Plankton (1994) Review by RevTerry

The underwater world is so vast and different from the one I experience. It's hard to wrap my head around, as nearly every living thing I meet enjoys relatively regular amounts of air and sunlight. In ways unlike any on dry land, the ocean gives shape to its own landscapes, seasons and animal kingdom. Even the small sampling of sea life I meet and/or consume up here looks like it's from another planet altogether. As far as my personal relationship is concerned, the deep sea could be outer space. If nothing else, It would be the closest thing I could afford on my salary for a good, lung-crushing, oxygen-deprived death. Even though supposedly there are more species of animal on land, the vibrant basic differences from the dryer versions are mind-blowing. They pull living shit out of the ocean that looks like it belongs in a cartoon ad for depression drugs.  It's all pretty fucking interesting, although admittedly, I haven't kept up on my Shark Week since the Discovery Channel went all Road Rules on me. I did take marine biology and oceanography at a junior college, and that was cool. I think I even passed, but that was years ago, and I'm almost sure I was stoned the whole time. Like many of the giant important things I depend on for survival, I know relatively little about the ocean and its inhabitants. Far from an expert, and always amazed, I would never want to sell Poseidon short. With all that said, I'm relatively sure that nothing in the briny deep resembles the lifeforms showcased in Plankton (1994).
Five friends carry a boat down to the Florida sealine while engaging in some playful back-and-forth and wearing matching swimwear. After loading up and embarking, the crew realizes they left the gas can on the beach just in time for a storm to set in. Luckily, they come upon a few dead bodies and, by following the trail, locate a damaged research-yacht not far away. Hoping the ship might have a radio and maybe some food, the kids yell out for help without results. Utterly dysfunctional, the gang deliberates for a while in the cadaver soup but left with no other choice, they come around to boarding uninvited. Once inside, they find an abandoned lab full of weird, dead fish and research equipment along with various quarters designed like hourly hotels. Mike (Clay Rogers), the group's junior marine biologist, quickly sets to work deciphering the damaged remains while the rest get comfortable and "party".  The mood relaxes, and everyone forgets about the waterlogged dead people outside as they go back to a more playful form of talking shit. Bobby (Michael Bon), the loudest of the group, even snorts some white powder he found in the lab on the off chance that it is a non-lethal narcotic. In between heart-to-hearts with Margareth (Sharon Marino), Mike uncovers various telling clues throughout the lab, leading him to suspect something horrible went down on the boat before they got there. His fears are soon validated when it becomes apparent one of the specimens broke loose from a jar before the disaster, and a now delirious scientist is found wandering around talking about fucking fish (it's cool though, they were “old enough”). It turns out Dr. Fishstick (Deran Sarafian) was studying a mutated strain of plankton with some very unique breeding habits and was transporting fresh samples in his love boat. Along the way, the meanest of the horny science projects liberated itself, fucked his crew up and was now trolling the ship for a new baby mamma.  An ungodly mess follows, full of things like damaging sex (both mental and physical), tentacles, and condom jokes. Also, scientific history is made when a female human unexpectedly gives birth to a large pile of caviar.
The plot is a slimy, confused spew of over the top horror, stolen cheese, and uncomfortable fornication. Juvenile and mean spirited, it’s a series of borrowed elements pushed to an impressively tasteless, discolored extreme. There is definitely a tale inside it somewhere involving ancient-nuclear-killer “plankton” and a perverted scientist, but early on it is apparent that nothing matters, except watching some unusually fucked up shit go down on a boat. Random bits of concept float unconnected in a surreal blend of dreamlike and slapstick tones before being forgotten completely in the grotesque final act. It's first forty-five minutes could pass as an overdrawn, deathless lead for a teen slasher, being mostly filled with terrible dialogue and bad decisions. All involved characters are either fatefully placed gimmicks (like the sex-crazed drug addict and his computer wiz junior biologist homie) or a cardboard female placeholder in a bikini. Their interactions are a constant mix of non-sequiturs and bickering which come and go without reason. It's hard to tell what was initially taken seriously, as some of the English dubbing is obviously in on the joke. In the usual genre fashion, the carefree gang has no qualms with using an unknown (possibly mad) scientist’s stained bed and shower--no matter how spooky. Once the film starts in with body horror and messy stuff, it skips most of the gears and goes straight for balls-out nuts. The entire plot is sexually charged seemingly for no reason than to add sleaze to the entertaining trash fire. The imagery isn't necessarily effective terror, just awesomely disgusting and possibly worth the wait for the right crowd.  There is no logic to the sequence of events, the character's choices or tone during any given moment--just lots of perplexing foreplay and a nautically themed gauntlet of oddly erotic cartoon horrors.
