Looking back at Leviathan
We take a look back at Leviathan, a sci-fi horror hotchpotch of Alien, The Thing and Jaws, in which Peter Weller takes on a vodka-fuelled fish monster…
As 80s B-movies go, Leviathan surely boasts one of the coolest casts of the decade. Even on paper, a film that stars RoboCop, Colonel Trautman out of the Rambo movies, one of the hapless villains out of Home Alone and its sequel, plus Ghostbusters’ Winston Zeddemore sounds great. As does its premise, which is essentially a schlocky rip-off of Alien and The Thing.
One of a flotilla of undersea sci-fi thrillers to drift out of Hollywood in the decade (see also James Cameron’s flashier The Abyss, Roger Corman’s Lord Of The Deep and Sean S Cunningham’s DeepStar Six, to name a few), Leviathan was the product of the late Florentine director George Pan Cosmatos, whose work also included train-based disaster flick The Cassandra Crossing, and the Sly Stallone vehicles Rambo: First Blood Part II and Cobra.
Peter Weller heads up a team of eight undersea miners who stumble upon a sunken Russian vessel called Leviathan. Despite finding a wealth of evidence that indicates that the stricken ship’s crew were killed by some horrible disease, two members of the mining team (Daniel Stern’s Six Pack and Lisa Eilbacher’s Bridget) decide to help themselves to a hip flask full of virus-ridden vodka.
Within hours, the pair of miners have deteriorated, died, and returned to life as a gloopy fish-monster. Big, rubbery and seldom glimpsed, the beast then begins either killing or infecting the remainder of the undersea station’s crew in the finest Alien/slasher movie tradition.
In horror terms, Leviathan’s about as scary as a laundry basket. This is partially because it’s so unbelievably predictable, with stock characters, including a mad doctor (Richard Crenna), an evil corporate type (the spooky-eyed Meg Foster, who’s little more than a face on a monitor for almost the entire film) and other hapless idiots who all die at their allotted time.
Just like the dystopian subplot of Alien and Aliens, alpha male Beck (Weller) and his love interest Willie (the unfeasibly posh Amanda Pays) discover that the company they work for has dismissed them as expendable. With no apparent way of escape, Beck and his fellow survivors are trapped miles under the ocean with a huge wobbling man-fish to contend with.
As a director of suspense, Cosmatos is hardly the equal of Ridley Scott or John Carpenter, though he’s at least wise enough to keep the camera from lingering on Stan Winston’s unusually iffy creature – a gelatinous pile of faces, teeth, tentacles and limbs – for too long. That is, until the delightfully cheesy ending, in which the monster’s wheeled out in full view.
Watched as a sci-fi comedy, Leviathan’s really, really good fun, an unapologetically trashy piece of potboiling schlock with a fabulous script that reads like a parody of every sci-fi horror ever made. Characters helpfully describe their symptoms (“Six pack! My hair’s coming out!”), while Ernie Hudson is given a great (if unenlightened) monologue which suggests that all Russians guzzle vodka the way Americans drink coffee.
Leviathan was written by David Peoples and Jeb Stuart, both of whom have penned far better films either before or since. Together with Hampton Fancher, Peoples wrote Blade Runner, and went on to write Ladyhawke, Unforgiven and Twelve Monkey. Jeb Stuart had an esteemed track record of his own, having written Die Hard, The Fugitive and Steven Segal’s environmental action saga, Fire Down Below.
Discovering that these two were responsible for writing Leviathan would be like finding out that Lennon and McCartney wrote the theme tune to Cash In The Attic.
Effects man Stan Winston and production designer Ron Cobb produced better results elsewhere, too, which makes me wonder if Leviathan had been flung together in order to beat James Cameron’s The Abyss to cinemas.
(It’s worth pointing out, in passing, that although Leviathan is set beneath the ocean, fish only make an occasional cameo appearance. In fact, here comes one now...)
There are still some neat Rob Bottin-inspired moments, though, including a man with gnashing teeth sprouting from the palm of his hand, and lots and lots of writhing tentacles.
While hardly a classic, Leviathan’s still one of the better undersea movies that bobbed about in the late 80s. It’s hard not to chuckle at a film with the audacity to plunder from so many other, better movies, with the plot even taking an abrupt, eleventh-hour left turn to accommodate an homage to Jaws.
And then there’s that script, which is full of great, quotable lines, including the spectacular, “Homo Aquaticus! A man who could live under water! Think of the possibilities!” which has vague echoes of a similar line about an intellectual carrot in The Thing From Another World.
A great late-night feast of cheesy entertainment, Leviathan’s the perfect film to enjoy with a few friends and a beer or two. Just be sure to steer well clear of the vodka.
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