Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Hubri5Ween 2017, Day 5: Endless Descent (1990)

When watching movies, whether for fun or fun and blogging, you're likely to come across a very particular sort of film. It may be a new film, an old film you never heard of, or even one you eyed many a time at the video store but always passed over. Regardless of how you finally came to see it, you will begin to wonder why it took you so long.

I refer to the fascinating case of, "This film isn't actually good, but by God it was made for me."

Naturally, today's film is one such example. I saw it on the video shelves as Endless Descent but when the wonderful human beings at Kino Lorber saw fit to give it a Blu-ray release, they released it under its alternate title: The Rift. However, they were also kind enough to fit it with a reversible cover so I could display it on my shelf under the title I knew it so well as.

Now, based on the film's release year and both of its titles--plus the scuba diver being devoured by tendrils on its poster--you may have already surmised that this film was part of an inexplicable trend in the late 1980s and very beginning of the 1990s. That being the creature feature set beneath the ocean, following in the footsteps of The Abyss, Leviathan, or Deep Star Six. Why this was a trend at that particular time in our history is rather beyond me, but I can't deny it is a fascinating one all the same.

If nothing else, it was a new and innovative setting in which to place incredibly boiler plate plots.

This film is no exception to that part. We open by being introduced to submarine designer Wick Hayes (Jack Scalia) being summoned to Washington, D.C. It seems that Wick designed two submarines for a corporation with a government contract, but then resigned in a fury when he realized they altered his final designs before the subs were complete. Well, now he's being called back because the first of the subs, Siren I has gone missing in the North Atlantic. They need his help recovering the black box, or else they will blame him for the sub's sinking.

Of course, they also guilt trip him by pointing out a friend of his was the skipper of the doomed sub in case threat of ruining his professional reputation wasn't bad enough.

Though the film intercuts this conversation with showing us the fate of Siren I, so we already know that there was an incident where a guy who's a dead ringer for Louis C.K. got chased through the halls of the sub by an unseen assailant and then Siren I imploded. But apparently only we are privy to this knowledge.

So Wick is sent to where the Siren II is docked, in Norway. Maybe someone should tell them it's bad luck to number your named submarines? Though I will pause to note that the shot of it moored at the dock is a pretty sweet optical effect. I'm guessing a matte painting.

Also, we're briefly told the sub has "radar cloaking" but isn't painting it bright yellow counterproductive?
On board the submarine, Wick meets the truly bizarre mix of expendable crew. None of them display much in the way of basic competence, even for a civilian vessel. Hell, the token black bridge officer Joe "Skeets" Kane (John Toles-Bey) alternates reminding of us of the fact that he is black with sexually harassing the sub's token woman bridge officer Ana Rivera (Ely Pouget). At least the sub's computer technician, Robbins (Ray Wise!) is clearly on top of his game, but he's also incredibly seasick so he maybe shouldn't be on a submarine.

Well, things shape up a bit when Captain Phillips (R. Lee Ermey!) of the US Navy arrives to take command of the Siren II for the mission. (Yes, he is the captain now.) He also brought along Lt. Nina Crowley (Deborah Aidar), because the mission to recover a lost submarine oddly requires a genetic biologist who has an awkward past with Wick. No, I don't care what the awkward past is and frankly the movie doesn't care all that much either--it's just shorthand for "you should care about these two surviving."

Seriously, all this movie needed was James Cromwell and it'd have "Hey, It's That Guy" Bingo.
Well, getting underway proves hilariously disastrous right away. Because of what the crew believes is a design flaw and what Wick insists is the company fucking with his designs, the sub manages to scrape its hull on an iceberg and barely escapes with minimal damage. Wick throws a fit at being blamed for the incident--though, to be fair, this sub is equipped with external cameras and they still managed to ram into an object by following their misaligned sonar so he may have a point--so Phillips orders him off the bridge to consult from the engine room instead.

