The Rift [aka, Endless Descent](1990)

Supposedly, Dino De Laurentiis decided to make a ripoff of his own undersea mutation thriller, Leviathan, and hired a new writer to rework Colin Wilson’s original story into a new script.

It isn’t too hard to believe when one remembers some of the other stories about Dino – like buying out Alejandro Jodorowsky’s failed version of Dune to give his daughter a movie to produce.  And it does give one a certain insight into the film when you think of it as Leviathan at a twenty-fourth of the price.

There was a brief boom in underwater SF films right at the end of the eighties, which were mostly made to cash in on the upcoming The Abyss.  Of course The Abyss sank with hardly a ripple, even with James Cameron at the helm, and these films all seem to have come out within a year or two, before anyone realized there wasn’t a wave to catch.

At any rate, this is all familiar stuff – the hotshot sub designer, dragged unwillingly on a mission to find out what happened to the last sub he designed, the hardcore military captain, the amazing coincidence that puts the love interest on board, the annoying black comedy relief (well, he’s more annoying than most.  And he doesn’t even get to run around with a flame thrower!).  We’ve got your underwater lab, your horrific genetic experiments run amok, and (from Cameron’s Aliens) lots of tunnels full of nasty creatures.

Still, familiar isn’t a bad thing necessarily, and it’s worth noting that the creatures are good and icky (particularly the mutant babies), and the idea of having a pickup truck size mutation machine in your secret lab – sort of an oversized version of those Creepy Crawlers monster factory toys from my childhood – has a certain geeky charm to it.

As always, with these sorts of films, we have to ignore the fact that a research sub has acoustic tiles on the ceiling, or that they’d send a diver out in an ordinary dry suit when they’re down more than 20,000 feet, or that there could be an air-filled underwater cave at that depth, or that someone built a machine that accelerates evolution, or that Jack Scalia keeps his hair looking perfect while fighting man-eating kelp and hungry mutants.

The giant starfish monster is particularly impressive – the long neck and tiny head that pops out of its center looks suspiciously like the appendage the Sarlaac acquired in the special edition of Return of the Jedi a few years later.  And I’m pretty sure one of the creatures in Prometheus looked like it.

But it seems unlikely that anyone copied it.

If your expectations are low and you can just relax and ignore the silly bits, this is reasonably entertaining and better than most of these underwater monster movies. The sub even looks half-way decent, at least if you can ignore those landing legs.

It doesn’t have Ed Harris – heck, it doesn’t even have Peter Weller – but there are far worse ways to spend 80 minutes.

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