The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues
Freezing horror... as a living nightmare strikes from the depths of the sea!
Year of Release: 1955
Genre: Science Fiction/Horror
Running Time: 81 minutes (1:21)
Director: Dan Milner
Kent Taylor ... Dr. Ted Stevens / Ted Baxter
Cathy Downs ... Lois King
Michael Whalen ... Professor King
Phillip Pine ... George Thomas
Helene Stanton ... Wanda
Rodney Bell ... William S. 'Bill' Grant
Vivi Janiss ... Ethel Hall
Norma Hanson ... The Phantom (uncredited)
At the bottom of the ocean a mysterious radioactive rock percolates a stew of mutation that produces a hideous monster from the depths. The government sends an agent and a scientist to investigate when horribly burned, radioactive bodies begin to pop to the ocean's surface. The evidence all points to a suspicious marine biologist.
The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues, the only movie in cinematic history to remain defiant in the face of intense editorial pressure, in order to bring you the maximum number of top coat changes allowed by law. I kid you not, this movie's about 80% pseudo science/detective story, 5% monster, an 15% stuffy old white guys changin' in an outta sport coats. The editor fought tooth an nail to reduce the volume of tweed jacket removal scenes, but the director, Dan Milner, stuck to his guns an kept his artistic vision intact for all his adorin' fan. He was truly a man of conviction, way to go Dan. An speakin' of commitment, we still got big problems between Sadie Bonebreak an 'er girlfriend... what's-'er-tits, after that big fight they had a coupla weeks ago over some questionable g-string twangin' at Walleye's Topless Dancin' & Bait Shop. It was lookin' like maybe they were gonna mend the ole proverbial fence, until the girlfriend heard Billy Hilliard an me oglin' the models from Horrors of Spider Island while she was on the phone with Sadie, an that pretty well ended that. Cause apparently Sadie's not allowed to watch movies starrin' airheaded bimbi unless she's got a chaperone or somethin'. Friggin' control freak prolly thinks I don't see 'er drivin' by the house real slow in 'er Geo Metro with mascara runnin' down 'er cheeks like Alice Cooper either, so I'm encouragin' Sadie to stand 'er ground an wait out the storm. Otherwise that clingy broad's gonna have 'er wearin' lacy pink dresses that look like the doilies on Frasier Crane's coffee table an holdin' 'er purse outside the changin' room over at Hoedown Women's Apparel and Girdle Gallery. Sadie's still kinda bummed though, so Billy an I invited 'er out to the Gutter Bowl with us this past weekend to check out the new Centipede arcade box an watch Leonard Rankleton try bestin' Mark Skidman's Galaga record. Leonard teaches drama at the Naughty Pine Community College, so the way I figure it he's gotta be good at *something.* Turned out to be a pretty interestin' night, cause apparently Leonard an Mark had a bet that dictated whoever ended the night without the record hadda be locked up in the Gutter Bowl's bathroom until the followin' mornin', which is pretty disgustin' even before factorin' in the $2 all-you-can-eat special on the Five Alarm Flatch-in-the-Pants chili goin' on at the time.
So we pretty much milled around between the pool table an the Frogger machine while Leonard remained locked in deadly competition with those little alien boogers who try turnin' your spaceship into the Columbia. Things were startin' to look pretty bad for Leonard, an I ain't just sayin' that cause the place was about 20 minutes away from closin' time. No sir, the worst part was that Skunky Hernandez'd taken Juanita out bowlin' that night, an he'd spent the last 45 minutes in the can makin' sounds like a harpooned sperm whale. That chili ain't for amateurs, I'm here to tell ya, cause I once watched Skunky clean up an entire plate of Habanero enchiladas over at Tijuana Tom's Mexican Cuisine and Custom Pinata Palace, an I didn't think ANYTHING could get the better of that guy's bowels. So anyway, Leonard's pretty much down to his last quarter, an he's within strikin' distance of the record except for the fact that he's down to his last ship. We're talkin' serious outer space bullet hell. Leonard's sweatin' like Michael Moore at a Donald Trump rally, he's got nintendonitis clear up to his collar bone, the joystick's been gettin' jerked around like Ron Jeremy on a work day to the point that it's startin' to come loose from the cabinet, an all the while the whole place can hear Skunky's pained "Ai yai yai! Mi recto!" from the crapper, so what's he do? He looks those tractor beam assholes square in the tentacles an he blows 'em from here to Alpha Centauri, beats Mark's record, an waves to Skunky as he finally exits the pot. Mark lasted about six minutes in the gas chamber before comin' completely unhinged an screamin' somethin' about all his hair fallin' out an the fumes causin' his nostrils to seal themselves up against his will. I didn't particularly feel sorry for the guy, what with 'im bein' a mega-turkey who was gettin' his just expelled desserts, but Fannie Ooglesby was in there beggin' Otis Turlinger to let 'im out on the grounds that this form of punishment violated the Geneva Convention. Everybody but Mark had a pretty good time though, an it kept Sadie's mind off what's-'er-thighs for a few hours, so all-in-all I think we got our money's worth. I'll tell ya one thing; it's gonna take a lot more'n a bottle of Brut to get that smell outta Skidman's clothes. We're talkin' Bog of Eternal Stench levels of stank after Skunky got done with it. The Surgeon General really aughta put a warnin' label on that chili.
