There is a long and rich tradition of beastly films set amid the fertile environs of the Florida Everglades. Well one actually,
“Creature from the Black Lagoon”. Some might argue that you should include with this the Cindy Crawford classic, “Fair Game”, but truthfully it doesn’t belong here because very little of that film was staged in the Everglades. Now “Deadly Species” makes the attempt to bring back the splendor of the swamp to the little screen, except of course, this swamp looks more like a wooded glen because it was filmed in Orlando. Still, you want to applaud the effort to pay homage to such a seminal work in the history of Hollywood terror. You want to, but the end result manages to suffocate any desire for an ovation.
The initial reaction here is to say the story and direction were the causes at fault, but oddly the blame for this movie failing to connect with an audience starts with the casting crew. When you have a movie about a monster eliminating characters off the screen you have to build tension and terror by giving us either people that are attractive and vulnerable with whom to sympathize, or failing that people who are so loathsome you root for their evisceration. The casting director for “Deadly Species” failed on both counts, giving us a film populated with lackluster, unbeautiful people and we watch not giving a wit what happens to them. Let ‘em wander off into the bog and cut this thing short, is the general vibe here.
It felt like watching a home-owner’s association community theater production of “The Blair Witch Project”, the result being that rather than identifying with a character you would instead say, “That’s Hank, his wife runs the PTA.” This is most evident with the females of the cast. Director Daniel Springen took the initiative to litter the first half of the film with nudity, but the women were so bland and sullen that they actually became less noticeable with their tops off. When the nudity begins to detract from the already poor material it is time to cash out and go back to shooting McDonalds commercials.
After an opening where two unknown people get ravaged at a campsite we meet Brinson Thomas and his wife Marta. With a name like Brinson you know he must have been tormented in his youth into being nothing more than a bookish shut-in, and this is borne out by the fact that he and his wife are both professors at a non existent Florida university. With a lack of personality and not much to talk about this unglamorous couple fills the voids in their lives by talking about the Calusa Indians. They also complain about being turned down for a research grant for the fourth-dozenth time, something that could be attributable to the fact that the Calusas have not existed for a about 250 years.
But then a white knight arrives in the form of a phone call from Wilson Friels, a quasi-philanthropist with a past. He also has a swimming pool littered with topless beauties, and he spends his time barking commands at the pouting harem. This is a testament to his riches, because there is no other way these women would put up with a pompous priss who looks like a computer programmer.
With Friels paying the way Brinson assembles a pack of sleepwalking students to staff his research in the ‘Glades. Allison is a moody and serious minded suck-up, and Todd & Michele are a couple busy bickering with each other because they fear they are too boring to keep the other around. There is a professional photographer named Klieger, who had a flight delay and shows up five minutes late, and pays for it by having Marta bitch at him for the duration of the movie. Finally we have Lori, the sex interest. She was a bold choice given that for a vixen she is quite pudgy and bottom heavy. She strips down to bathe in a stream in a weak attempt at seducing Todd, but we are relieved to watch her become the first victim of the monster and we will not have to be further subjected to her pancake batter physique.
Then there is the monster. Someone makes mention of the fact that the creature is a mutation of an alligator, even though it is lacking any type of elongated mouth, not to mention we can clearly see it walking upright. The initial shots are extreme close-ups of what appears to be the headpiece of a division-AA college football mascot, and later we see it has the bloated pink body of a teamster pipe fitter. The killings are vague and gore free as the victims are carted away from the campsite one at a time.
After one such tidy execution Brinson gets a drop of creature blood on him and he gradually sees his body transform into something bad. We then discover what Friels was really hoping to find on this trip—the fountain of youth, and this pernicious preppy manages to find the actual wellspring that eluded discovery by hundreds of years of explorers. We find out that in truth there is not one, but a collection of monsters, and they are guarding the precious water for themselves, hoping to live in perpetuity in the swamp and thereby avoiding having to retire to a condominium. It is something of an anti-climax to discover this invigorating reservoir is not a lustrous percolating geyser but more like a marly finger canal off the main estuary. Judging by the condition of these creatures I am guessing that this inveterate spring has been corrupted by chemical run-off from the sugar cane fields just north of the marshland.
Back at camp Brinson is given a small dose of the water and he recovers like it holds all the properties promised to be in Soylent Green. The inelegant husband and wife decide to flee, and Klieger eulogizes the death of Friels and his assistant before they could claim the spring for themselves by saying, “No telling what he would use it for.” This leaves the audience having to contemplate all the various evils that could have befallen mankind if a nefarious industrialist had gotten his hands on water.