In spirit, the film could serve as the 90s follow up to Shocking Dark (1989, also known as Terminator II, Terminator 2, Aliens 2, etc.), as it takes aim at James Cameron's coattails with reckless ferocity and little focus. There isn't much of Cameron's The Abyss (1989) visible in the actual finished product.  It's more like someone scanned the box at Blockbuster on their way to renting Night of the Demons (1988) and some animated tentacle porn. Outside of the more original creature surprises, each moment is stolen from another film, sometimes only saved from direct plagiarism by the cynically aware English dub team. Frugally portioned chunks of precursory sea monster flicks like Leviathan (1989), Piranha II: The Spawning (1981) and DeepStar Six (1989) are placed haphazardly on the boat alongside more predominant influencers like the Evil Dead franchise, The Blob (1988) and The Thing (1982). Both by proxy and directly, there are a lot of goofy nods to H.P. Lovecraft's work, most specifically The Shadow over Innsmouth (although I don't know how much of that is on purpose).  Human-sea creature mating seems to be a favored topic in the movie’s eclectic canon, fully embracing the unsavory concept fourteen years after the infamous fishman attacks in Humanoids from the Deep (1980). In this case, however, it's a violent, drawn-out, date rape/transformation that gets hard to watch long before the bestiality. With nowhere near the notoriety, it gives Roger Corman's non-consensual beach scenes a run for their money in bizarre commitment alone.
From the get-go, the film seems broken, with abrupt cuts between unrelated scenes and originless chatter when no lips are moving. The editing is frantic and lingers without purpose but stays coherent enough to hold attention.  The ever-changing camera angles seem to become more colorful as the film moves along. Every “intense” situation is accompanied by an extreme close-up for everyone in the room, in degrees ranging from Bruce Campbell-like silliness to some kind of nasal examination. The cargo ship’s eccentric interior decorating would make Barbarella afraid to sit down, cultivating a hellish mix of phallic objects and the essence of the original My Little Pony toys. Only really showing up in the final third of the film, the creature effects adequately mix ridiculous and disgusting into a messy payoff. It's all derivative like the rest of the film, but the monster’s design is a step above its surrounding quality and spirit. The creature has a variety of forms, realized with a healthy amount of latex, multi-colored slime and puppets. It does its best to make you gag while keeping things silly. To its credit, I had trouble finishing my apple sauce after the birthing scene. It's probably not the worst thing I watched this week, but it did remind me of an incident at a bus stop that I have been trying to block for years. Think Troma style hijinks executed with a Zombie 3 (1988) level of seriousness. Without any help from the rest of the production, the chum-beast’s appearances remain consistently fun enduring bad angles and lazy editing. The English dubbing has a mind of its own and takes some low brow comedic liberties at the original content's expense. More than a few times the voice track is out of place, blabbering on by itself as characters run around with their mouths shut. Any musical scoring is mechanical, repetitive and drowned out, like the melody of a cabinet arcade in the back of laundromat. It's not particularly offensive noise, mostly just general canned synth, but it never even tries to hit its mark. The closest it ever gets to in-sync is making the overstayed, inexplicable focus shots feel more awkward and lengthy. It's obvious the film spent the bulk of its budget on gnarly marionettes and buckets of goop, which I'm perfectly okay with.
All at once in 1989 science fiction and horror cinema returned to the mysterious ocean depths for inspiration like it was the new outer space. Through serendipity and background Hollywood magic, Sean S. Cunningham’s DeepStar Six, George P. CosmatosLeviathan and James Cameron’s The Abyss all visited theaters in the year with enough time for Roger Corman to cash in (with Mary Ann Fisher’s Lords of the Deep) before Christmas. A few others dived in after them including Spanish director Juan Piquer Simón (the same guy gave us Slugs 1988) with his submarine-versus-fungus epic The Rift (1990). Not the type to miss out on these kinds of things, but a little late to the party, Italian exploitation cinema answered the call in 1994 by low balling Plankton on to home video internationally. The project (also known as Creatures from the Abyss or Piranha 4) was helmed by first-time director Alvaro Passeri, who had worked around special effects leading up to that point. Spread out over a decade, Passeri has (so far) released four additional films since, including the similarly confused (but almost unwatchable) cash-in The Mummy Theme Park (2000) and something (I would very much like to watch) involving aliens that eat rich people mid-air during pleasure flights (Flight to Hell 2003). The movie’s cast is mostly made up relatively unknown actors, with four out of the five mains listing the film as their only role. There is, however, an uncredited appearance by b-movie/TV director Deran Sarafian as the sleepy fish-fondling marine biologist. Sarafian must have been a busy dude at the time since he released two films in 1994 himself The Road Killers (with Christopher Lambert) and the Charlie Sheen skydiving mystery Terminal Velocity.
If Bruno Mattei and Sam Raimi engaged in a sweaty, intoxicated night of experimental passion during a budgeted pleasure cruise for kinky singles, Plankton (1994) would be their discarded flipper baby. Uneven as all fuck and mostly pointless, it's never dull, providing laughs during its slower (stolen) moments and globs of uncomfortable body horror as a payoff. Those with exquisite taste may also find value in identifying the various homages it makes use of for filler. Sleazy, extreme and cheap, it's a beautiful floating barge of secondhand water trash with an almost unique funk to it. Sometimes you just need some relatively tasteless cheese in your life, and you might as well have it on a boat. Honestly, I have no clue about what could be lurking yet unseen in the oceans. I stay mainly landlocked myself, but there are professionals out there bobbing for knowledge, and they find out new amazing shit every day. Anything is possible, I mean our ancestors crawled out of the sea at some point, so overgrown, snaggletooth protozoa could be in there too. Though if it is, and humankind runs into the abomination in the future, I vote we don't fuck it. Even if it's for science.
1h 26min | 1994
Director: Alvaro Passeri
Writers: Richard Baumann, John Blush

Links:
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Review by:
RevTerry

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