After that we left The Phantom of 10,000 Flushes an headed back to the house to check out The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues, which is kinda like Creature from the Haunted Sea, only on accident. Actually, it's a lot like Barracuda, cause the goll durn thing puts all the emphasis on the science surroundin' the monster(s) rather'n on the monster itself to disguise the fact that you paid for monster action, havin' been suckered in by the title. Still, for a 1950s effort it's... it's terrible, I'm not gonna sugar coat it. It sucks the sweat beads offa King Kong's ding dong. I dunno how I can be any more clear about this. However, we're still gonna take the professional, academic approach just like we would with any other movie, so here're a few things that everyone should take away from it in the event that they're ever forced to watch this thing at gunpoint. First, if you activate a uranium deposit in the ocean that turns any sea life that comes in contact with it into creatures that look like they aughta be workin' as door greeters for Hunan, your daughter won't be the least bit upset by the fact that you didn't bother to warn 'er before she went for a dip. Second, if you wanna find someone else's fingerprints on somethin', there's no reason to wear gloves or wash the french fry grease off your hands before handlin' said object. An third, when your girlfriend looks like Traci Lords, there's a good chance you may not be her one and only. But I gotta be honest about this flick, it's the most frightening movie I've experienced in years. I mean, think about these North Korean submarines that seem to go missin' a coupla times a week, an then consider that MAYBE the little fat kid with the three chins an the bowl cut who runs the place may've watched this flick at one of his presidential palaces an learned the secret of enrichin' uranium on the ocean floor. This's exactly what Dr. Sourpuss in the movie was afraid would happen, an sure enough, 60 years later, the Commies may've discovered his secret an started hatchin' a fiendish plot to nuke Valdez an totally screw the local ecology an... oh, right. Well, maybe Long Beach then. It could be just a matter of time before we got nuclear AND medical waste coverin' the California coastline, with Japanese kaiju monsters risin' up from the depths threatenin' to do the Tokyo Stomp all over South Beach Harbor. The damage to the Rice-A-Roni crop alone would be devastatin'. An it's not like we can stop 'em, I mean, sure, we can prolly get China to mail 'em a sternly worded letter explainin' that if they don't take their meds an behave 'emselves, they won't be invited to the Asian Christmas party this year, but they don't care about that. I dunno about the rest of you, but I've seen enough. Soon as I finish this review I'm firin' off a letter to Obama demandin' we call in a favor with Japan to get 'em to sic Godzilla an Rodan on Pyongyang before things get outta hand. It's not like it'd take long to destroy all five of their buildins, but it's better to be safe than sorry, an I encourage all of you to do the same to make certain the O-man understands the gravity of the situation. Just remind 'im that it's an election year, an that he can't afford to lose the paranoid vote if he wants to keep his job.
The movie begins with the young man and the sea out on his row boat droppin' fish nets like groupies at a Bon Jovi concert, til one of the guys from G.W.A.R. swims up from below an starts bow tippin' an knocks the guy into the water where he's pulled down like a pair of tighty whities on physical exam day. Then this guy (Ted) walks up to the corpse like he's about to start narratin' the openin' monologue of a Twilight Zone episode, cept when he leans down to examine the body, a P.I. shows up an tells 'im to get his beach combin' keister outta there cause they're about to start filmin' an episode of beach bum fights. Elsewhere, the local oceanographer (Professor King) is sneakin' into his livin' room past curfew with soggy shoes cause he hadda unclog the toilet with his feet or somethin', at which point he starts tellin' his daughter (Lois) about how everyone at school is out to steal his great discovery an pants 'im durin' gym class. Then Ted drops by to talk to the doc, only by that time the doc's gone to bed an snuck out his window to go see Invaders from Mars at the drive-in an Ted gives Lois this look like they're about to have one of those "now, son..." talks from Leave It to Beaver. The next mornin', Ted hits the beach to measure gammas an sigmas an what not with his Geiger counter an hasta listen to the private Dick (who doesn't do a very good job of keepin' it private) tell 'im all about his own life history just in case he developed Alzheimer's overnight, an reminds 'im that he's got his single, unblinking Dick eye on 'im. While that's goin' on, the professor's gone in to work where he tells his secretary (Ethel) that he don't wanna be disturbed an that she's to keep her bitchface visible at all times so nobody walks into the college an claims they were assaulted by a concealed weapon. Then the doc's assistant (George) who never actually does any assistin' comes in an tries to get Ethel to help 'im sneak into the doc's laboratory, but she tells 'im to go pound sand up his hinder. Meanwhile, the doc is in his lab zappin' a turtle with radiation to see if he can't help it attain sentience an teach it martial arts, while Ted's out in the ocean doin' belly busters an swimmin' for his life away from one of those Chinese dragons from the Beijing New Year's parade. Faster than lightning, my ass; where the heck's Flipper when this guy's bein' attacked by an aquatic terrorist wearin' a Mardi Gras head? Anyway, Ted manages to make it back to shore where he finds Lois sunbathin' an forbids 'er from goin' into the water an tells 'er he's gotta find Roy Scheider an Robert Shaw on the double. Then he goes to the college an asks the doc for maps of the seabed an the written transcripts of the most recent Godzilla sightins, cept the doc has all this brooding he's been meanin' to do an so he tells Ted to come by his house in a coupla hours. Course, nobody tells Lois that Ted's comin' over, so when Ted gets there she's in the shower an he ends up gettin' a good look at 'er modesty, an spendin' the next few minutes tryin' to work out the science behind what's holdin' 'er towel up.
