At the time that Deep Rising was released to theaters on January 30th of 1998 – I was still a part-time employee at a local movie theater. After my shift was finished, which was just in time for the midnight screening of Deep Rising I was quite eager to catch some aquatic horror. Paying for my snacks and drink I made my way into auditorium one – which was the bigger theater, held for movies that management assumed would be bringing in the most business… and with minutes left before the film began I realized this movie was just NOT going to make the mark. There was possibly 12 people in the entire audience – well – 13 including myself… but I will say that while the movie managed to attract only a handful of people on that opening night, we all had an absolute blast with the picture.
Deep Rising is an action/horror/comedy that was co-written and Directed by Stephen Sommers – who would return to the same mix of genres with The Mummy in 1999. Although I think it is more than fair to point out that with Deep Rising, Sommers leaned far more into the horror elements than he would with the Mummy series. Interestingly enough Deep Rising was intended to have been released in 1997, however as you can learn on the really exceptional Kino Lorber 20th Anniversary Blu-ray release, issues with the special effects company that was hired caused the film to be delayed until 1998. In fact it was Industrial Lights & Magic that ended up coming to the rescue. I’ve read some reviews that kind of bash the film for it’s CGI effects which I feel is a little unfair – I believe that… for the most part, the effects hold up far better than say 1997’s Anaconda.
One of the things I really loved about Deep Rising and what I think helped it to become a cult film is the cast. Treat Williams, Famke Janssen, Wes Studi, Jason Flemyng, Kevin J. O’Connor, Anthony Heald, Djimon Hounsou, Una Damon, Clifton Powell, Cliff Curtis, Trevor Goddard, Clint Curtis, and Derrick O’Connor make up the main cast. That list is full of some powerhouse performers and many who were just seeing the early days of their stars rising in Hollywood. Another aspect to note is that none of the characters in the film are actually… good guys… as has been pointed out in other reviews – John Finnegan (Williams), with his crew Joey Pantucci (Kevin J. O’Connor) and Leila (Damon) have been hired by a mercenary outfit, led by the stoic and underhanded Hanover (Studi). The mercenary team have sets their sights on the Argonautica, a luxury liner which is celebrating its maiden voyage with it’s owner and designer Simon Canton (Heald) and Captain H.W. Atheron (Derrick O’Connor) at the helm. Also on board the Argonautica is Trillian St. James (Janssen) who is up to no good as she is a profession thief and sees the wealthy patrons of the ship as an easy payday. That alone should make for an exciting 90’s action film – the horror aspect of the film is there is something deep in the ocean, large and ancient and it has awoken and sees the Argonautica and anyone on board as part of a large buffet.
Deep Rising is a solid ensemble picture and the comedy elements really land – very much like what you saw in the equally overlooked Big Trouble in Little China or maybe even Tremors. While Williams, Janssen, Kevin J. O’Connor, Studi, and Heald certainly steal the lion’s share of the spotlight – the cast really work off of each other – even the lunkheaded mercenaries are memorable and have moments to shine. Of course there is also the practical effects used in the film, provided by none other than the Rob Bottin Studio – who you should know from John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece The Thing.
There is one other element that I feel makes Deep Rising stand out and that is the score – courtesy of the late and great Jerry Goldsmith. Thankfully you aren’t going to have to take my word for how wonderful the score is, you can listen to a sample of it yourself thanks to FilmScore Suites.
After seeing Deep Rising at that midnight show I became a champion of the film – doing my very best to get people to see it. I’ll definitely have to give it a more detailed analysis on a future Saturday Frights podcast – but in closing, if you are up for a fun, action-filled romp, with some serious Lovecraftian horror elements, then Deep Rising will not fail to entertain.