Quickly the sub finds the signal of its sister ship coming from deep in an ocean trench. Bizarrely, however, the signal is coming from what appears to be a forest of kelp at a depth no sunlight can penetrate. Phillips orders one of their divers out in what appears to be a slightly altered wet suit (!) to get a sample of the strange seaweed and take photos of any wreckage. Well, the diver succeeds in the first task quite well. However, after a false scare with a corpse of one of the Siren I's crew (which, oddly, is quickly forgotten about), his attempt to photograph a damaged piece of the lost sub's hull results in the seaweed wrapping itself around him and crushing him to death.

Phillips declines to send the diver's distraught friend after him, since nothing can be done at this point. More alarming, Nina determines that the seaweed is some kind of algae and it has quickly grown in her specimen tank and infected all the fish in the tank. It seems to be feeding off of the fish, in fact.

The crew has no time to digest that fact, however, because they suddenly find themselves attacked by what seems to be an enormous sea slug of some kind. The creature is big enough to wrap itself around the sub and strong enough to quickly drag them down to the edge of the ship's crush depth. Only quick thinking by Wick allows them to electrify the hull and drive it off, and then he helps Robbins to wedge the sinking sub into crevice so they can avoid crush depth and be stationary for repairs.

"Hey, sorry, the giant squid was busy this week so I'll be your giant killer mollusk for the evening!"
Once operational again, they continue following the signal of Siren I's black box into a rift lined with boiling geysers. Stranger still, Robbins notates that there is a completely different signal up ahead, as well. Once the sub surfaces in a mysterious cavern, Robbins is able to determine that it's an SOS. The air within the cavern is deemed too toxic to breathe unfiltered, so Wick leads an away team outfitted with respirators, quarantine suits, and specially-designed guns intended to be able to fire underwater. They take an inflatable raft ashore to explore the cave on foot.

Robbins helps guide the team from the bridge while Phillips and Nina anxiously watch their progress. As you might imagine, things very quickly go pear-shaped.

First, they find body parts strewn throughout the cavern's tunnels. A fork in the tunnel forces the team to split in two, with Wick leading one team and Ana the other. Wick's team finds the source of the SOS at a computer manned by a skeleton in a lab coat, though helpfully the skeleton left a stack of disks that might have answers. Unfortunately for Ana's team, they discover one of the questions is, "Why is this tunnel riddled with holes that are actually the habitat of vagina bugs that have a poisonous bite?"

I don't even know what psycho-sexual issue leads to a bug monster with a vulva mouth and testicle eyes but here we are. 
After one of Ana's team is bitten by a bug, his whole body begins going through painful spasms so she is forced to shoot him. His head explodes like a ripe melon at this. Luckily the bullets have a simialr effect on the marauding vagina bugs. Unfortunately, those aren't the only menace in the caves. When Ana almost falls in a hole, she has to fend off what looks like a squid tentacle but is apparently a worm. Her hapless companion, however, is attacked by my favorite critter in the film: the fish lizard!

We sadly don't get too clear a look at the fish lizard, I'm guessing because it was a guy in a suit with severely limited mobility, but what we see is awesome. It's also rather hilarious, since it bites off the guy's leg and then runs off with it like a little scamp, so Ana is forced to watch him bleed to death.

Somebody pleeeeeaaaaase make an action figure of this monster!
Back on board the sub, however, things are also taking a bad turn because the algae has taken over several sections of the ship fed by its water supply--and after the engineer stupidly touches the algae, he gets partially melted. The crewman who found him made the mistake of drinking some of the ship's water and has to be quarantined.

Ana vanishes, so Wick has to head back to the sub with just Skeets and the other expendable dude. Unfortunately for our third fellow, the cavern's water is filled with what appear to be shrieking eels and when he falls out of the raft, they devour him.

"Grandpa isn't here to pause the story this time, Buttercup!"
The disks, despite appearing to be floppy disks, somehow contain a garbled VHS video of a man explaining that the mysterious lab housed a DNA accelerator. Nina deduces that such a device, combined with recombinant DNA technology, must have resulted in all these monsters. Somehow the company that commissioned the Siren subs is involved, too. I think. Honestly, the dialogue in this section really does a poor job explaining this.

Well they can't stay long, but Phillips refuses to leave without Ana so he goes ashore with Wick, Skeets, and Nina to find her--leaving Robbins behind to man the sub. Well, poor Ana fights her way into a strange chamber, warding off vagina bugs and lizard monster claws the whole way, as the others find their way to her. Sadly for her, she strays too close to a bizarre machine and finds herself dragged inside by furry tentacles.