Fortunately, the humiliation is short lived, as the professor makes it home not too long after an gives Ted a copy of the Captain Crunch treasure map he was wantin'. Then Ted tells 'im about the nuclear spotlight he found shinin' up outta the ocean floor earlier an says that he believes anything caught in it'll be turned into instant fish fry, or at least temporarily blinded an shot by scuba divin' rednecks. He also thinks that the Man of G.W.A.R. swimmin' around out there feeds on radiation like a fat kid on the McDonald's Dollar Menu, an that somebody might be tryin' to sell the technology to the Commies, so by the time Ted's done talkin' about all this the doc's lookin' pretty shaken up an more'n a little constipated. Sure enough, that next day, George meets up with this Commie Traci Lords on the beach so she can tell 'im that he'd better get his act-ski together an produce the intel or she's gonna hafta unleash the Russian bear an go all Mental Ben on his hiney. Meanwhile, Ethel's become slightly uncomfortable after listenin' to the doc explain the definition of treason to 'er while strokin' a spear gun, so she meets up with Sherlock Homely an tells 'im the doc's startin' to show signs of Frankensteinism, an that she needs to get into his lab to root around in his business an score a buncha evidence that won't be admissible in court. Elsewhere, Ted an Lois're out on one of those real romantic dates where the conversation is confined entirely to the personal life of the girl's elderly father, only The Dating Game ends up gettin' preempted after the Loch Ness Mobster puts a coupla college kids on ice. So now Ted hasta send Lois to call Inspector Clouless, an once she's outta sight George shows up an tries speargunnin' Ted through the oysters. Fortunately, George thinks he's Robin Hood an doesn't bother to bring more'n one spear, an hasta beat cheeks after he whiffs an sticks his spear into the bow of The Lust Boat. The next mornin', Ted decides to head out to sea an use Mancy Drew to distract Barnacle Gill while he takes a good hard look at the brilliant shaft of radioactive light an fries his retinas, only the private Dick turns into a public ass when he manages to miss his shot at the gigantic white monster that's got all the speed an agility of Chris Farley after a pan of pot brownies. But back on the beach, George's havin' a Rooskie rendezvous with Commie Traci an she tells 'im about overhearin' Ethel snitchin' to the Dick. So he waits up on the ridge until Ethel shows up to re-sand 'er vagina, an gets this "from hill's heart I stab at thee" look on his face before givin' 'er the first spearin' she's had since 1926. Then the cops show up at the doc's place an tell 'im what happened to Ethel an say that he's pretty much doomed to a life of stabbin' trash by the side of the highway once they can get a warrant to search his lab, an that they'd really appreciate it if he didn't leave town or destroy all the incriminatin' evidence in the meantime. Gonna cut this one here, but if you just can't stand not knowin' how it turns out, here's a link to watch the whole barge wreck from start to finish.
