War Gods Of The Deep (1965 UK/USA)

Also known as City Under The Sea but I prefer the above title. Ah, the good old days of sci-fi/fantasy flicks: watching well dressed men sit around sipping Brandy in a study (walnut panelling of course) while the rocket/ship/sub/plane is carrying them to an amazing destination or fate. Taking its theme from an Edgar Allan Poe poem, with an interesting screenplay by Charles Bennett, this fantasy picture packs thrills, weird monsters, a lively pace and fantastic scenarios–all located undersea obviously. The film also seems to be a scrapbook of ideas from other, better, movies like the Roger Corman Poe films, and The Time Machine.

American International Pictures never trashed old sets. This enabled art director Frank White to recycle old wares from previous films to make the sets and miniatures that comprise the underwater city. OK, here’s the plot…1903: The Cornish coast. Dashing mining engineer Ben Harris (likable Tab Hunter) and jolly artist Harold Tufnell-Jones (an amusing David Tomlinson) discover a crumbling underwater society ruled by the ruthless Sir Hugh (the always terrific Vincent Price) while poking around a cave in search of sweet fair damsel Jill Tregillis (fetching Susan Hart). The former smuggler inhabitants never age and exploit gill-men creatures as slave labour. Moreover, (just in case the past few sentences made you nearly fall asleep with boredom) there’s an active volcano which threatens to erupt at any moment.

The director, Jacques Tourneur, working from a fanciful and eventful script, relates the engrossing story at a steady pace, evoking a pleasingly eerie and mysterious atmosphere in the opening half hour. He also delivers a  lively and exciting last 25 minutes, depicting the inevitable climactic eruption of the volcano, whilst our protagonists are chased underwater by Sir Hugh and his flunkies. There’s a nice sense of imagination evident throughout, the amphibious seaweed-covered humanoid fish men are pretty gnarly looking, the sets are fairly lavish, and the special effects might be crude by today’s more sophisticated standards, but still possess a certain funky charm just the same. On the downside there are cringe-inducing scenes like one dude carrying another dude in a kilt, his head positioned between hairy legs. Plus the scene where the kilt-wearing dude carries a chicken on his head. What was comic relief for kids in 1965 would probably receive shouts of gay! now. (Sigh)..what can you do? 🙂

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