Aug 22, 2023

Blue Water, White Death




Before the 1975 masterpiece Jaws made us all afraid to go in the water, another film presented equally terrifying footage of real underwater nightmares. Directed by Peter Gimbel, the 1971 documentary Blue Water, White Death follows a group of aquatic photographers and adventurers determined to capture the first underwater footage of Carcharodon carcharias, the mythic apex predator commonly called the great white shark. While not a horror movie per se, the film presents breathtaking footage of massive sharks shot from within cages designed specifically for the expedition. It also includes shocking acts of animal cruelty and a dated understanding of marine wildlife. Premiering three years before publication of Peter Benchley’s best-selling novel Jaws, this unprecedented documentary formally introduced the world to the great white shark and likely planted seeds that would go on to change cinematic history as we know it.

Filmed in 1969, Gimbel and his crew departed from Durban, South Africa for a five-month expedition through the Indian Ocean in search of sharks they describe as “the most dangerous predator still living in the world.” Heir to the Gimbels department store fortune, Peter Gimbel was then known to US audiences as the first to dive and photograph wreckage of the SS Andrea Doria. Joining him on the voyage was producer Stan Waterman as well as Australian spearfishers and divers Valerie and Ron Taylor. (Steven Spielberg would later call on this husband and wife team to film the underwater sequences involving real sharks for his horror blockbuster Jaws.) All four divers serve as photographers and videographers during the shoot along with additional members of the large crew. They set off on the Terrier VIII, a 150-foot steamship along with a full camera crew, still photographers, technical coordinators, production assistants, and an adorable little dog named Billie. Tom Chapin, brother of the beloved folk singer Harry Chapin, even tags along to provide music for the expedition. Filming in a travelog format, Blue Water, White Death follows the cast and crew from location to location in search of man-eating sharks and the thrill of adventure.

Gimbel’s film begins with blood in the water. The titular blue expanse is suddenly filled with bright red liquid billowing through the ocean depths as shadowy images of sharks emerge from all directions. A title card proclaims the official stats of the great white species followed by salacious accounts of shark attacks in which two men were “swallowed whole” and “bit in two” by the fearsome predators. Despite introducing these animal stars by describing their power to kill, the documentary is not intentionally horrific. A distinct 70s vibe permeates every scene with gorgeous oceanscapes and dreamy folk music playing over transitional montages. Chapin frequently sits on the dock strumming and singing while the team reflects on their progress or prepares to dive. Several sequences display the natural beauty of each locale from intricate underwater reefs in the Mozambique Channel, local wildlife in South Australia, and gorgeous sunsets over the Indian Ocean.

While the film itself is not trying to frighten, several segments prove to be quite horrific. The crew first attempts to capture footage of the great white shark by following a whaling ship and using their resulting kills as bait. What follows is a nauseating sequence in which whalers shoot two sperm whales with harpoons and prepare their bleeding corpses to tow into shore. We see footage of this carnage up close, including one of the poor creatures spouting blood into the air after a harpoon punctures its lungs. Back on land, we watch as a steam engine carts the bodies along the beach to a whaling station where they are skinned and dismembered. It’s an incredibly upsetting scene on par with the turtle dissection in Ruggero Deodato’s 1980 film Cannibal Holocaust and reeks of dated ideas about consumption and human dominance over the natural world. Several divers express horror at this grisly treatment, however they are more than willing to use this whaling ship to attract their aquatic targets. Subsequent dives take place near a whale carcass left overnight, likely purchased by the wealthy adventurer to facilitate their after-hours shoot.

Heavily featured in the film is a relatively new type of underwater technology: shark-proof cages. Famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau is credited with inventing these protective containers in which divers can safely observe dangerous marine wildlife up close. However, in preparation for this expedition, Gimbel developed his own type of aluminum cage which also functions as a sort of underwater elevator. Fully controllable from within the cage, these devices allow the occupants to rise and descend in the water as needed to capture footage of the surrounding ocean life. Unfortunately this requires laying a series of underwater cables to serve as base support. While attempting to install these cages near a shipwreck off the coast of Batticaloa, Sri Lanka Gimbel develops a dangerous case of decompression sickness (a.k.a. the bends) after diving more than 170 feet to the ocean floor. He eventually emerges safely, but only after a long and arduous trip to the surface in which he’s forced to remain at a series of decreasing depths while waiting for his body to naturally adjust to the underwater pressure.

