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Friday, November 25, 2011

Terror Beneath the Sea

This bit of digression is actually pretty apt, following Latutude Zero. Released originally as "Kaitei daisensô" in 1966, it too, features a largely western cast, mostly speaking english, but dubbed into Japanese. It also featured amazing submarines and an undersea city. When released internationally, the film had many titles, including: Water Cyborg, UX Bluthund, I Mostri Della Città Sommersa, Robots 2000, and Terror Beneath the Sea (TBS). This last iteration probably did not have an American theatrical release, since no poster seems evident. There were German and Italian posters, however. TBS more than likely went direct to television, hence the VHS cover art in lieu of a poster. This also makes TBS a good bridge in this study to sci-fi movies of the 70s, as the early 70s was most likely when it aired. TBS stars a young Sonny Chiba, one of the first martial arts "stars".

Quick Plot Synopsis
A high tech sub tracks a target sub. It's all demonstration by the navy for a super homing torpedo. During the tests, the silhouette of a swimming man flashes across the monitors. Journalist duo, Ken (Chiba) and Jenny (Peggy Neal), go scuba diving to check it out. Jenny encounters a silvery gillman, takes a picture, but drops her camera. The navy doesn't believe her. Ken and Jenny go looking for the camera, but find an undersea cave full of air. They also find several sliver gillmen who capture them. They awaken in the modernistic lab of the sinister Dr. Moore who always wears sunglasses. He bombasts about the world of the future starting with his city under the sea and his army of water cyborgs. He demonstrates how humans are transformed into the aquatic cyborgs. Some gas, some colored lights, some time-lapse photography and finally a lung-gill transplant. Viola. WaterCyborg. Meanwhile, the navy found Jenny's camera and the picture of the gillman. Now the search is on. Dr. Moore wants Ken to join his new world order, but he and Jenny try to escape. For that, Dr. Moore sentences them to becoming his next WaterCyborg. They start the process enough to give both Ken and Jenny some waxy patches on their hands and faces. Further morphing is interrupted when the navy's sub has found Moore's hidden city. A battle ensues between Moore's clever seeking missiles and the sub's also clever moves and devices. In a last desperate move, the sub's commander launches his super torpedo. This manages to cause enough damage that Moore's city begins to fail. The damaged equipment means the water cyborgs go nuts, turning on their human masters. Many fights ensue. The atomic reactor goes critical AND has a handy countdown timer to doom. Moore and his henchmen prepare to escape in a pod, but Ken stops them for some hand-to-hand combat. Just when it looks like Moore will kill Ken, Moore is killed by Professor Howard (another abductee). Ken, Jenny and the professor don't know how to launch the escape pod, but a not-quite-dead Moore tries to kick them out and escape, thereby revealing the hidden panel. This time Moore is really dead. Ken, Jenny and Howard are rocketed to safety just as the city blows up. The navy finds them. Jenny is distraught over her disfigurement, but while she was unconscious, professor Howard reversed the early gillman-ism and she's pretty again. She and Ken walk the beach in the sunset (in their scuba gear). The End.

Why is this movie fun?
This film makes a nice companion piece to Toho's larger budget Latitude Zero. The sets, costumes and effects are all lower budget, but the similarities in the stories make for amusing watching. Super subs, Subsea cities, Smirking villains. They're sister films.

Cold War Angle
There are few of the usual Cold War motifs. Of course, the large demonstration of sub-tracking weaponry suggests a not-quite-peaceful world. The non-sequitur seabed field of dumped atomic waste carries the customary nuclear caution message.

Process Mann? Cyborg? -- The gillmen (sometimes called Water Cyborgs) appear to be purely biological and not a mixture of man and machine. The sinister Dr. Mann converts humans into gillmen with chemical treatments. Apparently the lungs don't convert well enough, as gill-lungs (grown separately) need to be transplanted into them before they're complete. The gillmen's near-imperviousness to bullets is never explained. Perhaps it's the scales.

  Failed Feminist -- The writers made a feeble attempt to write Jenny as the tough liberated woman reporter. When Commander Brown suggests that maybe she didn't really see the gillman, she gets all snarky. "You think it's just the wild hysterical imagination of a WOMAN, don't you." After that opening bit of attitude, however, Jenny settles back into the comfortable stereotype. She screams at pretty much anything. She regularly cowers behind her boyfriend's shoulder while HE takes on the bad guys. When Sonny is fighting, she stands aside gasping "oh no". At the end, her shallow vanity is blatant. She'd rather die than not be pretty. Her tough-girl feminist mode did not last long.

Dub Fest -- TBS featured many actors from a pool of lesser-grade western actors who worked for Japanese studios. Peggy Neal, who plays Jenny, goes on to star in X From Outer Space (a B-grade rubber-suit monster kaiju film). Franz Gruber (Commander Brown) would also feature in "X" and others. While they apparently speak english during the filming, either their voices were not "right" or their diction is off. Their lips sometimes match up with the voices, but often not quite. They even had their english lines dubbed into english.

  Ultimate Weapon? -- When the navy's super sub having trouble fending off all of Dr. Moore's insidious torpedo-missiles, Captain Bob decides he's going to launch their big missile -- the one that makes up most of the bow of the submarine. "No, you can't" another officer objects. "You'll blow up half the ocean." Captain Bob launches it anyway, and sure enough it does breach Moore's defenses. But, "blow up half the ocean?" Why would people design a whole submarine around a weapon they don't dare fire? Now, it turns out the super missile did not blow up half the ocean, so was that just over-acting hype? Or, was it an allusion to nuclear weapons? Hard to say.

 Shades of Evil -- In B-grade Japanese films, anyone wearing sunglasses all the time, MUST be a bad guy. Dr. Moore is clearly cast in that trope. He also does what many screen villains do, he laughs disdainfully a lot.

 Bottom line? TBS is fairly "lite" entertainment. It makes an interesting companion film to Toho's more polished Latitude Zero. The sets, models and acting in TBS are modest at best. The film is a step up from the campy "Star Man" style of Japanese fighting-hero stories, such as "Iron Sharp" -- a space hero in tights and a cape, played by Sonny Chiba a few years earlier. TBS is rainy Saturday matinee material, but not much more.


Ana Caroline said...

Hi! Let me ask you, where did you watch all this movies? I mean, I found some of them on torrent to download but most of them I can't even find on DVD. Could you help me? By the way, your blog is AMAZING! Is the ultimate guide to all classic sci-fi movies fans! THANK YOU!

Nightowl said...

Hi Ana,
Thanks for the comment and the nice 'testimonial'. (click an ad, give a starving blogger a nickle!) :-)

Yes, many of the movies beyond the famous ones, can be tough to find. I guess that's part of the "joy" in my little quest. Tracking down and finding an elusive gem (or maybe not-so-gem) has a reward of its own.

Some are torrents, but sometimes also from obscure sources. Some are gray-market DVDs. A few seem to exist only on well-used VHS. Some are from collectors. It's been quite the mixed bag.

Thanks again!

S. L. Hennessy said...

It's awesome to meet a fellow sci-fi nerd. I've watched more sci-fi movies than I can count, and I still am nowhere near as well watched as you. Guess I have some catching up to do.

Great blog. I found you though the Movies 411 award page. Can't wait to read more posts and add more recommended movies to my "must watch" list.

Nightowl said...

Hi S.L,
Glad you like my blog. Always nice to find another ci-fi fan.

Yep, there's a lot of sci-fi movies out there. I keep discovering obscure gems.

Sure, stay tuned. Follow, whatever. :-)