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The Baywatch lunk vs. the outer-space tentacle-beastie: “The Thing Below”

October 16, 2012

The movie The Thing Below (aka Sea Ghost) gives us at long last the answer to the question that has plagued us as a society for far too long: “What is Billy Warlock up to?” Ha! Just kidding. This movie was made in 2004, so it would be more accurate to ask “What was Billy Warlock up to eight years ago?” Well, of course I’m curious about that, right? Ha! I fooled you again! Nope, I was intrigued by this movie because it was directed by Jim Wynorski, and when you watch one of his movies you’re almost guaranteed to see some gratuitous nudity, so stream away, Netflix!

So, yeah. The Thing Below. There is a thing. It came from below. Can’t say this movie pulled a bait-and-switch, right? It begins with a nasty CGI tentacle-beastie getting loose in a top-secret lab housed in an abandoned oil-drilling platform. Basically, the platform gets hit by a storm and someone drops the Jug o’Monster and it breaks. Yeah, they stuck a tentacle-beastie in a glass tube. That’s some good monster-wrangling there.

“Goddamn it! Who forgot to put the stopper back in the Monster bottle?”

Okay, so cut to some generic government types in a darkened room. Yeah, it’s kind of like an avant-garde play, now, since these guys don’t interact with anyone, but each other and occasionally bark into a telephone. The room is sparsely-furbished, and cigarette smoke hangs in the air. Wow, I thought, maybe this is going to be an existential meditation on the way there’s a tentacle-beastie in all of us! But wait, then how will we see boobs?  Alas, it turns out these are just supposed to be nameless government flunkies, and the production values didn’t allow for more people. Or furniture.

Next we finally catch up with Billy Warlock. Remember him? If you don’t, he was the guy on Baywatch who wasn’t David Hasselhoff. If you do…um, why? Heterosexual men only watched Baywatch for the chicks, and women and gay men didn’t watch it all, so why do you know who Billy Warlock is? I only know him because he was on Days of Our Lives, and my sister made me tape it for her.

This image has nothing to do with the movie, but it came up when I Googled it, so…you’re welcome.

But I’m getting sidetracked. Okay, so Billy runs a salvage vessel. Or something. And he and his intrepid crew are sent to the platform to, you know, see what’s up (i.e. ascertain if there is a rampaging tentacle-beastie about). His crew is a motley lot. There’s an old salt who goes by the name Crank (insert joke here), plus a chick who’s got sort of a Sporty Spice vibe going (six years too late), a porn-obsessed engineer, a dude who’s obsessed with old Westerns and likes to dress up like a ‘40s movie cowboy, and a black dude. I can’t lie—for a while there I was worried this movie was going to feature the worst orgy scene in motion picture history.

They didn’t exactly send in their first-stringers…

Don’t worry, it doesn’t (whew), but along for the ride is one of the scientists who worked on the original project, and whose husband is still on the rig (Canadian cutie Catherine Lough Haggquist), as well as a shady CIA operative. Might as well just refer to him as “Burke,” if you get the Aliens reference.

Well, they get to the rig and board it, and that’s when the weirdness begins. First off, porno-dude gets separated from the rest of the group and runs into the porn-star of his dreams. Okay, if you remember the Holly Weber scene from The Devil’s Tomb you know where this is going. Or, even if you don’t you can pretty much figure it out, because if there is one place you’re not going to find a porn star hanging out, it’s an oil-drilling platform in the middle of the ocean. Alas, porno-boy isn’t that bright (he wears a pukka-shell necklace after all), and totally believes she’s filming a porno there. Because, yeah, pornos have a huge budget for location-shooting. Anyway, she gets nice and topless—thus granting us the bare breasts we were promised—before transforming into the tentacle-beastie and killing the dude. Yeah, pretty much saw that one coming a mile away.

“Dear Penthouse Forum, I never thought I would write you, but…”

Pretty soon, this kind of hinky stuff is happening to everyone. Sporty Spice is killed when she arrives at the scene of her husband and child’s fatal car accident, and Cowboy steps into a Western movie and has a showdown with an outlaw. I mean, literally, he steps into the set of an old-fashioned Western. I kinda think this movie was written around whatever sets were available to the filmmakers, like Roger Corman used to do.

And this happens. A lot.

In the meantime, Warlock and company meet up with his brother, who was also out there doing who-the-fuck-cares, and learns that they actually excavated the tentacle-beastie from a meteorite strike deep in the Earth’s crust. When it was released, it began playing with the crew’s minds and killing them. Seems like it could probably do that without the visions, but, hey, we got boobs.

So, fast-forward a bit, and the tentacle-beastie winnows the cast down to Warlock, Warlock’s brother, the shady CIA guy and the Canadian Cutie. Well, they confront the tentacle-beastie, who takes the form of a human so he can deliver his whole Blofeld-esque monologue. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer my alien-monsters less loquacious and more murderey. But this gives CIA guy time to try and kill everyone else and call in an airstrike. Except the tentacle-beastie kills him, first. Again, like we didn’t see that coming.

Why hello…I like maple syrup and hockey, too. Wanna go moose-watching?

But, hey, we still have a Warlock in the hole, and he pulls a Die Hard by rigging up an explosive and kicking it down the elevator shaft. He, bro, and the Canadian Cutie all escape on their boat before the platform goes up in flames. The Navy helicopter arrives just in time to rescue them, when—duh! duh! DUH!—Canadian Cutie transforms into the monster and the credits roll. Frankly, it’s a relief.

Well, that’s The Thing Below. If you’ve seen, literally, any other horror movie, then you’ve seen this one. Some passing thoughts:

* There’s a big subplot about Warlock’s past life as a Navy SEAL and a mission he went on that caused him to miss his dad’s funeral. It entails a lot of flashbacks, and I kinda get the feeling that Wynorski really wanted to make an action movie instead.

* Also, in the flashbacks, the 40-something Warlock plays his 25 year-old self. I’m pretty sure he just wanted to show off his facelift.

* We do meet Canadian Cutie’s husband, and he’s your typical dorky scientist type. No way he could have bagged a hottie like her.

* The scenes in the empty room are so disconnected from the rest of the movie, I suspect that Wynorski realized the movie’s runtime was too short, then saw an empty set and a lightbulb went on over his head.

* Oh, and the tentacle-beastie is so poorly-rendered—even by 2004 standards—the production probably would have been better off just paying for a spray-painted garden hose.

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