Gimbel and his team spend the majority of the film searching for the creature they refer to as “whitey.” However, they manage to record spectacular footage of other shark species along the way. Diving near the whaler, they film a massive feeding frenzy of dusky, blue, and oceanic whitetip sharks. Hoping to capitalize on nighttime feeding patterns, they descend in the cages at 2:00 am filming the ghostly creatures in dark and dangerous waters. In a particularly frightening moment, a power short abruptly cuts all the lights in the cages, reducing visibility to nearly zero. The on-deck crew shines flashlights on the water searching for the cage openings and finally spots the terrified divers rising to the surface. Reflecting on the incident, Gimbel describes finding themselves in the pitch black water surrounded by hundreds of hungry sharks. However, this incident pales in comparison to the team’s adventures filming outside their protective barriers.

After observing the behavior of the sharks they’ve managed to locate, Gimbel convinces the crew to venture out of the cages while diving in infested waters. Armed only with fists and bang sticks, they swim along with the sharks feeding on a whale carcass buoyed on the water’s surface. The massive fish continually bump the divers and the cameras, creating the feeling that we are submerged in the icy water as well. This footage plays out silently, accompanied only by vague aquatic sounds, mimicking the aural deprivation of the underwater experience. At one moment we, along with the divers, are distracted by a large shark digging into the whale’s side when another appears out of nowhere to bump the camera. It’s a real life jump scare that puts most studio horror films to shame. Unfortunately this scene also includes a dark moment of animal cruelty. Hoping to repel a nearby shark, one of the divers uses a bang stick to strike the fish on its head, causing what appears to be a seizure. The camera follows the poor animal as it spins off to its likely demise in the inky blue depths.

After months with no great white sightings, Gimbel and crew deviate from their planned course and travel to the aptly named Dangerous Reef in South Australia. Ron has assured them that whites are frequently spotted here and the crew conduct an ominous interview before entering the water. Australian diver Rodney Fox, at the time one of the only known survivors of a great white attack, describes his ordeal in gruesome detail. His hair-raising story is intercut with grisly photos of the bites on his hand, defensive wounds against the shark’s massive jaws. Recounting his escape, Fox describes one nightmarish moment after breaking free and swimming to the surface. Surrounded by clouds of his own blood, he remembers looking down to see a massive conical head gliding up towards him through the water. This terrifying image feels eerily similar to the cover art of Peter Benchley’s novel, Jaws, and the now iconic poster art for Spielberg’s film adaptation.

Finally spotting the massive predators off the Australian coastline, Gimbel and team hurry to dive into the water. Using dissected farm animals to lure the carnivorous fish closer, they film 12-14 foot sharks circling and investigating the cages and boats. One magnificent predator first glides into view while swallowing a large piece of meat before directly biting the top rim of the cage. At one point, a shark severs the cable connecting Stan’s cage to the boat and he floats untethered in the water until help can arrive. As the divers slowly acclimate to their surroundings, they become more brave, not only reaching out to touch the animals as they pass, but emerging from the cages in hopes of getting footage not marred by the aluminum bars.

Near the end of the shoot, still photographer Peter Lake experiences a near-fatal moment in the cage. Using a now controversial technique known as shark baiting, the crew has tied large pieces of meat to the bars in hopes of attracting the animal’s attention. With the bait in its mouth, one massive shark tosses the cage around, bashing and biting until the bars are bent and the structure nearly destroyed. Lake scrambles to cut the line attaching the bait and the shark swims off with its prize, but the horrific scene perfectly demonstrates the fish’s awesome power. This mangled cage and harrowing incident reportedly inspired Benchley to write the heartbreaking death scene of marine biologist Matt Hooper, the youngest crew member of the ill-fated Orca.

