Jul 7, 2021

The Bermuda Depths (Tsugunobu Kotani, 1978)

Part H.C. Andersen-like fairy tale which appears like a spiritual predecessor to The Red Turtle, and part westernized Kaiju flick by way of a Jaws tribute and Moby-Dick reference, The Bermuda Depths easily ranks amongst the most bizarre TV movies in the history of cinema. Based on the story by Arthur Rankin Jr. best known for his animated classic The Last Unicorn, and penned by William Overgard who would work on the cult series Thundercats in the mid-80’s, this genre-bender strives to reach a rather broad audience, from melodrama to creature-feature fans, all the while remaining family-friendly. Does it succeed? To a certain extent, yes, if you are willing to forgive a stumble here and there.

It opens with an oneiric sequence that sees an enigmatic young woman (ethereally beautiful Connie Sellecca in her first screen role) diving sans scuba gear to a saccharine, yet catchy ballad, Jennie (we later learn it is her name) in the crystal blue sea. Upon her arrival to the beach, we are introduced to a troubled hero, Magnus (Leigh McClosky of Argento’s Inferno fame), sleeping near a natural stone arch utilized for a painterly, somewhat Magritte-esque frame by DoP Jeri Sopanen, and through an almost wordless flashback turned into the boy’s dream, we witness the tragic past that made him a rambler. Soon afterwards, he encounters an old friend, Eric (Carl Weathers, who confronted Stalone’s Rocky as Apollo Creed two years earlier), and his employer, Dr. Paulis (Burl Ives) – an old friend and colleague of Magnus’s late father – who are exploring mutations causing gigantism in sea life. And that’s where we come to a villa-sized turtle and a local legend involving Jennie.

Without going into further detail, I can say that what follows possesses certain qualities of a myth, features spectacularly cheesy special effects, such as glaringly obvious ship and helicopter miniatures in the climax, and boasts absolutely gorgeous locations of Bermuda which comes across as a character on its own right. The scenes of summer abandon shot at the beach, underwater (many kudos to Stan and George Waterman), and in a secret cave are the film’s key selling points, although the set design for the dilapidated interior of a cliff house where Magnus grew up has its charms as well, especially if you’re a sucker for ‘ruin porn’. So, if both the pacing and helming of Tsugunobu (aka Tom) Kotani had been a bit tighter, and the majority of performances had been finely tuned, this would’ve become a classic of sorts. Nevertheless, its wonderfully captured exoticism, and a bold mash-up of romance, fantasy, adventure, mystery, action and whatnot may pique interest of seasoned cinephiles and casual viewers alike. Just don't expect a happy ending...

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