Destination Inner Space/Terror of the Deep (1966) -**½
Back in the days when people actually cooked, there used to be a dish called “hash.” Nobody much liked it, but if you were working class, you could expect to eat hash for dinner once or twice every week. The idea behind it was simple: on Thursday, for example, you took all the leftovers from Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday’s dinners, tossed them together in a pot with as few new ingredients as you could get away with, and then cooked the whole mess until it turned into something like a unified whole, which you then ate with grim determination, driven by the knowledge that it was financially dangerous to waste food. It probably seemed a little less distasteful in the old days (people’s definition of food was expansive enough then to include kale and collard greens, after all), but I guarantee you nobody ever said, “Oh goody! Mom’s making hash for dinner!” So why am I prattling on about economy measures in prewar American cooking? Simple: Destination Inner Space/Terror of the Deep is the cinematic equivalent of hash, the rather more appetizing dishes from which it was created being The Thing, The Atomic Submarine, and Revenge of the Creature. And to carry the parallel with culinary hash one step further, I strongly doubt that anybody ever said, “Oh goody! Destination Inner Space is on TV tonight!”
Submariner Commander Wayne (Scott Brady, of Satan’s Sadists and The Mighty Gorga) arrives at the underwater research station of the Seawatch project in response to an urgent call from Seawatch director Dr. LaSatier (Gary Merrill, from Mysterious Island and Earth II). LaSatier wants to see the Navy’s most decorated sub commander because his station’s sonar keeps picking up a strange moving object, the signal for which is all wrong for any known sea creature, and before he spends too much time and energy investigating it, he wants to make sure it isn’t some kind of new, high-tech submarine. The next time the thing shows up on the sonar, LaSatier hands Wayne the hydrophone headset, and has him give a listen. It’s no submarine. There’s no propeller noise, no electric motor signature— none of the telltale sounds subs make while underway. So if LaSatier knows it can’t be a whale, and Wayne knows it can’t be a submarine, then what the hell could it be?
How about a flying saucer? That’s certainly what it looks like in the handful of pictures underwater photographer Sandra Welles (Wende Wagner, from Rosemary’s Baby and the old “Green Hornet” TV show) and her sort-of boyfriend, Hugh Maddox (Mike Road, who shortly got busy lending his voice to such endearingly terrible Hannah-Barbera sci-fi/fantasy shows as “Space Ghost” and “The Herculoids”), bring back with them from their most recent attempt to catch the mysterious object on film. The whole Seawatch crew gets a better look at the thing later that day, when its operators throw caution to the winds and buzz the station closely enough to sever the communication lines between the underwater and topside modules of the Seawatch complex. That gets everybody curious enough to go take a look.
The makeup of the team that LaSatier sends out to investigate when the mystery machine lands near the lip of an underwater trench is somewhat unfortunate. Wayne and Maddox have a history together, you see. Wayne had been the executive officer, and Maddox the engineer aboard the submarine USS Starfish when there was some kind of accident. Wayne gave the order that trapped Maddox and several other men inside a watertight compartment that was flooding fast as a result of the accident, and only Maddox managed to escape. Maddox quit the Navy soon thereafter, and he still blames Wayne for the other men’s deaths. But Maddox is unquestionably the best diver on the Seawatch team, and so he and Wayne will just have to put their differences aside for long enough to carry out the mission. Inside the UFO (or would UDO— unidentified diving object— be the more appropriate term?), Wayne, Maddox, and Welles find no sign of life, just a big empty room surrounded by little triangular compartments. One of these compartments, however, has opened and disgorged a large gray cylinder, about the same size and shape as a scuba tank. There is no outward indication what the thing might be, and despite Wayne’s contrary inclinations, the extremely curious Maddox brings it back with them when the three divers return to Seawatch.
Maddox probably would have chopped James Arness out of that block of ice, too. And the results of Maddox’s action prove to be just as disastrous. The cylinder has been aboard the station only two hours when marine biologist Rene Peron (Maneater’s Sheree North, who would show up many years later in Maniac Cop) notices that it’s growing. And indeed, later that afternoon, it has expanded to nearly double its original size. Then, without warning, the thing begins emitting intense ultrasonic pulses that send the scientists examining it screaming from the lab. By the time Commander Wayne and one of the other men arrive on the scene to find out what’s going on, the cylinder has hatched into easily the worst gill-man since the ones that horrified Party Beach. This is really some monster suit, here. It’s far fishier than is usually the case, with the face of a hatchetfish; a laterally compressed, hunchbacked body (all the better to conceal an internal scuba tank); and a long, orange dorsal fin. It also has conspicuous, multi-hued pectoral fins just below its armpits, and even a short, slender tail. It probably cost about $17.00. Anyway, this monster attacks Wayne and his partner, and Wayne flees the room, locking the door with the unfortunate man still inside. The similarity to past events is not lost on Maddox.
