlaced source. The 16x9 matting is more favorable here than in Up from the Depths
, giving the compositions an appropriate sense of balance, and colors are consistent and beautifully saturated, with accurate skin tones. Night scenes are clearer and more comprehensible than they were on VHS. Strangely enough though, it is this, the younger of the two movies, which shows the most wear and tear. There are a great many large scratches, specks and instances of grime and dirt on the film elements. The transfer is also riddled with video ugly noise, which becomes especially noticeable when viewed on an HD display.
Both films are presented in Dolby 2.0 Mono
Up from the Depths
sounds adequate. The dialogue is a mix of live production sound and very obvious ADR, with frequent switching between the two in mid-scene. But the audio quality is decent, with only a few instances of background noise and distortion. I would say that most
of the dialogue is comprehensible, although there still remain some scenes where more ADR in the studio would have been appropriate.
Demon of Paradise
seems to have had more competent sound men, and the audio here is generally more comprehensible, with clear reproduction of music, sound effects and dialogue, and with very little in the way of audio distortion or background noise.
As two of New World/New Horizon’s less notable films, this disc does not come with the same type of exhaustive supplemental content that appears on many of Shout Factory’s other Roger Corman discs. However, it does include a short making-of featurette about Up from the Depths
. Evidently added to the disc at the last minute (it’s not listed on the back cover and is buried at the very end of the special features menu), the short documentary features interviews with Roger Corman and special effects artists Robert Short and Chris Walas. Corman explains the origins of the production (no surprise, they needed an aquatic monster film to follow Piranha
) and the two effects men explain how they were brought in after principal photography had wrapped because Corman wanted more blood and a better, more menacing creature for the film, at long last confirming my suspicion that more than one monster design was used for the production. Walas also relates a humorous story about how he conquered his fear of water while working on the film; originally promised that he wouldn’t have to get wet because of his phobia, he found himself having to wade deeper and deeper into the ocean as the crew found themselves having more and problems with the shoot, becoming an expert diver in the process.
The only other extras are promotional materials; we get a trailer, a TV spot and two radio spots for Up from the Depths
(all of which ignore the film’s comedic elements), a trailer for Demon of Paradise
and trailers for Firecracker
, Humanoids from the Deep
, Jackson County Jail
and Caged Heat
, all of which are available from Shout Factory.
This is a decent release, giving both films much better (if still flawed) presentations than they have had in the past, with the unannounced inclusion of the Up from the Depths
featurette providing a short, welcome surprise. With both films having been video store mainstays in the 80’s and 90’s, I expect that many readers here are already familiar with them. If you have an affinity for either one – or if you’re like me and you keep buying them out of a desire to have an affinity for them – this is a recommended release.
Up from the Depths
Movie – D+
Image Quality – B-
Sound – B-
Demon of Paradise
Movie – C-
Image Quality – B-
Sound – B
Supplements – B-
- Running time – Up from the Depths – 1 hour 25 minutes
- Running time – Demon of Paradise – 1 hour 27 minutes
- Rated R
- Chapter Stops
- English 2.0 Mono
- 1 Disc
- Making-of featurette
- TV spots