Proteus (1995)

MAY 3, 2011


It’s bad enough we have movies like Leviathan and Deepstar Six, which are essentially ripoffs of Alien but just set in the water, but now (well, then) we have Proteus, which is a ripoff of Leviathan and Deepstar Six! Silver lining: it actually gets lower than this, as the recent The Rig seemed to have been influenced by this one. It’s the least impressive chain of movie ripoffs ever.

Right off the bat you can tell this one is gonna be trouble, because it begins at the end, with the only survivor telling the story. This framing device almost never works in horror films, and here it’s even worse once you get to the end and discover that there’s not even a closing segment to it – we never know who the hero (Craig Fairbrass from Dead Cert, one of the weakest films I saw at Frightfest) was talking to or what became of it. Anyway, from there we move on to not one but two bizarrely edited scenes in which characters are reacting to exciting things that we didn’t see. In the first, a drug deal apparently went south, resulting in one character losing two fingers. Not only is this theoretically exciting, but it would also help identify who’s who in the group, how they relate to each other, how they act in dangerous situations – you know, the type of thing you can really sort of depend on for this type of horror/action hybrid. It’d be like Cobra without that awesome grocery store scene – the movie lacks actual introductions for our characters. Then they add to the minor confusion by showing us a quick shot of a boat exploding in the middle of the credits, followed by some bad ADR where they briefly discuss some sort of mishap on their boat. And then, the credits end... and they’re all in a lifeboat. So that was their boat that blew up? Again, isn’t this the sort of major event they should be showing us in detail? Tom Hanks doesn’t just suddenly find himself in the middle of the ocean in cast away – they show us the goddamn plane crash! It’s like the movie doesn’t want the audience to penetrate its narrative.

Things improve slightly from there, as the monster begins to do his thing surprisingly early. It’s nothing too exciting, and director Bob Keen overuses the “Monster POV” shot to the extent that I was sick of seeing it before even the halfway mark, but it never gets TOO dull. I also liked that the monster was addicted to heroin (after absorbing some, or one of the characters who was filled with it – I was a bit hazy on some of this stuff due to the shitty sound mix on Netflix), and that it was the heroin that was causing it to get all screwy; its shapeshifting powers were out of whack, the original person would regain control momentarily, etc. Plus, this is before CGI got out of control, so we get a lot of genuine rubber monster action, with slimy penis-like tendrils and weird faces and such making frequent appearances.

The ending is a complete misfire though. In addition to a nonsensical decision to introduce a bunch of anonymous henchman types in the last 20 minutes, we get a lot of standing around talking, when this should be the point of the movie where the monster finally goes all out and begins tearing the ship apart. And when the monster finally DOES become fully formed, it’s so big that it can’t even move, resulting in a rather inert finale. All Fairbrass has to do is basically walk over to the other side of the ship and wait for rescue, since the monster can’t go anywhere and nothing is really at stake. Instead he just pours gasoline on it and uses that to blow it up, despite the fact that there’s a major rainstorm occurring. Then, of course, a final shot showing that he’s infected. So you rip off The Thing throughout the movie but botch on the awesome ambiguity that it had. Good work, fellas.

This movie also has to have the record for the most number of casual, pointless, possibly ADR’d conversations between characters ever. When they’re all climbing up to get on the ship, one drops a bag, and the rest all have a comment about it. Other topics include the number/state of the bathrooms, whether or not there is cream and sugar for the coffee, etc. I guess it’s supposed to humanize these otherwise wretched characters (a bunch of heroin smugglers/addicts doesn’t exactly scream “sympathetic”), but it just seems really out of place, which is a shame because it’s the type of thing I usually like in movies. However, it only works if the characters are folks I like and want to look at as real people, not eventual monster fodder.

Doug Bradley pops up as an old man, somehow even less recognizable than he is in his Pinhead getup. Which begs the question – does Doug Bradley EVER get a full on role in a movie beyond the theatrical Hellraiser sequels? Seems like everything is always a quick cameo or brief two-scene appearance with him. I was hoping he’d turn out to be the guy interviewing Fairbrass, because (other than the credits spoiling it) that would have been a nice surprise, and at least made the framing device worth employing, at least on a geek level. Keen of course was the guy who designed the makeup on the original Hellraiser and worked on a few of the sequels, so his makeup skills are laudable. But between this and Heartstopper, I’m going to have to assume he’s a pretty lousy director. Though his 1995 effort To Catch A Yeti stars Meat Loaf as the Bigfoot hunter – I don’t think even Albert Pyun could fuck that up. I’ll have to seek it out sometime (it’s not horror, I think it’s aimed at kids).

Oh, and naming the scientist who inadvertently created the monster “Dr. Shelley”? Fuck you.

What say you?


  1. I have this on DVD. It has possibly the worst picture quality I've ever seen, making it nearly impossible to see what's happening on screen since its mostly set in the dark.

    Other then that its pretty unremarkable. There are a couple of decent scenes though, and I thought Craig Fairbrass was pretty good as the lead.

  2. This movie is pretty lackluster, but the novel it's based on, Slimer, is pure awesome-face. A really mean spirited and darkly funny 80's horror gem. Look into it and thank me later.

  3. Yeah, I read this book too, about twenty years ago. It's titled "Slimer" and was first published in 1983. I remember it was quite entertaining (at least for a 10 years old kid, which is not saying much), but even then I had a strong case of deja vu - it's nothing more than a "The Thing" rip off, placed at sea. I also remember it being very short (about 200 pages), so I guess you can read it at one sitting. The author, Harry Adam Knight (a.k.a. John Brosnan), had written a few books like this one, unoriginal, yet quite cool SF/horror novels. One of them was "Carnosaur" (1984), adaptation of which you might have seen.

    1. It's kind of unfair to call them unoriginal, especially "Carnosaur".

    2. "it's nothing more than a "The Thing" rip off, placed at sea." Not really. It was a shape-changer like the Thing, but it had some neat nuances to its creature. For one, a person doesn't "die" when they're absorbed, they actually retain their consciousness and memories, even going so far as to take control of Charlie and his physical form if their wills were strong enough.

  4. Actually, Fairbrass' character isn't infected at the end: the helicopter pilot is. He was probably just waiting for the old man to come back when Fairbrass showed up and ordered him to fly at gunpoint.
    Had Fairbrass been infected, it would have made no sense at all, since the infections are a pretty ostentatious process and yet we never see anything happen to him.
    As for the pilot, think about it: when the injured girl got infected midway, this created a second monster. As a result, one could have infected the pilot while the other attacked the smugglers. Not much of a plan - the monster could just have stolen the chopper and left the smugglers to die - but at least it takes care of that potential plot hole.


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