War-Gods of the Deep

Harold is no Divine

A good title can sometimes sell the book or movie.  Take War-Gods of the Deep, for example.  That is a seriously awesome title.  It conjures up images both sensational and cheesy.  “There isn’t going to be a lot of subtly here,” The Title says, “There will be some hammy acting, an attractive woman in a low-cut dress, and some corny monsters with rubber masks.”  Okay.  This might work.  The Title has my attention.  It just needs a little something to put me over the edge.  Oh, ho!  It stars Vincent Price!  I’m in.  I can almost hear The Title laughing to itself, “Bwah-hah-hah, I’ve hooked another one!”

War-Gods of the Deep (a.k.a. City in the Sea) open promisingly enough with Ben Harris (Tab Hunter) and some fishermen finding the corpse of a lawyer washed up on a Cornish beach on a stormy night.  Whatever killed the lawyer didn’t eat him, probably out of professional courtesy.  The lawyer, Mr. Penrose, was working for Miss Tregillis, an American residing at the local manor.   Harris leaves the body with the fishermen and heads up to the manor to inform Miss Tregillis that she’ll need a new lawyer.

Aside from Jill ( I just can’t bring myself to call her Tregillis), the manor is host to a handful of stuffy upperclass Brits, who would be at home in a Jeeves and Wooster story; also in residence is the eccentric Harold Tufnell-Jones and his pet hen, Herbert.

Harris arrives just in time catch Jill in what looks like a low-cut nightgown.  Score!  She introduces Harris to Harold Tufnell-Jones, and Herbert the Hen.  Aww blocked!  Harris then asks after Penrose.  Jill says that Penrose is in the study. They open the study door to find something is amiss.  Harris goes into hero mode, sending Jill back to the other room, before entering the study alone.  Suddenly there is a crash and in the glow of a lightening flash, Harris sees a fish-man, who chucks a vase at his head before disappearing.  Jill and Harold burst in the room.  Jill, ever the keen observer, notices that Penrose is not where he was supposed to be.  Harris informs Jill that her lawyer is dead and that earlier found Penrose’s corpse on the beach.

Back on the beach the fishermen are trying to decide what to do with Penrose’s body.  They may not be good at figuring out what to do with a dead lawyer (Claim that you found it in your food the next time you go to McDonald’s. “Hey!   I just found this dead lawyer at the bottom of my fries!  What are you trying to do? Poison me?” They’ll refund your money.  I’ve not paid for a meal there in years.) but one of the fishermen is the Michael Jordan of exposition and he goes on to tell the story of the death bells and the ancient sunken city of Lyoness.  Whenever the death bell sounds from beneath the waves a corpse washes up and the local McDonald’s ends up serving me a free meal.

Back at the manor, Harris and Harold are cleaning up the study.  Harris notices a book is missing from the shelf and asks Harold about it.  Harold seems unconcerned about the book and mentions in passing that he had placed a sketch he’d drawn of Jill in its pages.  Harris then suggests that there is a pattern.  A dead body and stolen book and the only common variable in both events is Jill.  Jill takes the news in stride and goes to off to bed.  Harris says that he’s going to stick around to make sure else happens.

Later in the night, Jill in taken by a fish-man who was able to enter the room through a secret passage behind a bookcase in the study. Harris, Harold and Herbert the Hen follow the fish-man’s path  into series of underground caves decorated in a hodgepodge of ancient Mediterranean art, eventually arriving at the ancient underwater city.

The city slid into the sea thousands of years ago.  The people that lived there were able to survive by building a system of pumps powered by heat from a nearby underwater volcano, which enable them to make air and fresh water.  They continued on under the sea until most of them died out leaving behind the still functioning remnants of the city and a few fish-men that are the last of their race.   This back story is provided by The Captain (Vincent Price), who has not only taken our heroes prisoner but was also the one who arranged for Jill to be taken as well.   It turns out that Jill is the spitting image of The Captain’s long dead wife whom he now believes has been reincarnated.  Poor Vincent Price.  In the films of the 1960’s he survived more dead wives than Henry VIII.

The Captain, not one for idle house guests, informs Harris and Harold that unless they are useful in some way, they’ll probably end up dead.  The Captain goes on to explain that the city is threatened by the very volcano that give the city life.  Harold tells The Captain that Harris is a renowned seismologist.  The Captain gives Harris three hours to fix the volcano problem . . . or else.   Will our heroes save the day?  Will the Captain eat Herbert the Hen?

There is much to like about War-Gods of the Deep, beyond its totally awesome title.   The plot is insane, comprising of bits taken from other AIP produced Vincent Price movies and cobbled together like a Winchester Mystery House of plots.  There is the girl is mistaken to Price’s dead wife plot and the mystery of the dead lawyer plot and the romance between Tab Hunter and  Susan Hart plot and the curse of immortality plot.  And perhaps the strangest idea of all, a volcano in Cornwall. Am I saying that it’s bad?  That depends on whether or not you like the Winchester Mystery House.  I am okay with fun houses but I’d not like to live in one.

War-Gods of the Deep has a look that I very much enjoyed.  It came later in AIP’s series of gothic horror films, so they had an accumulation of sets and props to reuse.  I do like the unwieldy steam punk scuba gear with the extra copper big helmets with dolphin crests.  Then again, I’m a sucker for that sort of thing.   I also love the vibrant Disneyesque color featured so many of the movies made in the mid-sixties.

While the sets and some of the costumes look great, some of the effects are pretty mediocre, especially the look of the fish-men in the under water chase scene near the end of the film.  They pale in comparison to the look of the Gill Man of the Creature from the Black Lagoon.  The fish-men are a bit more effective in the scene on dry land, where they are obscured a bit by darkness and shadow.

The underwater chase scene that I mentioned above goes on for a little too long.  It’s a bit like watching a fight in slow motion; it’s not very exciting and very slow.  There just isn’t much tension or menace.  I kept hoping a shark might swim by and add a little drama.

I probably enjoyed this movie more than I should because of Vincent Price.  I feel that I need to add a little disclaimer here: Captain Midnight is a total Vincent Price fanboy.  Vincent Price instantly makes any movie, at the very least, entertaining.  Have you ever seen Top Gun?  It’s probably the worst movie ever made.  I’d literally rather have plague carrying rats slowly chew through my neck and open my jugular vein rather than watch Top Gun again – unless it was Top Gun staring Vincent Price!

It's not Ice Man . . . it's Price, man.

The title promises so much, and the notion of a half mad Vincent Price running a civilization of mutant fish-men sounds good, but instead going somewhere interesting the writers contented themselves with roasting old chestnuts. In the end, unless you’re a fan of Vincent Price or Tab Hunter, you’ll probably find War-Gods of the Deep disappointing.

Starring:
Vincent Price
Tab Hunter
David Tomlinson
Susan Hart

Screenplay:
Charles Bennett
Louis M. Heyward

Directed:
Jacques Tourneur

Two out of five Vincents

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