Deep Rising: Cyclopean Tentacles vs High Tech Cruise Ship

Deep Rising is one of my favorite monster movies, and there’s one reason why: it’s the perfect RPG adventure. We’ve got our hardcore mercenaries hired to hit a cruise ship, a ragtag team of freelancers in over their heads, and a tentacled deep-sea horror that intends to devour them all.

Far better than the twin late-1980s deep see flicks Deep Star Six and Leviathan, this film takes place above the ocean but has similar nautical challenges. To begin, the setting is a huge, ultra-modern cruise ship packed with monster snacks, err, passengers. When our heroes arrive they find all but a handful of people dead. The survivors include the ship’s owner, the captain, and a beautiful thief in a red dress.

No one knows what happened.

Creature Feature Tropes

The movie follows all the tropes of a creature feature:

  • A big bad who’s revealed in bits and pieces
  • Increasing amounts of gore
  • Alien-like sudden kills
  • The obligatory science guy (in this case, the ship’s owner) who dies as soon as he reveals the nature of the beast
  • The scoundrel (you’ll find out who) who’s responsible for the whole mess

Yes, it’s a poor man’s Aliens set at sea, and it doesn’t try and more than that. The visual effects are decent (at least on the small screen) and they do a good job of mixing up environments: the storm-tossed Pacific at the opening, the creaking, claustrophobic bowels of the ship (where, naturally, the machine shop is located), flooded decks (requiring long swims) and the large ballrooms.

There are plenty of overly melodramatic moments where everyone’s pulling out guns and shouting at each other, but these are usually just an opportunity for the monster to attack.

The creature itself is a subsea horror of Lovecraftian potential, all tentacles and death and doom punching through steel decks and picking off survivors at will.


And then there’s the end, in which our heroes finally make it to safety, only to find themselves on an island with an unseen monster that rumbles its way through a nearby forest while volcanoes erupt in the background.

Too … damn … cool.

RPG Inspiration

Watching the movie, it’s all too easy to see this as an RPG adventure.

We’ve got the gruff captain Finnegan (Treat Williams), the beautiful thief Trillian (Famke Janssen), and the geek/tech/mechanic Joey (Kevin J. O’Connor), all of whom have the personality quirks you’ve come to expect from your weekly gaming group.

And then there’s the band of mercenaries, led by Hanover (Wes Studi), who bring a cruise-ship worth of disfunction and firearms to the encounter. Combined with the one-liners, the random monster encounters, and a quest into the bowels of the ship to find a hardware shop to repair Finnegan’s broken boat, well, you’ve got the makings of a great Friday night one-shot.

Final Analysis

Deep Rising isn’t brilliant, but it is fun. The monsters in question — tentacled horrors that turn out to be greater than the sum of their parts — are nicely cyclopean and utterly lethal. If you’re looking for inspiration for an ocean-going adventure for your campaign, or just want to see a good creature feature, it’s worth renting or picking up cheap in Walmart’s discount bin.

This post is part of Monster Week 2010, which also included JawsSlitherPredatorCloverfield, and Lake Placid.

Deep Rising Product Details

  • Deep Rising 20th Anniversary Edition
  • Starring: Treat Williams, Famke Janssen
  • Director: Stephen Sommers
  • Running time:
  • Release Date:
    • Original release date: 1998
    • 20th Anniversary edition release date: 2018
  • Rating: R
  • Buy it from
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