Alien from the Abyss: A ’50s Atomic Monster Movie Invades the ’80s

It may not be as popular a subgenre as slashers or folk horror, but subterranean creature flicks may be one of my low-key favorites. I can’t think of a single one that has disappointed me. We all know the big names here: Tremors, The Burrowers, The Descent, C.H.U.D., Nightbreed, Screamers, etc. Yet, there’s very little on the internet concerning Alien from the Abyss (aka Alien from the Deep), which makes sense if you’ve seen it.  

A film that is as terrific as it is cheesy, Alien from the Abyss is a perfect qualifier for Horror Obsessive’s new Trash Cinema series. It’s uneven and unnecessarily horny, and the English dubbing is off in places. And it rips off multiple films of its era, including bringing to life an H.R. Giger inspired trashterpiece of modern art in its monster after (literally) throwing away its plot in the third act. However, it’s also so over-the-top you can’t help but marvel at the spectacle.

Kovacks and a scientist look at a monitor in a control room in Alien from the Abyss

Charles Napier, who you might recognize as the police officer who was bludgeoned to death by Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, plays a hell of a villain. The special makeup effects are excellent, showcasing gore-intensive radiation burns caused by contact with the alien that both rips-off Ridley Scott’s acid-spewing Alien and somehow seems like it could have inspired Chris Carter’s acid-dripping, clone-killing, bounty hunter alien in The X-Files. And director Antonio Margheriti has some outstanding transitional shots that keep the intensity up during the alien attack sequences, courtesy of editor Alberto Moriani. 

Now there are a number of potential ways to interpret the title Alien from the Abyss. Given the film’s initial release date of May 27, 1989, in the Philippines, it seems clear that the initial title tried to ride on the coattails of the forthcoming James Cameron sci-fi flick, The Abyss, releasing that summer. Cameron’s film had gone into production in August of 1988 and had been at the helm of the 1986 Alien sequel, which Margheriti mirrors exactly in Alien from the Abyss’ ending, making his intentions seem clear. Italian horror sequels and rip-offs were rampant in the ’70s and ’80s, covering everything from Jaws (Cruel Jaws) to Evil Dead (Ghosthouse, Witchery, Beyond Darkness), and Lucio Fulci’s Zombie was originally marketed as a Dawn of the Dead sequel. Many Italian titles were often sued by Hollywood studios or directors and made to remove their original names, which could be why “Deep” was chosen for the American title over the direct translation of the Italian title Alien Degali Abissi when it premiered in the Philippines (where it was filmed) and arrived in North America. Aliens from the Deep also proposes a throwback to Roger Corman produced ’80s creature feature, Humanoids from the Deep, again leeching onto another successful title but with less fear of retaliation given the nine-year gap between the releases. 

Lee and JAne huddle next to the locals beneath the pipes of the ECHEM plant.

Besides the name having a marketing-related identity crisis, so did many of the actors and the director. Antonio Margheriti went by Anthony M. Dawson on Alien from the Abyss, as he had on the majority of his other projects. This wasn’t uncommon for Italian cinema directors or actors, as distributors attempted to lure American audiences into the slickly dubbed features by removing any hesitance that the movie would be some artsy foreign film with subtitles. It also provided talented individuals anonymity when seeking Hollywood roles under an easily pronounced pseudonym.

Joe D’Amato, aka Aristide Massaccesi, is another director with a storied film career such as Anthropophagus and five entries in the Black Emanuelle series. Cannibal Holocaust director Ruggero Deodato also went by Roger Rockfeller in his early career. Mario Bava directed a pair of films as John Old. And Nightmare City director Umberto Lenzi went by many different versions of Humphery, Harry, and Hank, directing the aforementioned Ghosthouse as Humpherey Humbert and Nightmare Beach as Harry Kirkpatrick. Though one wonders if maybe some of these choices could have been made because of how the films turned out. 

Alien from the Abyss creates a similar feeling to Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (aka Zombi 2, aka Zombie Flesh Eaters) by opening off the shore of a top-secret island. We’re introduced to our stars, Greenpeace compatriots Lee (Robert Marius), a cameraman, and his traveling physicist friend Jane (Marina Giulia Cavalli, credited as Julia Mc. Kay). Right away, Jane garners the type of slack-jawed stares from Lee and the ship’s first mate for any viewer to know the movie is going to have its share of irrelevant plot moments. As Jane wakes up in her underwear on a boat with three men, the feeling is more than a little uneasy though unsurprising given the era, particularly when she slightly revels in it. As the ship begins to get attacked by a helicopter bearing the ECHEM logo, the audience buckles in, expecting a fast-paced thrill ride full of alien action. But that isn’t what happens. Not right away, at least.  

Jane and Lee hide around the corner as a man in a hazmat suit enters a doorway

The first half of the movie is a love letter to fifties nuclear panic films where villainous American Colonel Kovacks (Napier) is dumping toxic waste directly into an active volcano for a shady chemical corporation. Kovacks duels with our modern-era eco-conscious heroes looking to record evidence and expose ECHEM’s crimes to the world. They get that chance after meeting with their contact in the jungle.

The exposition of the film can be arduous, and nothing is more cringe-worthy than Jane meeting a young indigenous boy and introducing herself with the Tarzan line. “Me, Jane.” It has not aged well at all. An over-explaining village pastor clues the audience into the evil machinations of the chemical plant, which Jane and Lee see firsthand in the next scene, making us wonder why this scene is as long as it is when all Jane and Lee need is a way into the military-secured compound. Yet, for any fan of old-school ’50s sci-fi such as The Atomic Submarine or First Man into Space (the source material for The Incredible Melting Man), the method of front-loading the setup portion of the film isn’t uncommon.

