Director: Hajime Sato
Dark Sky Films/MPI

When talking about B movies, cult movies, or whatever you want to call them, it’s always good to have another company releasing them periodically on DVD. MPI’s recently inaugurated Dark Sky Films line is making fans of the unordinary smile by putting out DVDs of some vintage 50s, 60s and 70s items, most of which come from the old “Teleworld, Inc.” TV distribution library. From those precious vaults comes TERROR BENEATH THE SEA, a 1966 Japanese monster adventure issued straight to U.S. television in the early 1970s.

Japanese journalist Ken (a very young Sonny Chiba) and his American gal pal reporter Jenny (the ditzy blonde heroine from THE X FROM OUTER SPACE, and equally ditzy here) attend a press conference revealing some new test torpedoes on a U.S. Navy submarine. During the conference, a strange image appears on a monitor, so they decide to go skin-diving and do there own investigation, where they discover some ghastly gillmen creatures. When they report what they saw, the Navy doesn’t but it, so they head back to the spot only to be captured. They end up at a futuristic undersea base run by a mad scientist in Roy Orbison sunglasses, and the creatures they discovered are actually cyborgs he created from humans. Ken and Jenny will become said cyborgs as well unless the Navy finally intervenes and comes to their rescue.

A perfect Saturday afternoon time waster, TERROR BENEATH THE SEA is short on plot but delivers the campy action in the tacky comic book style we’ve grown to adore. Chiba is cleaner cut than audiences are used to, but he gets to show off some stirring chop socky moves that he would be known for later. The monsters are men in silver-painted rubber suits that sort of resemble the third cousin of the Lagoon Creature, and towards the end of the film are seen rebelling with pistols and harpoon guns. The effects used to show a man turned into one of these things seems to utilize anything left over in the fridge and medicine cabinet cosmetics, as stop motion camera tricks illustrate the transformation. As usual with Japanese monster movies of the period, this one has lots of unconvincing but ambitious miniatures and a fair share of loud explosions, but surprisingly, there’s also more bloodshed and violence than usual for something seemingly aimed at kids. Most of the cast is English speaking, delivering their mostly absurd dialog in the language, and a lot of the cast also showed up in THE X FROM OUTER SPACE. Actor Andrew Hughes is a familiar face from a number of Japanese fantasy films including DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, KING KONG ESCAPES and GOKE, BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL (which was also directed by Hajime Sato). Shunsuke Kikuchi, who did the music for several Gamera films, composed the very lively and fitting score.

Dark Sky Films presents TERROR BENEATH THE SEA on DVD for the first time, and those who possess the old Monterey Home Video VHS release will be pleased at how much better it now links. Colors are strong, picture detail is sharp, and a few specs make up what little source damage there is. It’s presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. Since the 1.85 ratio was rarely used in Japan at this time, and this appears to be a non-Scope film, I would guess this was shot with a full frame intention, and this new transfer is matted in order to present it 16x9. Only in some instances does the framing look too tight, with most of the compositions coming off fine. The English-dubbed mono audio has clear dialogue and robust music, but the soundtrack slightly suffers from some hiss and pops. No extras included, as an American trailer doesn’t exist since this never played here in theaters. (George R. Reis)