Total Recall

Total Recall: Deadly Sea Creatures

With Shark Night 3D hitting theaters, we present a compendium some of cinema's scariest marine life.

by | September 1, 2011 | Comments

Deadly Sea Creatures

As we approach Labor Day weekend, it’s time to say goodbye to summer — and thanks to director David R. Ellis (The Final Destination), we get to bid it adieu in the most appropriate fashion: by lining up to watch scantily clad twentysomethings futilely splash around in abject terror while trying to escape from bloodthirsty sharks. Yes, that’s right, it’s time for Shark Night 3D, and to celebrate its finny arrival, we decided to devote this week’s list to Hollywood’s hunters of the deep. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, it’s time for Total Recall — Deadly Sea Creatures edition!

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms


Twenty thousand fathoms is deep. It would take a lot to wake up a creature frozen at those icy depths — like, say, a nuclear bomb set off by our reckless, explosion-hungry army — and once disturbed from its slumber, said creature would probably be pretty annoyed. In fact, as demonstrated in the aptly titled The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, it might even be ticked off enough to swim all the way from the Arctic Circle to Manhattan — where it would cause hundreds of millions of dollars in damage, take a bazooka to the throat, kill hundreds of New Yorkers with rivers of its poisonous blood, and still keep fighting. No nukes! Or, as Dennis Schwartz put it: “Lovable bad sci-fi film that overcomes its slight story and flat acting with wonderful cheesy special effects.”

Creature from the Black Lagoon


One of the original 3D creature features, 1954’s Creature from the Black Lagoon made a persuasive argument against letting scientists go off on unsupervised expeditions — like the one that the allegedly brilliant Dr. Carl Maia (Antonio Moreno) leads into the Amazon, where he persists in horsing around looking for fossils even after members of his team are mysteriously murdered. And then, if that weren’t foolhardy enough, he sails into a place called the Black Lagoon — after his guide tells him no one has ever returned from it. After all that, it’s sort of hard not to root for the watery, web-fingered Creature — or to keep from cheering along with the Chicago Reader’s Dave Kehr, who smirked, “[Director] Jack Arnold has a flair for this sort of thing, and if there really is anything frightening about a man dressed up in a rubber suit with zippers where the gills ought to be, Arnold comes close to finding it.”

Deep Blue Sea


Strictly speaking, there probably wasn’t any need for a movie about super-smart sharks. But hey, if you’re going to make one, you might as well hire Renny Harlin to direct and cast a reliable cadre of action vets like Samuel L. Jackson, Thomas Jane, and LL Cool J. Example: 1999’s Deep Blue Sea, starring Saffron Burrows as an unscrupulous scientist/wacky shark breeder whose attempts to cure Alzheimer’s unwittingly trigger all manner of bloody havoc. “Call it silly,” offered the San Francisco Chronicle’s Mick LaSalle. “Call it obvious — there’s nothing more obvious than a shark attack. But this is one of the few big-fish horror films that still has the power to surprise.”



He does most of his damage on land, but the spiny-backed beast with radioactive breath came from the sea — where he was quite happy, thank you very much, until we had to go and disturb him with a nuclear explosion. Although he’d go on to star in a series of creature features — and is slated to return with a reboot in 2014 — it’s the 1954 original that still resonates strongest. Half rubber-suited sci-fi thriller, half poignant metaphor for the horror of the Atomic Age, Gojira deserves its status as a classic of the genre — and the applause of critics like Gemma Tarlach of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who lauded it as “a masterful statement about humankind’s monstrous abilities to inflict harm on itself and the world.”

The Host


Recipe for one (1) horrifying, snakelike aquatic plague: 1. Take 200 bottles of formaldehyde; 2. Dump them in the river; 3. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH IT’S DRAGGING ME TO THE WATERY DEPTHS. Inspired by actual events (which did not, for the record, involve an actual sea monster), 2006’s The Host shattered box office records in its native South Korea before going on to wow audiences in the rest of the world — and critics such as Dana Stevens of Slate, who wrote, “The movie pops up out of nowhere, grabs you in its big, messy tentacles, and drags you down into murky depths, where social satire coexists with slapstick, and B-movie clichés mutate into complex metaphors.”

It Came from Beneath the Sea


Take a heaping helping of nuclear paranoia, add a dash of Ray Harryhausen magic for seasoning, and you’ve got 1955’s It Came from Beneath the Sea, in which a giant octopus torments San Francisco after hydrogen bomb tests turn it into an enraged super-beast whose radioactive tentacles destroy the Golden Gate Bridge. It takes the heroic efforts of an intrepid submarine commander (and, ironically, a nuclear torpedo) to bring the movie’s many-suckered antagonist down — an inevitable defeat that was sort of a shame, according to critics like DVD Verdict’s Erick Harper, who wrote that “The rest of the film — plot, characters, script, and so forth — is really just window dressing in this showcase for Harryhausen’s amazing stop-motion puppetry.”



Who’s the great white shark that’s a death machine to all the guys and chicks? (Jaws!) You’re damn right. The only deadly sea creature bad enough to be identified with a mere two notes of its classic score, Jaws splashed forth from the pages of Peter Benchley’s bestselling novel to terrorize audiences everywhere — and although the toothy legend’s adventures grew progressively sillier with subsequent sequels, there’s no denying that the original is, in the words of Roger Ebert, “One of the most effective thrillers ever made.”

Moby Dick


A classic example of man’s inherent fascination with (and deep-rooted fear of) the sea, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick has inspired countless adaptations, including the Barry Bostwick-led 2010: Moby Dick. For our list, we decided to stick with John Huston’s 1956 version, starring Gregory Peck as the obsessed Captain Ahab and boasting a screenplay co-written by Ray Bradbury — what it might lack in snazzy modern-day special effects, it makes up with committed performances and an impressive faithfulness to the novel. Calling it a “rolling and thundering color film,” the New York Times’ Bosley Crowther praised Huston’s work as “herewith devoutly recommended as one of the great motion pictures of our times.”



What’s scarier than a movie about a crocodile? A movie about a giant crocodile. And what’s even scarier than that? One inspired by a giant crocodile who actually existed. And okay, so Rogue played it a little fast and loose with the real story of a notorious Australian menace (ironically named Sweetheart, which, to be fair, would have made a worse title for a horror film) — but why argue with a 100 percent Tomatometer? Brian Orndorf was just one of the critics who praised Rogue, calling it “a film predicated on ideas of suspense and pace rather than blasting violence and idiocy, Rogue is a satisfying, skilled entry in the water-based terror genre.”

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea


Disney set an in-house budget record for its adaptation of the oft-filmed Jules Verne classic, and came away with the definitive version of the tale. It may not quite live up to its poster’s all-caps boast that it’s “the mightiest motion picture of them all,” but for anyone who enjoys movies about fearless explorers wrangling with sharks, cannibals, and one royally ticked-off giant squid, this 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea comes close enough. Calling it “A breathtaking piece of entertainment,” Film4’s Richard Luck praised it as “amongst the finest live-action films to come out of Disney Studios.”

Take a look through the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Shark Night 3D.


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