Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass are most famous for their holiday-themed animated television specials, like Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. But they also produced a few live-action efforts, including this strange, terrible yet unshakable TV movie from the late ’70s. Leigh McCloskey and Carl Weathers (Rocky) star as members of a oceanic expedition who encounter an alluring but dangerous sea nymph (Connie Sellecca) and a monstrous turtle, both characters of legend who share a special connection and serve as harbingers of doom for anyone who seeks them.
The Jaws-like aspects of The Bermuda Depths, with Weathers channeling Captain Ahab after the turtle, are the truly terrible parts of the script — uninspired and tediously dull. The special effects, including some of the most unconvincing miniature work you’re likely ever to see, are jarringly awful. But the wistful fantasy-romance between McClosekey’s and Sellecca is much more interesting — even downright magical. The first ten minutes of the movie are nearly without dialogue, showing in a beguiling, dreamlike fashion how McCloskey and Sellecca’s characters played together as young children and came across the giant turtle when it was a mere hatchling. This special backstory makes their reunion as adults magical and mysterious, even when McCloskey greatly over-acts on occasion. The film’s dramatic tension is never with the plot-driven pursuit of the turtle, but with this strange relationship. McCloskey is warned by a supporting player that the woman will surely lure him to his death, having made a pact with the turtle long, long ago. Is their love real, or will she be the end of him? Does their childhood friendship before the turtle’s pact mean anything?
The Bermuda Depths suffers from pacing problems, poor direction, and special effects needs far beyond its grasp. But the core concept of the movie is a very strong one. Connie Sellecca, in her screen debut, is beautifully cast, and the movie benefits from gorgeous locations and underwater photography. Few films this badly executed are able to leave an indelible impression. I’d love to see a re-make.
With Burl Ives and Julie Woodson.