Roger Corman has every reason to show off “Piranha,” but he should’ve returned “Up from the Depths” to the water as soon as he had it on the hook. This is one “Jaws” rip-off that’s a rip-off in itself.
The 1979 picture takes place at a Hawaii resort where paradise is interrupted by the arrival of a prehistoric shark loosed by an earthquake. The first signs of trouble occur when a guest emerges from the water with a butcher counter’s worth of entrails draped across his shoulders. But it’s nearly 30 minutes following that anything of value happens, and does so to music unashamedly aping John Williams’ iconic “Jaws” theme.
The requisite scientist hero (Sam Bottoms) searches for answers from those who have seen it surface (“It’s important you tell me what you know! Did it have any phosphorescent properties?”) along with resort PR manager/hottie Susanne Reed, but goings on are slow, until the last half hour, when “Depths” gives itself over to self-parody, almost in an act of surrender. I mean, a cry of “Oh, God, it’s a monster fish!” is followed immediately by “I’ll have a scotch and soda!”
Various locals, from the resort to “our neighborhood pirate,” put a ransom on the shark’s head, so several dozens volunteer to basically sacrifice themselves for the good of viewer bloodlust. One of the fish-hunters’ boats is named Humuhumunukanukiapaa II, because that’s how shallow “Depths” gets.
The most gory thing you’ll see is a chef stuffing a pig. The entire effort — if that’s the word for it — is poorly dubbed, but you do get exploding boats, a busty bikini model shedding her top, and straw hats aplenty. You do seek out movies with gratuitous straw hats, right? No?
Then perhaps you’ll find “Demon of Paradise” more to your tastes. Sharing disc space with “Depths,” it essentially offers the same story, but with better results. Just switch out “earthquake” with “dynamite,” and “shark” with “lizard man.” It also has exploding boats and a busty bikini model shedding her top, but this being 1987, subs cocaine for gratuitous straw hats. But the best part comes with the lizard man bursts out of the water to bring down a helicopter.
While no great shakes, “Demon” is better made and more entertaining than “Depths,” in roughly the same amount of time, if still as nutritious as fish sticks from your grocer’s freezer. For maximum enjoyment, watch the disc in double-feature mode so they come wrapped in some terrific trailers, from a gotta-see “Firecracker” (“the screen’s first erotic kung-fu classic”) to Jonathan Demme’s women-in-prison exploitation classic “Caged Heat” (“where bodies behind bars ache with hunger for a man … any man”). —Rod Lott