Leviathan (1989) – A Review

Leviathan 1989 sci-fi horror movie
Leviathan

Underwater deep-sea miners are nearing the end of a six-month gig digging up precious minerals on the ocean floor. They’re all going a bit stir crazy and are all anxious to return to the surface with their own plans and get back to living in the open air.

But then a member of the crew encounters something unexpected – a sunken Russian ship named the Leviathan. After salvaging some items from the safe of the ship an overzealous miner returns to his comrades with a treasure trove of goods not knowing the sinister force that he’s just exposed them to. Very soon a horrific creature will be unleashed onto their rig and will be threatening all their lives.

Ok, so this is an Alien/The Thing knockoff. Instead of space or the arctic we have a bunch of characters at the bottom of the ocean when a deadly sci-fi/horror creature begins to pick them off one by one. Even the most casual moviegoer will see the blatant similarities with this setup.

Leviathan was also one of the handful of underwater action/horror movies that cropped up in the late-80’s/early 90’s – DeepStar Six, The Evil Below, Lords of the Deep, The Rift, The Abyss. I’m not sure what made the bottom of the ocean so popular during this period.

I started to think maybe they all grew out of the discovery of the Titanic wreck in 1985. It got a lot of attention and suddenly we were seeing all these nifty ghostly images sitting on the ocean floor. Perhaps that inspired filmmakers to tell some stories in that cold pressurized setting. That’s just a rough guess though.

One thing that sets Leviathan apart from the rest of the pack of these underwater flicks is the impressive cast we get to watch run for their lives in this pressurized oil rig. Peter Weller is a geologist who becomes the reluctant commander of this mining crew. Richard Crenna is the rigs doctor that wishes he could leave his mark on mankind. Amanda Pays spends her time training to be an astronaut. Hector Elizondo, Daniel Stern, Ernie Hudson, Michael Carmine and Lisa Eilbacher are the rest of the colorful crew who become expendable pawns by their icy, impersonal Tri-Oceanic boss Meg Foster.

Eilbacher isn’t feeling too hot, but still looking hot

Yep, we’ve seen this before. Suspicions begin that the Leviathan was actually sunken on purpose. Weller and Crenna determine that the crew of the Leviathan were being experimented on with some kind of genetic mutagens and the ship was sunk when things got a bit out of control.

Unfortunately Stern pockets an innocuous vodka flask off the Leviathan, shares a shot of it with Eilbacher and then really strange things happen to the crew.

As the infection begins to spread from one character to another the rest do their darndest to dispose of the creature and save themselves. The odds aren’t in their favor though with no way off the rig, no help from Foster on the surface and this creature getting bigger and slimier scene by scene and taking apart the rig.

Flamethrowers, large metal doors closing, long dark hallways and this creature popping out of sorts places are how the crew get to spend their remaining time on the ocean floor.

Leviathan 1989 horror sci-fi makeup

This is a quintessential B-movie creature feature. The high points are the beginning of the movie with this cast of actors just hanging out bouncing lines off each other. I probably would have been content just to hang out with them watching them work. Plus, Pays and Eilbacher are both looking good here.

I always found it interesting Leviathan was filmed dry-for-wet and how convincing those underwater scenes look. Thinking back on how much money James Cameron spent to film and create that underwater environment in The Abyss, Leviathan was able to pull off the same thing with less work and less money and it all works fairly well.

Once the terror of the deep begins it becomes a very paint-by-numbers experience where there are little surprises and you know where it’s all headed. There are a few fun lines, some nifty special effects here and there and a decent score by Jerry Goldsmith, but those few things don’t make the whole thing worth sitting through.

I remember first seeing Leviathan when it first came out and really hoping to like it. Wanting it to be a special kind of horror film, but it just ended up being an awfully standard one.

