The F*ckin Black Sheep: Leviathan (1989)

Last Updated on July 21, 2021

THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!

Leviathan (1989)

Directed by George P. Cosmatos

"Leviathan (/lᵻˈvaɪ.əθən/; Hebrew: לִוְיָתָן, Modern Livyatan, Tiberian Liwyāṯān) is a huge fish referenced in the Tanakh, or the Old Testament. This word has become synonymous with any large sea monster or creature"

Sometimes you come across a movie that, despite knowing full well it firmly fits the bill as a so-bad-it's-good cheese-ball B-movie, will not exit your damn memory. For whatever reason, it stays there, festers in your brain and leaves a long-lasting mark on your memory. Ladies and gents, one such flick that perfectly falls under this category is the late George P. Cosmatos' unabashedly derivative 1989 underwater monster-mash LEVIATHAN. Damn I love this movie!

And it all starts with the simple yet effective setup. An extremely solid cast, lead by RoboCop himself, Peter Weller, with sturdy support coming from Richard Crenna, Daniel Stern, Ernie Hudson, Hector Elizondo and underrated scream queen Meg Foster is what really carries the action a long way. Together, this ragtag team of deepwater miners are tasked with retrieving the cargo-load of a sunken Soviet vessel, only to realize something far more sinister than Cold War politicking is onboard. Made in 1989, one must consider the real life paranoid tensions and power-play subterfuges that we're still very much at play between the U.S. and Russia at the time. It's well positioned, but never overtly preachy, subtext for an otherwise dismissible B-movie.

Of course, once discovering the cargo-hold harbors a gigantic, unidentifiably mutated sea-monster, crewmembers begin gorily dying one by one. We not only get the one-by-one slasher movie template of extremely nasty and gnarly death-modes happening to each individual, we're also given the inescapable claustrophobic feel of a single shut-in location. There's literally nowhere to run, nowhere to hide once the LEVIATHAN unmasks itself and begins its indiscriminant death-spree. Interestingly, for a movie that largely takes place underwater, not a single scene was actually shot below sea level. In fact, the entire shoot took a dry-for-wet approach, meaning all of the scenes that took place underwater were actually shot dryly, completely above the surface. Kind of impressive!

Not to gloss over this claustrophobic feel, but one of the many gripes and grousing about LEVIATHAN is what an outward ALIEN/ALIENS knock off it is. Well, that can't be argued. But it can be augmented. See, LEVIATHAN is more like the unabashed mutated lovechild of not just ALIENS, but John Carpenter's THE THING and James Cameron's THE ABYSS as well. Cosmatos (COBRA, TOMBSTONE) is clearly channeling Ridley Scott, Carpenter and Cameron all in one fell swooping salute. The claustrophobic paranoia, in conjunction with the giant flamethrower weapons seen in the film, certainly support THE THING parallels. As for Cameron and Carpenter, we've got one name for you, the late great Stan Winston!

Indeed, the connective tissue between all films mentioned is Oscar winning FX man Stan Winston. Not only did he serve as second unit director for Cameron on ALIENS, he designed the flick's SFX as well. Stan also did additional makeup FX for Carpenter's THE THING. He did THE TERMINATOR movies as well, continuing his lush working relationship with Carpenter until his untimely death at the age of 62 in 2008. It can therefore be argued that, because of Stan Wisnton's unassailable FX work on LEVIATHAN, it's actually less of an ALIEN/ABYSS/THING rip-off than it is an intrinsic cousin, albeit a slightly demented (if inferior) one. Even if these are Winston throwaways and B-sides, they still ring loud and hit hard!

But even before the eye-bulging FX take over the second half of the flick, mention must be made of the well-drawn characters that allow us to actually give a shit when all hell busts out. Thanks to a collaborative script by two solid screenwriters in David Webb Peoples (BLADE RUNNER, 12 MONKEYS) and Jeb Stuart (DIE HARD, THE FUGITIVE), LEVIATHAN takes its time establishing well-worn, three-dimensional characters whose stark personal differences are only matched by their shared profession. Hell, even if a nasty monstrosity didn't break out and wreak havoc, this a crew I'd want to chill out, share a brew or two and shoot the shit with. It's precisely this quality that allows a modicum of care and discomfort when the monster does go berserk.

The Overall Dee-cision? LEVIATHAN has for years been unfairly panned by the critics and public alike for being a cheesy ALIEN knockoff. I disagree. With tightly scripted action and well drawn characters by David Webb Peoples and Jeb Stuart, first rate (if recycled) VFX by the legendary Stan Winston and a bounce-back directorial effort by George P. Cosmatos following COBRA, LEVIATHAN is undeserving of being a F*cking Black Sheep. This movie has merit, damn it!



Source: AITH

About the Author

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Jake Dee is one of JoBlo’s most valued script writers, having written extensive, deep dives as a writer on WTF Happened to this Movie and it’s spin-off, WTF Really Happened to This Movie. In addition to video scripts, Jake has written news articles, movie reviews, book reviews, script reviews, set visits, Top 10 Lists (The Horror Ten Spot), Feature Articles The Test of Time and The Black Sheep, and more.