When the others find their way into the chamber where she was, observing the huge pile of disturbingly viable gill-man eggs but overlooking the kaiju sea anemone on the wall, Ana has found herself inside the DNA accelerator and is begging for death. The sea anemone begins roaring at this point and Skeets makes the mistake of shooting and taunting it--unaware that the toothy mouth in the center of its tentacles is ambulatory. Exit Skeets, fulfilling his contractual duty as the expendable token minority character.

This was a really strange direction for Pixar to take the Finding Nemo franchise.
Luckily, the sea anemone has nested about a pile of flammable barrels and when Phillips shoots those this somehow blows up both the monster and the DNA accelerator without killing our heroes, despite them having been right next to the machine when the explosions began. Robbins now reveals himself as having been a company agent sent to cover up their mess and he tries to self-destruct the sub to seal the rift and escape in the sub's escape pod before the other three can board the sub again.

However, Wick is able to use his knowledge of the sub to fool Robbins into putting himself in a vulnerable position and after a quick tussle with Phillips, Robbins finds his face being shoved into some algae goop. Unfortunately, the algae also infected Phillips so he stays aboard while Wick and Nina take the escape pod to safety and the Siren II goes "boom" to seal the rift. The End.

Good night, sweet prince. *sniffle*
It should be clear that there are really no surprises in this film. Well, aside from its strange belief that a human being can go scuba diving in a basic suit at depths of 20,000 feet without dying at once. This is very much a stale script with mostly stale actors (Wise and Ermey being notable exceptions, obviously), and with a somewhat stale score that is rather amusingly composed by the late Joel Goldsmith--son of the late Jerry Goldsmith, himself!

The fact that this film was shot on a much lower budget than most of the films whose coattails it is desperately trying to ride is also always clear. The model effects for the subs are so woeful that in several scenes they opted to simply film them out of focus.

And yet, I find this film utterly charming. This is definitely a film that knew that the important part of it was always going to be the monsters and damned if it didn't make a genuine effort there. I suppose that's not all that shocking, given director Juan Piquer Simon is responsible for films like Mystery on Monster Island, The Fabulous Journey to The Center of The Earth, and Slugs. (He's also responsible for Pieces, the notorious Cthulhu Mansion, and Mystery Science Theater 3000 favorite Pod People, but that's another conversation) The man may not necessarily know how to deliver convincing monsters, but by God he knows how to deliver fun ones.

And at the end of the day, that's exactly what this film is: fun. Is it good? God, no. I'm not even sure you could call it "good-bad" or "so bad it's good," because it isn't actually bad, either. However, it is an absolutely delightful flick with a menagerie of monsters and, at the end of the day, that's what counts in my book.

If you love monsters, you probably won't consider this some "lost classic" but I guarantee you won't regret wasting about 80 minutes on it. And considering some of the other schlock I'm looking at this year, that's practically a glowing recommendation.

Welcome to the Day Five of Hubri5Ween 2017, the fifth year of this nonsense! Click the banner above to see what everyone else did for E!

1 comment:

  1. I have a very partial, tentative and speculative suggestion for what lay behind the spate of undersea adventure/monster films (how's that for confident?). Shortly before the home video revolution, we were all blessed with the release of Alien. This of course begat a swarm of greater and lesser ripoffs, and one of them was a made-for-TV item called The Intruder Within. Unlike most of the others of its kind, this one was NOT set in outer space, but on an oil-drilling platform; not only did this save on exterior visual effects, it cut the costume budget by making possible the use of off-the-K-Mart-shelf clothes.

    And, surprisingly, it was actually sort of good; acceptable performances, and a rather nice if clearly Geiger-inspired creature. It's initial airing in 1981 was close enough to that home video revolution that it was handy for packaging as a rental when the revolution came. And there it was-- a watery, if not strictly underwater, monster film which probably had a reasonable return for investment. As I said, this is highly speculative, but I seriously suspect Deepstar Six and Leviathan had a little ghost of The Intruder Within wafting about the early production meetings.