Leviathan (1989) / Sci Fi-Horror
MPAA Rated: R for strong creature violence, terror, disturbing images, and language including some sexual references and brief nudity.
Running Time: 98 min.
Cast: Peter Weller, Amanda Pays, Ernie Hudson, Richard Crenna, Hector Elizondo, Daniel Stern, Meg Foster, Michael Carmine, Lisa Eilbacher
Director: George P. Cosmatos
Screenplay: David Peoples, Jebb Stewart
Review published November 19, 2014
I re-watched this derivative 1989 film on its 25th anniversary (as if anyone would really commemorate it), and the only thing I remember about the film from when I had seen it shortly after its initial release on home video is that a friend and I used to refer to the sickly feeling we had after eating bad food as, "The Leviathan Feeling." I couldn't remember if that reference had been due to the horrific nausea shared among the film's characters who were mutating internally, or if it had been the nauseous result of actually watching such a disgustingly awful film. I can tell you on this long-in-coming rewatch that the answer works for both.
The plot: Scientists on the last few days of their stint in a deep sea mining operation stumble upon a mysterious Russian ship, "Leviathan", which has sunk and perhaps was ambushed by their own navy. They loot some cargo on board and inadvertently bring back the remnants of a genetic experiment gone awry, which they also set loose upon their own vessel, to gruesome and nightmarish results.
Leviathan isn't much more than an Alien clone, with dashes of John Carpenter's The Thing, substituting the deep sea for space and genetic experimentation for alien infestation. We have the same motley crew of company men and women, the same gory bodily manifestations, the same isolated, labyrinthine set design, the same hybridized 'monster', and the same underlying anti-corporation commentary,
The cast is full of character actors, few, if any, being especially good in their respective roles. Not that we could expect decent performances when given such horrendous, half-jokey lines to spew in the middle of what's supposed to be a dark, sinister, gory excursion, but none of them strike a resonant chord throughout, with the possible exception of an underutilized Hector Elizondo (Pretty Woman).
Leviathan is not only bad, it's gross to boot. Grotesque body transformations, wounds that open up to reveal sharp and gnarly fangs, and a monster that consists of the torsos, limbs and faces of the victims it fuses with, all add up to one of the least appealing science fiction horror films around, visually. That effects maestro Stan Winston (Predator, Aliens) and his studio provide the creature effects is the biggest disappointment, as it just doesn't look very real whenever we catch glimpses of the "thing" on the screen, and it regurgitates many elements he's already introduced before.
The direction by George P. Cosmatos (Rambo: First Blood Part II, Tombstone) shows poor instincts with this kind of material. Instead of trying to play for a truly frightening motion picture, he'd rather play up half-hearted camp and barf-inducing ick factor. The multiracial cast of character is rife with ethnic and gender stereotypes, and at no time exhibit the kind of camaraderie you'd expect from a few who've been living in close quarters with only each other to talk to for about 12 weeks. Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters), whose one-liners during times of abject horror shatter the film's meager tone time and again, has to try to speak in a manner that isn't his natural inclination (one can almost hear someone shouting off-screen saying, "can you try that line again, but with more "Black".)
Meanwhile, Daniel Stern (Hannah and Her Sisters) plays the most loathsome comic character of them all, as the beyond-belief pervert Sixpack (why the name? Never explained, but no one calls him anything else -- the corporation actually prints that nickname on his diving suit!), who would have been fired from just about any job for the kind of sexual harassment he perpetuates every single second he's in the room with any woman. And poor Amanda Pays ("The Flash") as Willie has to disrobe to her undergarments several times for no other reason than for pure audience titillation. Peter Weller (RoboCop, Butch and Sundance: The Early Days), who can play a very convincing oddball anytime, does not fit at all as the steely, charismatic chief who is supposed to represent the rational hero, but ends up mostly wisecracking instead of emoting in the moment.
Not to spoil it, but the film's ending features absurd developments that ignore such basic dangers as oxygen deprivation and decompression sickness, and even tosses in a shark attack to up the ante (one character comments about what a 'bad day' he's having), as if escaping a massive, vomitous monstrosity that could potentially infect and wipe out the human race if it were to surface weren't formidable or scary enough. A jump shot with an explosive, a one-liner that rips off Jaws, and a literal "punch line" at the end of the movie are just one more kick to the gut for those few movie fans left who manage to endure what is little more than a rotting dish of cinematic salmagundi. Like its main monster, Leviathan is merely a repulsive, mongrelized fusing of the bodies of work of several other, far more appealing entities, as hard to look at from a visual standpoint as it is hard to stomach in its actions.
©2014 Vince Leo