After emerging safely from the dangerous waters, Gimbel and his team celebrate capturing the first underwater footage of great white sharks. Their months-long voyage has been a success by their standards, but it will forever alter the way we view these powerful animals. Combined with Spielberg’s Jaws, their breathtaking footage would ignite a world-wide obsession with the legendary species. Not only did audiences fear going into the water, but many saw it as their duty to rid the seas of these so-called maneaters. The documentary Sharksploitation details the devastating effects this call for aquatic safety has had on the world-wide shark population and the irreparable damage their extinction would pose to the oceanic ecosystem. The filmmakers and divers consider none of this while making the documentary and viewed through a modern lens, their interactions with many different animals could be described as exploitative and cruel. However, most of the documentary’s divers have gone on to advocate for protection and preservation of underwater habitats and along with Benchley himself, have become prominent names in the world of marine conservation.

Though it has been essentially forgotten by mainstream audiences, Blue Water, White Death sparked a turning point not only in cinema, but humanity’s understanding of the natural world. Gimbel and his team provide essential evidence for studying these majestic fish as well as terrifying footage of their deadly power. However, they emerge from their various dives with a greater respect for the animals. They are not scientists, but thrill-seekers, hoping to make history by capturing on film what Ron describes as “the ultimate” natural challenge. Upon diving with the sharks, they begin to see them not as monsters, but as autonomous beings simply trying to survive in their natural habitats. The divers of Blue Water, White Death may emerge with a more nuanced understanding of these apex predators, but it would take the rest of the world much longer to catch up.

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While much of the initial fanbase that helped turn Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles into a pop culture phenomenon aged out following the original cartoon (1987-1996) and live action movies (1990-1993), the property has continued to flourish with reboots in TV, film, and comics every few years.

If the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem has you interested in exploring various versions of TMNT, there’s no better place for a horror fan to start than Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series that aired for five seasons between 2012 and 2017.

While there’s an inherent connection to horror in the various mutants and monsters that pop up throughout the franchise, no rendition embraces the genre nearly as much as this one. In addition to references to classics like Alien, Friday the 13th, and The Evil Dead, the series employed several notable horror actors throughout its 124-episode run.

Here are 15 horror icons who lent their voices to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2012.

1. Corey Feldman – Slash

Corey Feldman may not be synonymous with horror, but the pedigree of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, The Lost Boys, and Gremlins is more than enough to make him an icon of the genre. His TMNT legacy is even stronger, having voiced Donatello in the first and third live action films.

In animated form, Feldman play Slash, who was a villain in the original series but an ally in this version. He starts out as Raphael’s pet tortoise, Spike, before being accidentally mutated. He’s introduced in Season 2’s “Slash and Destroy” and appears in total of 12 episodes, culminating with the series finale, “The Big Blow Out.”

2. Kelly Hu – Karai

Feldman’s not the only Friday the 13th franchise alumnus on the show. Kelly Hu’s resume includes The Scorpion King, X2: X-Men United, and Arrow, but horror fans will recall her film debut as Eva in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan.

Hu plays the integral TMNT role of Karai, a character that debuted in the comics in 1992 and previously appeared in the 2003 animated series. She’s in 31 episodes of TMNT 2012, from season 1’s “New Girl in Town” to season 5’s “The Foot Walks Again.”

In this incarnation, Karai starts out as a fierce, teenage Foot Clan member that was raised by the evil Shredder. She later aligns herself with the Turtles upon the revelation that she’s actually Master Splinter’s biological daughter from before he was mutated. In season 3, she’s exposed to a mutagen that gives her serpent-like abilities.

3. Cassandra Peterson – Ms. Campbell

Cassandra Peterson — beloved by all as horror host Elvira — is usually vivacious, but her part on TMNT required a more monotonous performance. She voices Ms. Campbell/Utrom Queen in six episodes, from season 1’s “The Alien Agenda” to season 5’s “When Worlds Collide.”

Ms. Campbell is introduced as a woman who takes an interest in April O’Neil before it’s revealed that she’s an evil robot sent by the evil Krang, armed with laser eyes and missile arms. When her human disguise is damaged in season 4’s “The War for Dimension X,” the Utom Queen’s true form is revealed.

