Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Bermuda Depths (1978)

          Best known for their beloved stop-motion holiday specials, such as 1964’s Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Rankin/Bass Productions also ventured into darker fantasy terrain with projects like this bizarre TV movie, which is a queasy hybrid of a creature feature and a romantic fairy tale. To its credit, The Bermuda Depths hooks viewers quickly with atmosphere and mystery, but the more the story comes into focus, the more batshit crazy it becomes. Furthermore, the picture features terrible leading performances and a weirdly saccharine music score that includes lots of harpsichord—not exactly the instrument that comes to mind when one thinks of the Caribbean, where the story is set. Oh, and is it worth mentioning that the creature in this feature is a giant killer turtle the size of Godzilla? Yeah, that’s right: a giant killer turtle.
          When the story begins, a haunted young man named Magnus (Leigh McCloskey) returns to his childhood home of Bermuda, where his scientist father died under mysterious circumstances. Lying on the beach one day, Magnus spots a beautiful woman swimming far off the shore, so he heads out and dives under the waves when she does, but then nearly drowns because he can’t stay underwater as long as she can. The mystery lady, whose name we later learn is Jenny (Connie Sellecca), rescues Magnus and instantly bewitches him, partly because he vaguely remembers meeting someone very much like Jenny when he was a child.
          After Jenny takes off (as mystery women in weird movies are wont to do), Magnus hooks up with another childhood friend, Eric (Carl Weathers), who is working on an ambitious project as part of his marine-biology master’s thesis. Eric and avuncular old fish expert Dr. Paulis (Burl Ives) are trying to ascertain whether a monstrous turtle lives off the coast of the island, an inquiry that’s related in a convoluted way to the work of Magnus’ late father. And, because the movie apparently doesn’t have enough hokum yet, Dr. Paulis’ native housekeeper, Delia (Ruth Attaway), theorizes that Jenny is a magical siren who lives in the waters off Bermuda, cursing men to aquatic deaths. Eventually, all of this comes together in a sequence of high-seas adventure involving Magnus and Eric hunting down the giant turtle while Jenny begs Magnus to have mercy on the creature—even though, Magnus learns, the turtle ate his daddy.
          Obviously, none of this makes any sense, even though the story unfolds in such a simplistic fashion that viewers are never so much confused by the narrative as befuddled by its existence. Still, The Bermuda Depths offers pleasant distractions above and beyond the whacked-out plotting. The special effects, mostly achieved with such crude miniature work that the turtle scenes feel like outtakes from Land of the Lost, are hilarious. Ives is his usual florid self (“Yes, he was eaten!”), and Weathers strives valiantly to retain his dignity. Better still, former model Sellecca is beguilingly pretty in her first screen role, her pale eyes suggesting the blue-green of tropical waters—and though not much praise can be given to her actual performance, she’s a master thespian compared to McCloskey, who alternates between blank stares and unconvincing intensity. If you dive into The Bermuda Depths, by the way, stick with the movie all the way to the overstuffed ending, because the visual homage to Herman Melville must be seen to be believed. (Available at

The Bermuda Depths: FREAKY

1 comment:

Chris Whipple said...

I feel this movie deserves a comment so here goes. I was enchanted by this at 14, but I never knew how to find it. I didn't remember the title, only that it was made forTV, the main guy was Magnus, there was a giant turtle and some music by Vivaldi. In fact, it was the Vivaldi concerto that inspired me to try to figure out the melody by buying my first musical instrument, a harmonica. Years later I would hum the melody as a lullaby when my first child was born. I love the way you write your reviews and the way you site stirs old memories.