Friday, October 30, 2020

Ten Days of Terror!: Leviathan

Film: Leviathan (1989)
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

Every now and then, someone hits upon an incredibly successful idea for a film and it becomes one of the new defaults. You can see this with a film like Die Hard, which spawned dozens of “Die Hard on a pseudo-sequels and copycats. There was Die Hard on a plane (Con Air, Passenger 57, Air Force One), Die Hard on a submarine or boat (Under Siege, Speed 2), Die Hard on a mountain (Cliffhanger), comedy Die Hard in a mall (Paul Blart: Mall Cop) and more. Alien is a similar film, although it’s roots certainly run deeper to films like The Thing from Another World. It’s easy to think of Alien as a haunted house in space, but it’s more a film about people trapped with a monster. They can’t get out because there’s nowhere to go, either because of weather, inaccessibility, or simply being off-planet. Underwater movies are great for this; Deep Blue Sea is an example of the form. So is 1989’s Leviathan, which also tosses in some elements from The Thing.

The fact that a film is derivative of another film doesn’t mean that it’s not any good, clearly. There are lots of good Die Hard on a…movies and plenty of good people trapped with something nasty movies. Leviathan has the added benefit of a really good B-movie cast, including Peter Weller, Richard Crenna, Hector Elizondo, Daniel Stern, Meg Foster, and Ernie Hudson. It also includes Lisa Eilbacher, best-known to me (at least) as Axel Foley’s friend Jenny in Beverley Hills Cop. So, it’s a tried-and-true premise and a pretty decent cast, which bodes well. Sadly, Leviathan is ultimately a lot more derivative than it could be. It’s equal parts Alien and The Thing and not in the same area code as either of them.

We’re going to be undersea for this adventure, about two miles down on a deep sea mining facility. A few days before their three-month tour ends, crewmember “Sixpack” Parrish (Daniel Stern) discovers a sunken Soviet submarine called Leviathan (or левиафан if you read the name off the side of the ship) and enters it, coming out with salvage. Naturally, this is not going to go well. Soon enough, they discover that the sub was scuttled. And right about the same time, Parrish and crewmember Bridget Bowman (Lisa Eilbacher), sharing vodka from the downed sub, become infected with, well, whatever medical experiment the Russians were conducting on the sub.

It turns out, the Russians were working with some sort of mutagen that mutates whomever comes in contact with it. Sixpack develops a weird rash and soon dies, and Bowman, seeing his fate—that he continues to mutate after dying, decides to kill herself. When the two bodies start merging despite being at least kind of dead, they are dumped into the ocean, but of course a part of one of the bodies manages to snap itself off and stay on the mining rig, because of course the rest of the crew is going to be picked off slowly.

Meanwhile, rig chief/geologist Steven Beck (Peter Weller) is trying to get the mining company to come rescue them, but the company official (Meg Foster) tells them that there is a hurricane raging on the surface. So now, Beck and the other five crew members, Doc (Richard Crenna), Jones (Ernie Hudson), DeJesus (Michael Carmine), Cobb (Hector Elizondo), and Williams (Amanda Pays) will essentially take turns being victims of the critter that acts a great deal like the outer space monster in John Carpenter’s The Thing remake. In fact, at one point, one infected person’s hand splits open and shows a row of teeth.

The idea here is a solid one, but Leviathan breaks down in a few key areas. For a start, the science is incredibly stupid. While it’s fun to think that this is how mutations happen, it’s really not. Evolution—and mutation—simply don’t work this way. It did in Carpenter’s film because it was caused by an alien creature. This wants to do the same thing, but works only if the science is taking crazy pills.

It’s also really, really predictable. You know going in that at best two people are going to walk out of the facility, and it’s not that hard to narrow it down to a final two. I had the survivor(s) pegged once it was clear that Sixpack was bringing something nasty onto the facility, and I was absolutely right.

Leviathan has good bones. It wants to be a lot better than it actually is, but it just can’t get the bat off its shoulder.

Why to watch Leviathan: Because combining Alien and The Thing sounds like the biggest of horror geek boners.
Why not to watch: The science is really, really dumb.


  1. I saw this back in '90 or '91, but sadly I remember nothing about it. I've been to get back to it. I'm not in rush though, and that sounds okay.

    1. It sort of is what it is. The idea is better than the execution, which is something it has in common with a lot of science fiction movies. That it's predictable just makes it a little less worth revisiting.

  2. I've heard of this film as Trent Reznor sampled bits of the film for one of the tracks in The Downward Spiral. I don't remember which track as I had never seen this as this looks cheesy but I might check it out one of these days out of boredom.

    1. The song in question is Reptile, and if you didn't know it was a sample from a movie, you wouldn't be able to figure it out.

      Cheesy is about right. It's pretty much by-the-numbers.

    2. Thank you. I know Reznor is known for sampling films into his music as it's often obscure and such. He does it cleverly.

  3. I remember the year this came out deep sea adventures/dramas were all the rage. There was The Abyss, The Rift, Deep Star Six, this and probably one or two others but not a single one of them were that great. Cameron's Abyss came closest but it was too long and rather messy.

    This one was on the ridiculous side though I'm always happy to see Meg Foster anywhere.

    1. I like Meg Foster. She's staggeringly recognizable because of her eyes.

      There's a very weird little subgenre of underwater adventure films. And there is precedent for movies with the same basic plot all coming out in the same year--I guess 1989 was "deep sea adventure" year, like 1997 was "volcanoes erupt on the West Coast" year.