Alrighty, well, I dunno how else to put this, but the 1950s just weren't very kind to the monster movie. Sure, there're a handful of good ones, and quite a few that're awful in all the right ways, but more often than not they're just pitiful quickie jobs intended to fill out the drive-in schedule. The real downside to this flick is the fact that the monster is so laughably ridiculous that it could have been a "so bad it's good" masterpiece if the crew had said "the hell with it" and included more monster footage; but unfortunately, that's not the path they chose. The best B grade monster movies tend not to realize just how bad their monster is until it's too late, but throwing caution to the wind and utilizing your monster knowing full well it's lousy is still a much better alternative than what we get here. Instead, what we get is the third alternative, which amounts to the director realizing his monster stinks like the dead robin that got stashed under the furnace by the family house cat, prompting him to make the focus the technology used to create the monster. More "modern" examples of this method would include movies like Barracuda, where you've also got very little monster action and way too many dialog scenes. That's what really sinks this one; it's slower than molasses in January and, at least on some level, it's by choice. I suppose that most directors do have that built in instinct to try to make the best movie they possibly can by hiding the inadequacies of the production, but the thing about that is you can really only avoid humiliation if you NEVER show the monster. I suppose it's probably *less* embarrassing to show the monster only a few times, given the way it looks, but it still looks like crap and everybody knows it. Besides, after the opening scene we know exactly what we should be in for, and yet, it really isn't what we're in for, because the monster hardly gets any screen time. Now I'm not advocating that anyone try to deliberately make bad movies, because despite what a lot of people who don't really understand how a cult movie is made might tell you, you cannot make a "so bad it's good" movie on purpose. However, when it becomes clear that you've done the best you can and it's still going to be bad, I say embrace it. Just look at how much more fun movies like Tentacles or Zaat are when compared to this flick. They're still not any good, or even close to it, but those film crews decided to EMBRACE the film's badness after gettin' a good look at their dailies. Things would be different if this were a movie like, say, Pumpkinhead II, where the movie's actually pretty decent right up until that final scene where the Pumpkinhead dummy takes that horrible, slow motion roll into the well. Concealing or outright cutting a few bad special effects shots in an otherwise decent movie is fine, and the smart thing to do, but you've gotta take a look at what you're producing and be honest with yourself, regardless of how the production is coming along.
Sorry for the film school lecture, but I feel like that really needed to be said. Now let's wrestle the bore from the ocean floor and find out if it's made of sterner stuff than the poop deck. The plot, for a 1950s movie, was probably fine for the time. But when looked at with a modern perspective, it provides too many erroneous details that make the pseudo science a little harder to ignore than they might have been if things were more cryptic. The whole underwater uranium enrichment deal with exactly zero in the way of lab equipment on the ocean floor is pretty asinine, but if you're gonna complain about radiation creating monsters, well, you'd better pack a lunch, cause I've heard there're a few other movies out there that use that plot too. The acting is probably one of the better aspects, in that it's at least not thoroughly botched throughout the course of the movie. Don't get me wrong, it's duller than Jason Voorhees' machete after decades at the bottom of Crystal Lake, but it's at least competent. I honestly can't recall one likeable character or stand out performance, so here's who matters and why: Kent Taylor (The Crawling Hand, The Phantom of Hollywood, Brain of Blood, The Mighty Gorga, Satan's Sadists, Brides of Blood, Psycho a Go-Go, The Day Mars Invaded Earth), Cathy Downs (The Amazing Colossal Man, Missile to the Moon, The She-Creature), Michael Whalen (Missile to the Moon, Batman and Robin 1949), Phillip Pine (The Clone Master, The Last Missile), Rodney Bell (The Brute Man), Michael Garth (20 Million Miles to Earth, World Without End), Pierce Lyden (The Night the World Exploded, Captain Video - Master of the Stratosphere, Atom Man vs. Superman, The Phantom 1943). Believe it or not, there was one participant that had a significant role in a movie people actually liked, and that was Cathy Downs who played Clementine Carter in My Darling Clementine from 1946. As you can see, things kinda went down the ole toilet after that, even by my standards of a downward spiral.
The special effects, of which there are two, are terrible and acceptable, respectively. In addition to the creature suit, which we've been over more than sufficiently, the only other effect is the beam of light that shines up from the ocean floor. I'm not entirely sure how they did it, maybe just a powerful halogen light embedded in the seabed or some sort of superimposition, but it gets the job done. The shooting locations aren't too bad, even though you kinda feel like you've been robbed of something when you watch a movie that you know would've really benefited from color film. The underwater photography isn't especially brilliant, but the scenes on the beach look nice even with the scrubby hillside shrubs about 75 feet from the water's edge. Other than the beach, there's really only the doctor's laboratory, his home, and a short scene in a diner, but the ocean side sequences ensure it's at least not unpleasant to look at. The soundtrack is probably the best thing about the movie, despite being one of those brooding 1950s tracks that feature mostly pianos, drums, and horns. If the monster weren't so goofy the soundtrack definitely would have generated some atmosphere, but as is often the case, when what you're seeing and what you're hearing don't sync up, things tend to get even more comical than they were before the music started. Still, the soundtrack in and of itself is decent by 1950s standards, and Ronald Stein (who composed soundtracks for 81 other films in his career, including the original Little Shop of Horrors, Dementia 13, Dinosaurus!, and The Attack of the 50' Woman), for his part, did what was expected of him. Overall, I'd recommend you simply forget this turkey. It's ashamed of its badness, and that only multiplies the boredom factor exponentially. I like "bad" movies as much as the next guy, but "boring" I've got no patience for.