deep star six posterMost of us don’t remember the sea beast from the 1989 flop, Deep Star Six. Sure, it could be that the movie is the worst of many sea-themed movies to come out in that year. The pace of the film is slower than a PBS period drama, which doesn’t work when you’re trying to make people spill their popcorn. And the dialogue stinks—I’d seriously rather listen to a couple at Starbucks discussing their daughter’s soccer tournament. But I think there’s a deeper problem with this monster. The human brain just has trouble processing what’s on the screen.

Imagine that a horned frog and a tick had had a really big baby. Still confused? You’re not alone.

Making a good monster is tricky. You don’t want to create something that looks like every other kraken out there. But you also don’t want to be so edgy that your monster looks like a failed sculpture from your kid’s art camp. When the Deep Star Six monster appeared on screen, I was always so perplexed I forgot to be scared. What is it? Is it a rock with a mouth? Is it a mouth with a rocky growth around it? Is it a calcified Venus Flytrap? Hmmm. What could that be…oh, the scene’s over.

deep star six 8Despite the fact that I was SURE this thing couldn’t exist, the design of the monster in Deep Star Six is actually based on reality. This giant Eurypterid was a common water creature around 400 million years ago, but it thankfully died out, mostly because it’s gross. And be glad it’s gone. These Eurypterids could grow to eight feet in length and had pinchers that could slice their prey into nice little chunks of sushi. I should be scared of this thing.

There’s another reason why this Eurypterid doesn’t register on the scream meter the way crowd favorites like the Lake Placid alligator and the shark from Jaws do. Neither of those designs is original, but they’re still waaaay more interesting than the Deep Star Six monster. Why?

Part of the pleasure of watching a beast movie is that we’re witnessing an old-fashioned contest right out of prehistoric times—humans versus monsters. Those are part of the oldest form of storytelling, and we’re wired to fear the smart, relentless predators. It’s a battle of wits, not strength.

In Deep Star Six, you don’t get the sense that the monster is hunting so much as blindly running into things that it then reflexively kills. This gives the monster the same quality as a really dangerous robot vacuum.

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Despite all its flaws, I don’t want to forget the Deep Star Six monster. Even though the weird horned frog-tick-lobster monster failed to terrify me, I respect the crew that spent months building it from nothing—all before the days of CGI. I’d rather see an honest effort to scare me with an actual dinosaur than the intentionally dumb monsters the Sci-Fi channel cooks up, like Sharktopus and Krakenturtle. So weird frog-lobster-tick monster makers, I raise my glass to you. In the end, that monster was unforgettable.

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