Leviathan 1989 monster sci-fi horror
The creature revealed

On top of it being a retread of better films that doesn’t offer anything new, another major disappointment that I’ve always had with Leviathan is that we’re never allowed to get a nice look at the creature. With special effects maestro Stan Winston creating this thing I would have thought his work would have been prominently featured. But no.

I understand the whole sense of mystery and the philosophy of ‘it’s scarier what we don’t see’ and all that, but give us something! We never get a sense of what this thing looks like or how exactly it’s moving through this rig and able to pop up at just the right moment to grab an unsuspecting crew member. I’ve since seen pictures of the models and puppets and it was all news to me. I would always think, “oh so that’s what it looks like!”


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8 Responses

  1. Capt Nemo says:

    If you ask me, I think the rash of underwater horror movies had to do with James Cameron's The Abyss. The film was dragging behind schedule and I think some Hollywood opportunists were trying to scoop Cameron's idea before he could reap most of the rewards.

    The thing that I remember from that period was that was that these movies seems to go straight to video. With the exception of The Abyss, I only knew about these underwater movies when I saw the posters hanging over the horror section of the video store. I don't remember seeing any advertisements for Leviathan or Deep Star Six.

    The leviathan poster I thought was very cool. Someone in a JIM suit holding on to a half-naked woman while ascending through the depths.

    But the thing that always got me was how chinsy the sets looked on these films. With the exception of The Abyss, the rigs always looked too brightly lit and too plastic to be real. Granted filming in water must have drained the budget.

  2. Oddly enough right after watching Leviathan I revisited DeepStar Six and that had a very cheap TV-movie-ish quality. If someone had told me it was the NBC movie of the week or something I would have easily accepted it.

    • Capt. Nemo says:

      And with no ensemble of interesting actor choices to save it.

      You really hit it when you said it was a great cast. I look at the list on imdb.com and it looks so right in so many ways.

      So many awesome character actors in one movie. That's the way to do it.

  3. Capt. Nemo says:

    I would like to see Lords of the Deep. Mainly because Roger Corman's name is attached to it.

    I want to see if he used his experience with limited budgets to craft a clever film with interesting characters and neat special effects.

    Ah, who am I kidding? He was starting to phoning it in around this period anyway. So I'm probably not missing much.

    A shame, really.

  4. John Jamele says:

    I worked at a Video Store in Washington DC when all three of these films were just being released. We would show them on the screens in the store. We all agreed that "The Abyss" was by far the best of the films, but you know what? "The Leviathan" was much, much more fun to watch and rented better than either of the other two.

    My manager got fired for demanding that the company buy five copies of "Look Who's Talking" to rent and then watching four of them sit on the shelves untouched day after day. Meanwhile "The Leviathan" (one copy) was ALWAYS rented out.

    • That's funny. I know Leviathan has a fair share of devoted fans who genuinely love it. So there's something about it that draws people into it and entertains them. I'm just missing that boat I guess.

  5. CKulik says:

    Another spot-on review there. The fact they never had an adequate view of the creature always bothered me…in fact, the movie was so entertaining on its own terms that it emphasizes how much of a disappointment the ending was. And, yes, the character actors present here is awesome!

    On a side note, I liked how ramboraph4forlife did reviews on all six of the underwater adventures and he actually preferred LEVIATHAN to the THE ABYSS (what a shocker!). At least in THE ABYSS we got a good view of the creatures, but there's no denying LEVIATHAN is fun on its own terms…a perfect rainy Saturday afternoon flick to watch on TBS if you ask me.

    • Ramboraph4forlife's love for this film is infectious. I don't think much of it, but hearing him talk about it and his respect for it makes me really want to like the movie as much as he does. I can see the entertainment that some have for it as an underwater B-Movie, but it's never grown on me. On a sidenote I really hope Ramboraph decides to return from his hiatus and continues to do his movie reviews.

      Right after I watched Leviathan I did revisit DeepStar Six. Never got around to writing up a review for it. Maybe I should try to get to that….

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