October Horrorshow: Black Ops, aka Deadwater

Lance Henriksen is as old as dirt. He’s so old the primordial soup called him ‘daddy.’ He’s so old his grandkids had to teach him how to program the VCR. He’s so old he can tell the difference between Sarsaparilla and root beer. He’s so old…one gets the idea. In reality, he’s old but not that old. As of this writing, he’s 79. Well into old age, but not a doddering eldster, either. I bring this up because today’s horror flick, Black Ops, originally title Deadwater, was released straight to video in 2008, just a few weeks after the film’s star, Lance Henriksen, turned 68.

In it, he plays Colonel John Willets, a spec ops soldier who, despite all the wrinkles, white hair, and the Army’s mandatory retirement age of 62, is still leading teams into combat. It really does push a viewer’s suspension of disbelief to watch Henriksen take on a role usually reserved for men half his age. It’s funny how suspension of disbelief works in films. This film features an unseen supernatural menace that can rip apart an entire ship’s crew in seconds, but the biggest problem I have with its realism is that Lence Henriksen plays a role he should have aged out of. The big fictions, like monsters or aliens or compassionate politicians, viewers can deal with. It’s the little ones that rankle.

Anyway, Black Ops comes to us via director Roel Reiné and screenwriters Reiné and Ethan Wiley (who wrote the classic horror-comedy House). Besides Henriksen, Black Ops features Gary Stretch as Navy sailor, and Willets’s son, Colin; Katherine Randolph as Traci Leonard; and no one else worth mentioning.

Stretch’s performance is especially bad for someone who shares the lead with Henriksen. Stretch is from England, and his American accent was terrible. It’s so bad that the filmmakers did all they could to prevent Stretch from having lines. It’s painful to listen to him struggle with the accent, and a mystery why the filmmakers didn’t just dub Stretch’s voice. If I had to guess, the reason is money.

Henriksen and his team have been dispatched to the Persian Gulf to board a US Navy vessel that has gone dark and adrift. The ship is question is played by the museum ship SS Lane Victory, which has more credits on IMDb than many of the people in this flick. In a twist, the Lane Victory does not play an active duty naval vessel. The filmmakers must have felt that eagle-eyed viewers would be able to spot the vessel was less than shipshape, so they had characters point out that they are aboard a museum ship that has been called back to duty. Sure, whatever. It matters about as much as Henriksen starring. His character, Willets, even points out that the ship should be scrap, as he once boarded her forty years earlier.

The ship is in the Persian Gulf because the CIA is using it as a black site for interrogations and torture. Willets and his team have been sent to investigate because the brass fears a high-profile terrorist has gotten loose and seized control of the ship. The truth is worse, and much bloodier.

Some supernatural force is loose on the ship, stirred into activity by all the nastiness brought about by the CIA. When Willets and company arrive, they find only a handful of the crew have survived, including Colin. Their mission then becomes to survive until dawn, when they can leave the ship.

It’s never said why they have to wait until dawn. They know they’re in deep shit, yet no provision was made for leaving the ship when things got hairy. That’s something common in low-budget flicks featuring spec ops missions. These flicks forget that we don’t just drop our guys into harm’s way and then sit around waiting to see if their mission succeeds. The US military has satellites and radar planes and gunships and long-range communications and all sorts of other high-tech toys that come into play when there’s a mission. In films like this, viewers see none of it. It’s just more suspension of disbelief that’s required.

In the meantime, the script finds ways of isolating the small remaining cast aboard the ship and letting the baddie pick them off. There’s not a lot of blood and gore in the death scenes. Rather, it’s part of the set. I hope that the filmmakers made a substantial donation to the Lane Victory museum to make up for all the fake blood and guts they spread around. It’s all over bulkheads and hatches. Toilets and sinks have severed body parts sticking out of them. There are even bloody smears on items unique to the ship, like photos and plaques. It could not have been easy to clean up. The Smithsonian wouldn’t have let the filmmakers dress the set like that.

The plot gets far more complicated than just cast members being obliterated. There is a reason for what is happening on the ship, and it makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is the attempt at a twist ending. Confusing a viewer is not a twist. It’s just bad writing.

Black Ops is a throwaway flick. Its objective quality hovers above a flick from The Asylum, only without the benefit of flying sharks, making this not that watchable of a shitty movie. It lands at #183 in the Index between Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake and Blood Feast. It would have landed lower, but I reserve the bottom slots for films that hate their audience. Black Ops isn’t that watchable, but it doesn’t kick a viewer in the balls for their trouble, like Eye See You or Pompeii.

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