One of the greatest things about a DVD reviewer's job is that we're rarely asked to fight fish-men and investigate the undersea lairs of mad scientists, says Appellate Judge James A. Stewart.
Something fishy is going on.
At a press conference before a torpedo demonstration, reporter Jenny (Peggy Neal) is white as a sheet from premonitions ("I'm shaky all over"). Something moves across the viewscreen quickly before the (presumably) empty sub used as a target blows up. Soon after, a mysterious footprint is found at an island research facility.
Military authorities might not be worried, but Jenny and partner Ken (Shin-Ichi Chiba, soon to be known as Sonny Chiba in The Street Fighter and Kill Bill: Vol. 1) go skin diving to investigate. Ken surfaces first, and Jenny sees a monster. When the authorities don't believe her ("You mean it's just the wild, hysterical imagination of a woman?" she answers), Ken and Jenny return to the water. This time, they find an underwater cave where Ken sees the monsters (guys in rubber suits), too, but neither of them is going to get to the surface.
The reporters wake up in some kind of lab. A light beam—accompanied by creepy noise—goes over Ken's skull, and a group of scientists led by Dr. Moore (Erik Neilson), who looks a little like an Avengers cybernaut in his sunglasses, greets them. (The monsters' kidnapping of a professor in a later scene also reminded me a little bit of the opening to "Revenge of the Cybernauts.") The monsters were fish-men, or "water cyborgs," controlled by Moore in his quest to create a totalitarian city of the future. Before Dr. Moore's explanation, I thought the fish-men were supposed to be lizard-men or alligator-men…and was that a costume rip around that one guy's rubber-suited arm? Cheesy.
Where do you find good water cyborgs? As Jenny mouths in horror and Ken comforts her, they watch the adaptation of a human into a fish-man, complete with surgery to install new water-friendly lungs and stop-motion photography growth of scales. The final phase includes bathing the new fish-man in pulsing lights that make him look like an evil Barney, at least for the moment. To complete his demonstration, Dr. Moore sets two of the fish-men against each other in a fight. Ken then gets an invitation to join the underwater empire as a propagandist. "Let's just say the alternative won't be too pleasant," Dr. Moore tells him. From the marine snow, Ken can see that they're about 3,000 feet down, so the alternatives don't look too plentiful, either.
As the good guys send a submarine out to look for the two intrepid reporters, the process of turning them into water cyborgs begins. As they escape, the scales forming on their faces and hands look hilariously like shaving cream. It may be hard to get out of the lair entirely, but overpowering baddies who come in, one or two at a time, to confront them is too easy for a future martial arts star.
Both the sets for the underwater lair and the denouement in this example of Japanese "suitmation" reminded me of a very cheesy version of Dr. No, with the standard race against time in a lair about to blow up, with bad guys blocking all the exits. I wish they could have done more with their one good idea, to have the fish-men regain sentience and rebel against their controllers. The denouement created plenty of good excuses for fight scenes with Chiba, known then in Japan for a TV superhero show called 7-Color Mask. He's a good martial artist, but the race to escape goes on too long.
Several underwater sequences, especially the title sequence, have a murky quality. It's especially glaring when the filmmakers used deep-sea footage as the view out the windows in the undersea lair, the phoniness being immediately obvious. One can see here that the fault is with the original film, not with the transfer. Elsewhere, the red lighting used during the transformation sequences is mostly just ugly, although one sequence of Jenny looking at herself in a funhouse mirror image as she realizes she's starting to become a fish-man, er, fish-person, did pay off with the creepy feeling intended. The sound comes through well in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo; the overpowering, derivative 1960s music is exactly as it was intended. When you watch a Japanese monster movie, you kind of expect the dialogue to be out of sync sometimes; watching characters who, I think, are supposed to be Americans speaking dubbed English, though, is slightly disorienting. As is the "subtitles" feature, which you might think would be a Japanese track with English subtitles; it turns out to be an English track with English subtitles.
Those of you who have deep-seated fears of guys running around in rubber monster suits and bad dubbing will find this a chiller that lives up to its name. Otherwise, the movie has a few nice visuals, some fight scenes with Chiba, and a spurt of fake blood here and there, but nothing that'll keep you up nights. Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Dark Sky Films
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