A soldier holding a rifle sees a snake over his shoulder

Jane and Lee’s infiltration of the ECHEM facility is almost comical, boldly sneaking around under the cover of the harsh noonday sun. It’s even more befuddling that they use the locals as their diversionary tactic, including the young boy from the earlier scene. The locals confusingly follow Jane and Lee, put in harm’s way for no reason. After Jane and Lee observe the plant’s dumping, the movie takes a turn. The two are caught trying to escape, leaving Lee to stash the VHS tape of the ECHEM coverup before getting himself captured. Jane escapes thanks to the help of jungle frontiersman and snake wrangler Bob (Daniel Bosch).  

Bosch is an atypical ’80s leading man, looking like a bearded Radar O’Reilly from the tv series M*A*S*H, and would, by Hollywood standards, be filtered more into a Jimmy Olson type of supporting role over a leading man position. This makes him easy to root for in Alien from the Abyss as the pseudo-underdog in the lead role, plus his character’s snake specialties don’t hurt either. Jane’s retreat back to Bob’s hidden broken-down school bus hut is only possible thanks to Bob’s snakes, who take out a series of guards in spectacular fashion. Plus, in what other movie are you ever going to hear a line like,

“Don’t touch me, you snake squeezer! You’re all alike! Men like you think you’re real men just because you got a pair of balls!” 

A diver splashes in the water, his face is bloody and one of the eyes is hanging out of its socket in Alien from the Abyss

If it weren’t for the film’s title, any person watching Alien from the Abyss would, up to this point, consider this a jungle action film, a genre that became big in the late ’70s and 80s by the return of veterans from the Vietnam war. Movies like First Blood, Predator, Indiana Jones, and the Romancing the Stone films were Hollywood successes at the box office, but there are plenty of underground titles if you dare to go looking. Alien from the Abyss’ writer Tito Carpi was one of a few Italian warsploitation writers at the time. His Titles include Last Platoon, Days of Hell, The Commander, and Striker. 


 Alien from the Abyss switches gears when the radiation from ECHEM’s illegal dumping creates a summoning beacon that draws the titular extraterrestrial to Earth. Does it make sense? Of course it doesn’t. But It’s when the movie gets incredibly chaotic and fun. The eco-actioner the audience was watching becomes a bonkers monster movie that seemingly leans on the then-filming Tremors, which wouldn’t release until January of the following year. Tremors, which is probably one of my favorite summer rewatches, is not an entirely original film either. When you think about it, Ron Underwood’s tunneling subterranean Graboids are really just land sharks with Lovecraftian tongues that relies heavily on Jaws as a concept. Nevertheless, it is entertaining, and Margheriti uses a similar tunneling mechanic for his alien to chase its victims and breaches the surface with only a radioactive claw. We even see a character try to escape by climbing on top of some large rocks in a cave.  

Lee screams as a dark claw approaches him in Alien from the Abyss

Of course, this means that the creature on the box art of the Alien from the Abyss or Alien from the Deep DVD/VHS/Blu-Ray, is featured in the film for about ten to fifteen minutes. When you first see the kaiju-esque alien, you have to admire the practicality of tubing, wire, and other materials you could pick up at your local hardware shop. There’s also an unintended laugh stemming from the first time the creature fully appears, particularly after seeing the impractical length of its arm graze its victims to a radioactive death.

Regardless of how this played in 1989, you can’t help but love Margheriti’s attempt to bring back this ‘50s-style atomic panic feeling. Alien from the Abyss arrived mere months after The Blob was reborn on screen with Kevin Dillon and Shawnee Smith, attempting to deliver a ten-million-dollar summer blockbuster of special effects and modernize the old-school monster movie. The Blob, however, did not make that ten million back and became more of a cult hit later. Margheriti goes in the exact opposite direction by leaning into the Hollywood heyday of low-budget monster-making tricks, relying more on the side of the original Blob film, by using older, ’70s style cameras, showing off exploding miniatures and craftily setting the alien out of frame, around corners, or through an impenetrable fog. It’s gleefully schlocky for fans of the genre, holding the same enjoyment factor for fans of big-ass bug movies that Eight-Legged Freaks wrought in 2002.  

The alien stands above Lee and Jane in a dense fog

Shamelessly exploiting every Hollywood film of the era, Alien from the Abyss swings hard. You’ll see bits of Alien, Jaws, Tremors, Terminator, and so many more that will make you laugh wildly, but the film never ceases to be entertaining, and that’s what makes it a trash cinema classic. Get some friends together to gawk at this ninety-minute guilty pleasure of utter ridiculousness with unnecessary plot stopping for wet t-shirt moments, head-scratching dialogue (“I think it’s some kind of claw, Colonel!” or “I sell snake poison. The medical community calls it “venom” and pays very well for it.”), and a plot to expose an evil corporation that goes out the window in the final fifteen minutes and becomes a full-fledged rip-off of Aliens’ ending. It is an exquisite B-movie I hope finds its way into your life by any media means it can.  

Severin Films has just released a newly remastered, scanned in 4k from the original negative, Blu-Ray version of Alien from the Abyss. I highly recommend it if you’re in the mood for B-grade schlock. 

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Written by Sean Parker

Living just outside of Boston, Sean has always been facinated by what horror can tell us about contemporary society. He started writing music reviews for a local newspaper in his twenties and found a love for the art of thematic and symbolic analysis. Sean joined Horror Obsessive at it's inception, and is currently the site's Creative Director. He produces and edits the weekly Horror Obsessive podcast for the site as well as his interviews with guests. He has recently started his foray into feature film production as well, his credits include Alice Maio Mackay's Bad Girl Boogey, Michelle Iannantuono's Livescreamers, and Ricky Glore's upcoming Troma picture, Sweet Meats.

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