This is where Destination Inner Space begins ripping off The Thing in earnest. LaSatier, of course, wants to study the gill-man, to communicate with it and find out what it wants. If its people built that spaceship, they must be a superior civilization, and like all superior civilizations, they must want to live in peace with their neighbors in the galaxy. Think of what this creature could teach us, and all that shit. And just like in The Thing, the gill-man answers the scientist’s overtures with Extreme Antisocial Behavior. First, it smashes its way out of the compartment where it had been confined— not into the rest of the station, but out into the sea, flooding that part of Seawatch. Then it swims up to the topside module, where it kills everyone, destroys the radio and the main air pump, and renders the crane that controls the Seawatch diving bell equally useless. The folks downstairs thus now have no way of contacting the outside world, and only about twelve hours’ worth of breathable air. Afterwards, the monster goes back down to the sea floor, and fixes the door to the cage that surrounds the station’s main exit so that it can no longer be opened by anything that isn’t vastly stronger than a man. And meanwhile, all of the Seawatch crewmembers who have been injured by the gill-man in any of the several encounters that have transpired during its rampage of destruction are slowly dying of some strange alien infection transmitted via the creature’s claws.
There’s just one thing left to do at this point. The gill-man has shown that it likes to return to the station’s main entrance and lie in ambush for anyone foolish enough to try to escape. If some brave soul were willing to fake an escape attempt, the monster could perhaps be baited into some kind of trap. With that in mind, Commander Wayne orders the compartment just inboard of the main entrance rigged with spear guns set up to fire by tripwire. Wayne himself will serve as the bait. The plan works, more or less, in that the monster does indeed come aboard to get Wayne, and does indeed run afoul of his booby traps. However, the gill-man is awfully tough, and a handful of spear guns are only sufficient to wound it— albeit seriously enough that it loses interest in killing the humans, and starts swimming back to its ship. Wayne, Maddox, and a third man swiftly get their scuba gear on, and rush out to prevent the creature’s escape; they return with the hog-tied gill-man a short while later.
Wayne now turns his attention the other twenty or so gill-man eggs he, Maddox, and Welles saw aboard the flying saucer. When a quick trip upstairs to the ruin of the topside module rules out the possibility of radioing the navy for a destroyer to come in and depth-charge the UFO, Wayne asks Maddox if there’s anything explosive aboard the Seawatch facility. Sure there is— lots and lots of dynamite left over from the job of clearing out the coral reef to lay the station’s foundation. But while Wayne, Maddox, and Welles are on their way to the saucer with the explosives, the gill-man breaks its chains and takes off after them. In the end, it’s Maddox vs. the man-fish aboard the saucer, with the fuses burning and Wayne racing to get Welles to safety before 2800 square feet of sea floor blow sky-high.
Oh, man, is this ever a stupid flick! The great mass of warmed-over leftovers in the script never comes anywhere close to developing its own identity, and anybody who has seen The Thing, The Atomic Submarine, or Revenge of the Creature is likely to spend most of the mental energy he or she devotes to Destination Inner Space on ticking off the elements stolen from each. Most of what entertainment value it has can be traced to its deficiency in two major areas: acting and special effects. Scott Brady and Mike Road seem to be in constant competition to see which one can be the first to top the level of pressurized bluster previously established by pressurized bluster world record-holder Otto Carlsen in Reptilicus. Meanwhile, at the opposite extreme, Wende Wagner acts as though somebody forgot to thaw her out completely before sending her out onto the set. As for the special effects, their creators never even bother trying to convince the audience that the Seawatch station or the alien spacecraft are anything more than tiny tin models which somebody has dropped to the bottom of a Southern California tidal pool. It hasn’t even occurred to these poor suckers to film the models from a low angle in an effort to create the illusion of greater size! But of course, it’s the gill-man suit that really steals the show. I’ve already described this foam rubber wonder in some detail in a previous paragraph, so there isn’t much more I can say about it here, beyond that it’s far and away the most rewarding reason to watch Destination Inner Space.