By: Heather Seebach
In the realm of cult cinema, the Italians have contributed many of the best films, from Fulci and Argento to Corbucci and Leone. As a lover of so-bad-its-good cinema, I am equally grateful for all the terrible films the Italians have given us. For every stylish bit of class like Suspiria, there is a wonderful piece of trash like Yor, the Hunter from the Future. Perhaps the most famous Italian schlock is Troll 2, which found a second life thanks to midnight shows, RiffTrax, and the fantastic documentary Best Worst Movie.
I do love Troll 2, with its rubbery costumes and absurd dialogue, but there is another Italian production that out-crazies it in every way, only hardly anyone has seen it. That film is Plankton, also known as Creatures from the Abyss, or Creature Dagli Abissi. It was released in 1994 but feels distinctly 80s thanks to its low budget and a sweet synth score. Directed by Alvaro Passeri, a legendary sculptor and FX artist, this film has everything I love about bad movies combined with some quality creature effects and surprising ingenuity.
Plankton begins like many horror movies - with five young people doing something stupid. All the archetypes are there: the hero; the good girl; the bimbo; the hysterical sister; and the sex-crazed joker. This is just the first of many times it lifts from The Evil Dead. So these five idiots take a motorboat out to the middle of the ocean without gasoline and get stranded. They come across an abandoned research vessel and, despite the creepy laboratory full of dead fish, decide it is a nice place to settle down for the night. They also don't see a problem eating the fish they find on-board which, needless to say, does not end well for them. Mike the "hero" (who is actually a condescending asshole) does some research in the lab, while Bobby (the heel) tries relentlessly to get laid, and the ladies, well...mostly just take their tops off and shower. There is a weirdly long conversation about menstrual pain though. Does that pass the Bechdel test?
The first great thing about this movie is how nonsensically weird the ship itself is. For one thing, it looks more like a 70s pimp pad than an oceanographic research vessel. Everything is decorated in pastel blue and pink. There is a talking shower named Suzie that encourages you to fondle yourself, and a flirty talking fish in the hallway called "Cutie Time." There is a full bar, and the cabins all look for ready for an impromptu orgy. One of the bedrooms for some reason has a 6-foot-tall stuffed bear and a giant cock lamp that is turned on by stroking, naturally.
The second great thing about Plankton is how ridiculously convoluted the menace is. We have prehistoric carnivorous fish from the bottom of the sea, upon which the scientists were conducting experiments. Then we learn that they are sexually aggressive, can live out of water, and are gay. Yes, you read that correctly. To quote the film, "In the absence of the female, the fish are carnivorous and gay." Oh, and their plankton food source has been contaminated with radioactive waste so they are also mutants. And if humans eat the plankton, they get cancer/turn into a mutant fish. And for some reason the horny shower inexplicably tries to kill people, too. Hey screenwriter, JUST PICK ONE!
The third great thing is the dialogue. Some exchanges are so hilariously "wtf" they would probably make Tommy Wiseau cringe. While looking at dead fish preserved in jars, one girl says, "They frighten me. They have an evil expression." Adding to that is the terrible dubbing. Sometimes I wonder how much of the dialogue was originally part of the film, and how much was the voice actors fucking around. While reading a textbook on fish, Mike reads the animal's scientific genus as "Kleptomania." Really? He continues that they have "exceptionally developed genitalia in the erogenous zone." Still, no line of dialogue can compare to the film's own Rosebud moment when Mike asks, "Professor, how long have you been fucking fish?" And the Professor's reply? "They were old enough!"
The fourth great thing about Plankton is that it's not all bad! As crappy movies goes, it is quite colorful and inventive. I actually think this film is somewhere between the truly awful, like Troll 2, and more deliberate schlock like Street Trash. Some of the jokes are definitely intentional, and it's twistedly clever at times, like when a woman gets raped by a fish creature and births a load of caviar. The special effects range from laughably bad digital composite shots, to old-school stop-motion, to great full-blown creature FX. The film's bonkers nature is best on display during a gross sex scene wherein the guy transforms into a fish monster. As his body comes apart, the woman (eyes closed) continues to enjoy the coitus, lapping up fish slime like it's...something else. Between the bizarre-but-fantastic creature FX, the crudeness, and the manic way the gore scenes are shot, it feels more akin to early Peter Jackson than any Italian horror film - which is awesome, as far as I'm concerned.
There is SO much to unpack in this crazy movie but you just have to see it for yourself. I try not to overuse the word "bonkers" but there is no better word to describe this one. The whole film is so colorful and bizarre that it often feels like a fever dream - but a really funny one. The fact that Plankton is not selling out midnight shows is downright criminal. Between the hilariously stupid dialogue, outrageous FX, and general nuttiness, this movie would absolutely bring the house down. When you have watched as many corny movies as I have, you start to wonder if you have seen all there is to see; so when I first saw Plankton, I was relieved to know that there is still such gold out there in the wild, just waiting to be discovered. So if you're craving Italian but your tastes grow tired of giallo and spaghetti westerns...try the fish!
Heather Seebach is a full-time movie nerd, on-again-off-again blogger, and travel nut with an unhealthy addiction to collecting Evil Dead things. You can find more of her ramblings on her site, Viewer Discretion Advised.