With a mere two films, director J.P. Simon has done more for my life than other filmmakers who have made actual good films that I liked reasonably well. The first of these discoveries was Slugs, bought on a whim at a local record-and-tape trader I frequented for the sole reason of seeking random and obscure horror films. With the cover art of a dead woman’s bloody face leaning against a bathroom tiled wall, and with a slug right next to her — obviously the culprit — well, I knew I had to have it. And it was a wonderful, slimy mess of a film. At the time, it hadn’t occurred to me to look into Simon’s filmography; instead, I went on my merry way (and probably discovered Tourist Trap).
During this time, while perusing those “bad movie” compilations on YouTube, I became aware of the existence of Pieces, courtesy of Linda Day George’s repeated and increasingly dramatic screaming of “bastard!” into the sky above her. Again, such a fraction of the overall film was enough for me to know it was something I had to have. And I did. I’ve owned Pieces on multiple formats, including Grindhouse Releasing’s recent and beautiful Blu-ray release. It’s one which receives a decent amount of playtime because of how fucking happy it makes me.
Which brings us to The Rift.
Released in 1990 as Endless Descent, The Rift was originally destined for theaters before it did an about-face and instead debuted on video after a very select theatrical release. The finished film is your best explanation of why. The Rift is goofy as hell, but somewhat disappointingly, not as goofy as Simon’s previous goofiness. Ultimately the film falls somewhere into a no-man’s land; not quite dumb enough to be as celebrated as Pieces or Slugs, but certainly not at all good enough to be accepted by both critics and mainstream audiences, The Rift is just kind of there and only occasionally entertaining for all the wrong reasons. (The death scene for “Skeets,” played by John Toles-Bey, is definitely one of the highlights. And don’t start yelling “hey, spoilers!” because this was an ’80s horror film and Toles-Bey is black and them’s the rules.)
As usual, R. Lee Ermey plays a rigid and gruff military man (how non-traditional!) but manages to not come off as poorly as everyone else — and the entire film around him. Simon’s tendency to have actors loop most of their dialogue in post-production hinders nearly every performance, giving it that awkwardness of which only joint Italian/Spanish and American productions were capable. Jack Scalia suffers the most, as every line he recites seems to be tinged with disbelief and near over-enjoyment. Ray Wise is given very little to do except stare intently at a computer screen, at least until the third act, in which he’s…well…given more to do. Where The Rift doesn’t disappoint is with its less than effective employment of practical effects. Shots of the submarine submerged are hilariously model-like, and so many heads get blown off either humans or sea creatures that one can’t help but smile (because one is very sick).
The Rift is every underwater ocean thriller that came before it, taking its cue mostly from ones not-so-memorable. Deep Star Six, Leviathan, mixed with aspects of better sci-fi classics The Thing, Alien, and The Abyss — that’s The Rift. Not as well directed as Slugs (seriously, some of Slugs is downright great!), and lacking the grindhouse nastiness of Pieces, The Rift is a very okay way to spend 82 minutes. It’s hard to say how much rewatchability it has, except for the good parts, and it’s certainly not one of J.P. Simon’s more celebrated titles, but hey, if it makes someone out there as happy as Pieces makes me, then I’m glad for them. Internet high-five.
Not at all a “good” film, but sadly, one that also doesn’t quite scratch that “so bad it’s good” itch like J.P. Simon’s more celebrated titles, The Rift has moments of cheese that nearly reach the heights of bad moviedom. Things to love: the terrible dialogue, awkward performances, do-it-yourself special effects, and obviously nice helping of bloody chunkiness. Things not to love: too-long scenes of people staring dramatically at radar and looking shocked, or half-baked marital distress straight out of The Abyss that’s given very little room to breathe. The Rift is what it is, and what it is ain't great.