Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 16, 2021)
Whatever happened to concerns about the Bermuda Triangle? That subject garnered lots of attention in the 1970s, but I can’t remember the last time the myth enjoyed any cultural relevance.
We head back to the glory days of Triangle Mania via 1978’s The Bermuda Depths. Magnus Dens (Leigh McCloskey) continues to feel the impact of his father’s death years earlier, and he travels to Bermuda in an attempt to learn the cause.
There Magnus encounters his father’s former colleague Dr. Paulis (Burl Ives) and his assistant Eric (Carl Weathers). Eventually they deal with a mix of issues that include mysterious beauty Jennie Haniver (Connie Sellecca) and a giant, killer sea turtle.
To my surprise, Depths comes from the production team of Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass. Best-known for holiday fare like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, they seem like improbable choices for a tale such as this.
Also to my surprise, I boast no memory of Depths. It ran on ABC in the US early in 1978, and as a kid who loved this sort of material, I’d think I would’ve wanted to see it.
Perhaps I did watch Depths 43 years ago but felt so underwhelmed by the film that it left my noggin decades ago. Based on this screening, I couldn’t blame my 10-year-old self for his suppression of those memories, as this becomes a silly snoozer.
Apparently this would leave me in the minority, as Depths appears to enjoy a cult audience made up of folks who saw it as kids and it stayed with them. Many IMDB reviews discuss the impact the film had on them decades ago.
I will say that Depths boasts stronger production values than I would expect from a circa 1978 TV movie. Sure, some elements showed their age – mainly via some clunky visual effects – but shot on 35mm film, Depths offered stronger production values than anticipated.
While this means Depths looked pretty good, the rest of it flops entirely. Despite a story that should offer plenty of mystery and intrigue, Depths tells its tale in the slowest, least interesting manner I could imagine.
We go about one-third of he way into the movie before we get any hint of Jennie’s unconventional status, and the monster turtle makes its first implied appearance around the same time.
Even then, the story remains slow, as it prefers gauzy shots of Magnus as he moons over Jennie to real development or intrigue.
Honestly, Depths often feels like two separate screenplays crammed into one. The Jennie and giant amphibian tales don’t connect in a particular smooth manner, so each side competes with the other in an awkward, clunky manner.
Of these two, the turtle side becomes the more interesting. Sure, it blatantly rips off Jaws, but at least it occasionally shows a minor pulse.
Then we find ourselves stuck with sluggish, tedious “romantic” scenes that involve Jennie and Magnus. These feel like excerpts from a 1970s soft core porn flick that chopped out the nudity and sex.
The Jennie/Magnus scenes also suffer because neither McCloskey nor Sellecca displayed a hint of acting talent. Depths marked Sellecca’s debut, and she couldn’t look much more stunning, but her performance leaves a lot to be desired.
Still, since Jennie exists mainly as a beautiful object of desire, Sellecca doesn’t actively harm Depths. Because he needs to take an emotional journey, though, McCloskey’s version of Magnus turns into a major issue, as he leaves a huge gap at the heart of the story.
Better actors, Weathers and Ives offer more than adequate performances, even if old Burl leans campy at times. Hey, who can blame him? Ives probably sensed he found himself stuck in a clunker and figured he’d attempt to enliven the proceedings by any means necessary.
Nothing about the core story of Depths dooms it to failure, as a movie about immortal aquatic temptresses and giant killer turtles seems promising. Unfortunately, the end result feels slow, dull and silly.