4. Keith David – Sal Commander

Keith David achieved cult status for his roles in The Thing (which, incidentally, inspired TMNT’s season 3 episode “Burned Secrets”) and They Live, but his rich pipes have also earned him Emmy awards. His extensive voice work includes Gargoyles, Coraline, The Princess and the Frog, Spawn, and Rick and Morty.

On TMNT, he voices Sal Commander (also known as G’Throkka) for five episodes, from season 4’s “The Moons of Thalos 3” to season 5’s “When Worlds Collide Part 2.” An ally to the Turtles, Sal is the commander of the Salamandrians, an extraterrestrial species that resembles large, humanoid salamanders.

5. Jeffrey Combs – Rat King

Rat King is a villain that originated in the comics and appeared in both the 1987 and 2003 animated series. Re-Animator star Jeffrey Combs lends his voice to the character for four episodes of the 2012 rendition.

He debuts as Dr. Victor Falcon in season 1’s “Monkey Brains” and returns in “I, Monster,” in which his experiments yield him the ability to control rats, hence the Rat King moniker. Splinter defeats him and his army of giant rats in season 2’s “Of Rats and Men.” His final appearance is in season 4’s “Darkest Plight” as a hallucination to Splinter.

6. Ron Perlman – Armaggon

Ron Perlman has played and/or appeared alongside various creatures in the likes of Hellboy, Blade II, Alien: Resurrection, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and Sleepwalkers. For three episodes in TMNT’s fourth season, he voiced the villainous Armaggon, an alien cyborg shark.

Armaggon debuts in “The Outlaw Armaggon” as a bounty hunter hired by crime lord Vringath Dregg (voiced by Peter Stormare) to capture the Turtles. He makes his final appearance in “The Evil of Dregg,” in which he’s defeated for good.

7. Chris Sarandon – Dracula

Over three decades after starring as Jerry Dandrige in Fright Night, Chris Sarandon returned to his vampiric roots to portray the ultimate blood sucker: Count Dracula. He plays an integral role in season 5’s four-part Monster & Mutants arc, first appearing (albeit without dialogue) in “The Curse of Savanti Romero.”

Dracula is one of the creatures recruited by time-traveling sorcerer Savanti Romero to take over the world, along with Frankenstein’s Monster, Vulko the werewolf, and The Pharaoh mummy. Dracula plans to betray Savanti, but Michelangelo destroys him before he has the chance.

8. Dana DeLorenzo – Esmeralda

No stranger to being surrounded by monsters after three seasons of Ash vs Evil Dead, Dana DeLorenzo can be heard alongside Sarandon in “The Crypt of Dracula.” She plays Esmeralda, the daughter of Vulko the werewolf. The Romanian traveler shares her knowledge of monsters with the Turtles.

DeLorenzo’s Ash vs Evil Dead co-star Lucy Lawless voices Daagon supreme ruler Hiidrala in season 4’s “The Cosmic Ocean.”

9. Danny Trejo – Newtralizer

Machete don’t text, but he does voices. Genre favorite Danny Trejo plays Newtralizer (also known as K’Vathrak), a Salamandrian bounty hunter who will stop at nothing to eradicate the Kraang — even if that means taking out innocent humans and the Turtles.

The character first appears in Season 1’s “Operation: Break Out,” in which he breaks out of his cell and Donnie gives him his nickname. Trejo came in to play him in season 2’s “Newtralized,” briefly teaming up with Feldman’s Slash in an episode loaded with Star Wars references, and later returning in season 5’s two-part “When Worlds Collide,” where he has the newfound ability to wield electricity.

10. James Hong – Ho Chan

James Hong has over 600 credits — from Blade Runner to Seinfeld to Kung Fu Panda to Everything Everywhere All at Once — but horror fans will always associate him with Lo Pan from Big Trouble in Little China. He plays a similar role in TMNT’s Big Trouble homage, “A Chinatown Ghost Story,” in Season 2.

