How does one go about trying to describe the supernatural allure of THE BERMUDA DEPTHS, a 1978 made-for-television film that has cast a lingering hypnotic spell upon anyone fortuitous enough to stumble across it? (Is it too much to suggest that the secret reason for the existence of the Internet itself is so that these chosen people could track down a bootleg copy of their gospel?) This is a film that centers on a giant turtle folks, conventional wisdom would tell you that all recognitions would paint it as a camp classic or at least a guilty pleasure by now, but instead its followers, old and new, hold this oddity closely and sincerely to their hearts like a priceless family heirloom.
Part of the reason may be because THE BERMUDA DEPTHS defies categorization. Actually it may be more accurate to say that there is no genre that it does not embrace at one point or another, horror, fantasy, and action all weaved together with an undeniable leaning toward tragic romance and yes, I’m still talking about a movie involving a giant turtle. Some who have experienced this lush fable in their youth admit to confusing their memories of it with a childhood dream and it’s not difficult to understand why. The soundtrack alone mystifies. Prepare to have it rustling about your brain like a hermit crab trapped in a tide pool for days after viewing.
The movie itself begins as a dizzy stumble between dream, reality and the inchoate memories of youth. Magnus (LEIGH McCLOSKEY of ARGENTO’S INFERNO) is recalling a first love, a little girl named Jennie Haniver he used to play with on the beach. One day the two find a turtle egg. They nurture the newborn into semi adulthood and send it off to sea but not before Magnus etches his feelings upon it’s shell carving “M + J” within a heart. Reciprocating these thoughts, Jennie crafts a necklace from coral and presents it to Magnus. That night a storm rages and an unseen beast attacks and makes off with Magnus’ scientist father leaving their ocean adjacent cliff-top home a REBECCA-like Manderlay shambles.
Now an adult Magnus has returned to his childhood home and is still unclear about what had befallen his father. He keeps coming across a mysterious woman (a surprisingly ethereal CONNIE SELLECA) who he slowly begins to realize is the girl from his youth. Problem is he’s also informed that the name Jennie Haniver belongs to that of a local legend, a woman who sold her soul in exchange for eternal life during a storm at sea. It is said that she can appear as either an adult or a child, and that all those that she presents herself to are doomed to drown. Meanwhile, another childhood buddy (CARL WEATHERS) and an acquaintance of Magnus’ father’s (BURL IVES) are currently getting all kinds of JAWS-obsessed about some giant turtle foot prints they discovered in the sand.
Sounds crazy, I know, but somehow it all comes together like some ancient myth written in the stars. This is a story that could touch anyone at any age. Adults will recognize the bittersweet melancholia of an impossible love. Teenagers get a crashing helicopter and a hot babe with glowing eyes and kids, well kids get that cute giant turtle I was talking about. Grab the whole family, we’ve got a lost classic on our hands! Learning that DEPTHS was penned by ARTHUR RANKIN, JR. of RANKIN AND BASS (THE YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS) fame first seems astonishing and then absolutely appropriate.
Often when we return to beloved films of our youth we are disappointed and shocked by what we once held in such high regard. Sometimes we may even be left wondering to ourselves, “What was I thinking back then?” But if you watch THE BERMUDA DEPTHS as an adult and fail to be swept away by its poetic beauty and lazy hammock swing charms maybe the question you should be asking yourself is, “What is wrong with me RIGHT NOW?”
NOTE: I don’t know how long it will last, but currently THE BERMUDA DEPTHS can be viewed on God’s gift to obsessive nerds Youtube (Part 1 is HERE, follow it to the rest). If you have any kind of free time at all today, I suggest you uncross your arms, relax and let it take you out to sea.