There are rules in horror movies regarding tentacles; one is, don’t be a an anime girl. And the other is, the tentacles can pop out anytime, anywhere, and get you. That is the Rule of the Ubiquipus, which can be everywhere at once. In the seafaring horror film Deep Rising, the world’s largest and most luxurious cruise ship, the S.S. Hubris, is beset upon from all sides by the Ubiquipus, a group of hijackers, and a jewel thief after the goodies in the hold. It is a perfect storm of cliches, and while the movie was universally loathed by critics, the public also stayed away in droves. Which is a shame, because it is the greatest Sci-Fi Channel movie ever made. Unfortunately it debuted in theaters, where cheesy B-movies rarely fare well. If you want to see good actors stoop and be liquefied by a giant Lovecraftian beastie, this is definitely worth a rental.
Let’s face it, when a movie stars Treat Williams these days, you can’t expect a lot going in. It’s not like seeing Jeremy Irons show up in Dungeons & Dragons. Mr. Williams’s rise began with Prince of the City, a great Serpico-style cop thriller, and Sergio Leone’s classic mob drama Once Upon a Time in America. He peaked early, and eventually ended up in movies like Dead Heat, as a zombie cop named Roger Mortis alongside Joe Piscopo. He then played a memorable role as “Critical Bill” in Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, before showing up as a sort of grumpy Han Solo captain in Deep Rising. Sure, he may not be starring in movies by luminary directors like Sydney Lumet and Sergio Leone anymore, but at least he’s having fun with giant squid.
Treat plays Captain Finnegan, who runs a small vessel that takes “no questions asked” jobs, but seems rather naive about it. His engine man, Pantucci (Kevin J. O’Connor, Beni from The Mummy) is the comic relief of the film and feels like a more manic young Bruce Dern with Dweezil Zappa’s hair-do. He grates sometimes but manages to keep a low-level comic energy that helps you forget some of the really stupid dialogue and things people do in this movie. He’s got the hots for shipmate Leila, played by South Korean cutie Una Damon, but is too nosy for his own good. He also built the ship’s computer system, which looks like they bought it from salvage off the Nostromo and added color monitors.
They’re shuttling a bunch of tough guys to some spot in the middle of the ocean. When you’re a captain, you should get suspicious when your passengers want you to stop in the middle of the open sea. It’s a good place for them to kill you and your crew and dump you over the side. That’s not the merc’s plans though. Led by distinguished character actor Wes Studi (The Last of the Mohicans, Mystery Men) and including an early role by Djimon Hounsou (Stargate, In America) as The Mean, Sort of Crazy Black Bald Guy. They catch Pantucci snooping around and start beating the shit out of them, until Cap’n Finnegan has a Mexican standoff with them using a semi-automatic harpoon gun, that sadly never shows up again.
Meanwhile on the luxury liner, owner Joey Canton (Anthony Heald; Dr. Chilton from the Lecter saga) is entertaining his rich guests. Note: never trust a rich entrepreneur named ‘Joey.’ His crew finds a slinky gal in a cocktail dress sneaking around the vault, and find out she’s a high-class thief named Trillian (yes, the girl from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). Played with a nice rack and not much else by Famke Janssen, she’s a spunky love interest who should have been merged with Leila, who conveniently disappears after Act One, never to be seen again. Pantucci sheds a lone tear for his gobbled girlfriend.
Now for the trifecta of terror in this overcomplicated script- the ship plows into something in the open ocean, people scream and stampede, the lights go out, and in bad movie tradition, sea monster, pirates, jewel thief, and plucky captain & crew collide and yell at each other while the tentacles grab them, slurp their soft parts and spit out their skeletons. Yep, the bad guys drag Finnegan & Pantucci on board to look for parts to repair his boat- their escape route, which got damaged in the crash. Now don’t ask why bad guys who can afford imaginary Chinese assault rifles with chaingun barrels, and huge-ass torpedoes, can’t just buy a boat and hire fellow scumbags to pilot it. They spent it all on ammo.
We never find out what the hijackers or thief wanted to steal, either; there’s some chicanery about Dr. Chilton hiring them to sink the ship for the insurance, but who cares? Bring on the Ubiquipus! The beast’s tentacles infest the entire ship, popping out of ducts and toilets. Each tentacle has a mouth and slurps you down like one of those slick-throated snakes from Anaconda, capable of swallowing meat faster than a busload of fluffers. That’s not enough, though. They’re covered in fangs, much like the tentacles we’d see ten years later in The Mist, and digest everything but your bones. Then they spit out your bloody skeleton, which is held together like the ones in science class, so we can deduce that the stomach acid of the Ubiquipus cannot dissolve bone, ligament or connective tissue.
Sometimes they interrupt the creature after it gets someone, and they come out partially digested, and of course, alive. It’s sort of like the remake of The Blob, which had less gore but a much higher creepiness factor. This movie is directed by the guy who’d go on to do The Mummy, and and they’d re-use some of the “half a head” modeling on Imhotep. Here it looks better because he’s not a dessicated corpse. The tentacles also look damn good for 1998, and it’s only at the end, after everyone we don’t care about is digested, that the big reveal of the Ubiquipus ends up being disappointing. The effects are at least as good as the thing at the end of Hellboy, but the concept is rather hilarious; a huge octopus with fangs, he looks like a slimy Cookie Monster with tentacles. I know every nerd was hoping for Cthulhu, but they could have done better. Something like the Kraken from the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels at least looks squidly and not like a lump of shit with teeth.
Despite its flaws- making Wes Studi play a one-note Stereotypical Asshole with a Gun, a jumbled story that should have been simple, and some godawful dialogue by everyone but Finnegan and Pantucci- the movie can be fun if you go in with proper expectations. It never thinks it is more than a B movie, thankfully. Unfortunately we don’t care about any of the monster’s snacks, and even the ones we might care about, like Leila, just disappear. How the beast is finally dealt with, purely by chance, is lazy and stupid writing and bores us. The very ending is funny, but they needed to keep that note throughout; or keep it gory and dark. It’s hard to laugh one minute and then see a ballroom full of bloody, pooped-out skeletons and slime the next. If the mess of a screenplay was trimmed, it might have been better.
The Ubiquipus was best captured in this video, attacking a spacefaring rock group known as The Darkness. Thankfully, because they believe in a thing called love, the creature was temporarily defeated.