Hong voices the villainous Ho Chan, an ancient ghost sorcerer who even borrows a line from ol’ Jack Burton, “It’s all in the reflexes.” While the Turtles ultimately defeat him, he vows to return at the end of the episode. He does so in season 5’s “End Times,” but this time around Splinter ensures it’s the last of him.

11. Robert Englund – Dire Beaver / Dread Beaver

Robert Englund is, of course, best known for his work in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. When TMNT drew inspiration from the horror classic for season 5’s “In Dreams,” they called on Freddy Krueger himself to provide a voice.

Englund voices Dire Beaver and Dread Beaver, two of the four interdimensional Dream Beavers that trap the Turtles in their dreams. The episode features several nods to Freddy, including the beavers’ long claws, a musical cue reminiscent of the Elm Street theme, and a nightmare involving a furnace.

12. John Kassir – Dark Beaver / Dave Beaver

Along with Englund in “In Dreams,” the other two Dream Beavers — Dark Beaver and Dave Beaver — are played by John Kassir. He has over 250 credits to his name, the majority of which are voice roles, but his unmistakable pipes are best known for Tales from the Crypt‘s ghoulish host, the Crypt Keeper.

13. Bill Moseley – Bernie

Would you believe there’s a third horror icon in “In Dreams?” Bill Moseley — known for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects, and Night of the Living Dead — plays Bernie in the same episode.

A physicist-turned-grocer, Bernie has stayed awake for decades to prevent the Dream Beavers from attacking our world. His weapon of choice is a chainsaw with “The Saw is Family” engraved on the blade, in reference to Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III.

The character later makes a photo cameo later in season 3 in “Dinosaur Seen in Sewers,” where he’s featured on a tabloid with the headline “Man did not sleep for 40 years.”

14. Lance Henriksen – Zog

With credits including The Terminator, Aliens, Near Dark, Scream 3, and Pumpkinhead, Lance Henriksen is an undisputed genre legend. He lends his talents to TMNT as Zog, a character that was originally created for the comics and previously appeared in the 2003 animated series.

Zog appears in season 3’s “Dinosaur Seen in Sewers” as a scout who plans to signal his fellow Triceratons to attack the Earth in order to destroy the Kraang – until the Turtles get involved, that is. He refuses Raphael’s attempt to save his life, instead opting to plummet to his death.

15. Michael Ironside – Emperor Zanmoran

Michael Ironside brings a signature gravitas to all of his projects, from Total Recall, Starship Troopers, and Scanners to Terminator Salvation, Turbo Kid, and TMNT, in which he plays Emperor Zanmoran.

Although he only appears in one episode – Season 4’s “The Arena of Carnage” – Zanmoran is a pivotal foe whose presence can be felt throughout the season’s space arc. Zanmoran serves as the sadistic leader of the Triceraton Empire and commander of their armada.

Some of the many other recognizable voices that pop up throughout the series include Sean Astin as Raphael, Seth Green as Leonardo, Clancy Brown as Rahzar, David Tennant as The Fugitoid, Mark Hamill as Kavaxas, Jesse Ventura as The Finger, Paul Reubens as Sir Malachi, and TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman as Ice Cream Kitty.

Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Complete Series is available on DVD. Select seasons are streaming Netflix and Paramount+.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem opens in theaters on August 2 via Paramount.

Peter GimbelTeenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem1. Corey Feldman – Slash2. Kelly Hu – Karai3. Cassandra Peterson – Ms. Campbell4. Keith David – Sal Commander5. Jeffrey Combs – Rat King6. Ron Perlman – Armaggon7. Chris Sarandon – Dracula8. Dana DeLorenzo – Esmeralda9. Danny Trejo – Newtralizer10. James Hong – Ho Chan11. Robert Englund – Dire Beaver / Dread Beaver12. John Kassir – Dark Beaver / Dave Beaver13. Bill Moseley – Bernie14. Lance Henriksen – Zog15. Michael Ironside – Emperor ZanmoranSean AstinSeth GreenClancy BrownDavid Tennant Mark HamillJesse VenturaPaul ReubensKevin Eastman