By: Quinn Zack
Films from the ‘80s and ‘90s can be very similar to each other in tone, aesthetics, sensibilities and many other aspects. It’s as if one decade of action, horror, practical effects, synthesizer scores and scripts so ridiculous to be only rivaled by even crazier plots, went on seamlessly into the next.
When appreciating filmmaking, one only has to look at the role a film is made to fulfill, and in my mind the mentality of films meant to portray a vision despite how silly, awkward, ridiculous, or contrived is best observed in the 80’s and 90’s, especially through the VHS format. Physical media is something that should be cherished as being exactly what it is.
A VHS tape is a solid representation of the particular film you wish to watch. Due to its sheer size and solidity, it feels like a much greater representation of a film than any DVD could be. The process of sliding the tape from its case and feeding it into my vcr is a satisfying operation I have no nostalgia for, but every time I acquire one more it feels like I have all along.
From there, I know exactly what I could be getting into. The anticipation that John Hughes will have us laughing at the awkwardness of growing up, that Roger Corman will give us creativity regardless of budgetary constraints and that Stallone, Schwarzeneggar, or Van Damme can give us the most entertaining action scenes with arguably minimal acting talent; that is something to be celebrated.
Atop all of that are the endless sea of unknowns trying their best to make films as fun as they can as well as a limitless supply of classics from decades past showing us a spectrum of quality we can expect from any film. It is in the VHS format where I feel those sensibilities of filmmaking are best represented.
The intention of this column is to review the films that embody this idea in not only its entertaining, creative, suspenseful, exciting, and fun ways, but also its cheap, trashy glory as seen in some true classics of filmmaking and scores of considerably lesser efforts.
It’s a format mostly devoid of CGI and, as I have learned to love and appreciate it for everything that it is, I hope my reviews can influence those who read them to do the same and inspire people to laugh and have fun with an artistic medium that deserves to be rewound.
Ridley Scott’s “Alien” and John Carpenter’s “The Thing” are both films that conjure horror and suspense in similar ways. A group of rowdy protagonists are set in a highly isolated location, where they gradually become the victims of an alien menace posing such a threat that paranoia ensues due to the ever present danger. What makes these films both interesting in their own right is how they set themselves apart.
“Alien”, for instance features an indifferent corporation that attempts to cover up the imminent danger facing the protagonists, while “The Thing” strives to stand out through that imminent danger, a creature that can manipulate the bodies of others in order to lure its next unsuspecting victim.
Directed by George P. Cosmatos, starring Peter Weller (better known for playing Robocop), and released in 1989, “Leviathan” serves as a combination of every similarity between “Alien” and “The Thing”, but also every difference. As derivative as that may sound, for what it is I’d say it mostly works.
The film follows a team of underwater miners who come across the remnants of a mysterious Russian freighter called the “Leviathan.”
Following the discovery, not only do the miners experience unexplained fatal illnesses and bodily irregularities, but also the company sponsoring them is seemingly noncommittal in their response, holding the proposition of rescue above their heads even when the same mysterious deaths of their coworkers make way for a literal ”Leviathan” all its own.
The film’s plot blends elements from both of its very apparent inspirations pretty seamlessly in a way that isn’t inventive, but is still really effective.
Some other commendable aspects of Leviathan are its special effects and set design. Everything from the miner’s equipment to the underwater landscapes looks surprisingly realistic, showing a level of production value not regularly seen in B-grade horror movies like this.
The creature itself is also something to be admired, an amalgamation of human beings and aquatic life that’s truly a sight to behold. Like its inspirations, this film does a pretty good job of saving its reveal to the end for maximum intrigue and suspense.
My one real complaint with “Leviathan” is that the individual miners that make up its protagonists are pretty generic, not too much beyond what can be expected from any other slasher or horror sci-fi film, although I do think Richard Crenna’s role as the crew’s seemingly apathetic doctor did a lot to increase the suspense.
Overall, although “Leviathan” as a premise may be nothing any fan of horror sci-fi hasn’t been exposed to, and it’s characters may be pretty generic, it still serves as a successful example of the genre. Despite its flaws, it features some high production values and ambitious creature design while also executing a similar level of paranoid horror as its contemporaries.
It shows some legitimate talent that fans of the first two “Rambo” films will recognize from its director, and a highly commendable amount of effort from everyone else involved.