Leviathan is a total rip off. I will get that out of the way now, because I've already made peace with it. This is Alien, but underwater and mixed with a dose of The Thing. That's it. It's not a deep (well, it is underwater, but I meant the other kind of deep) movie, not a particularly well made movie, and arguably not even a good movie. But I still love it.
Don't mistake that for me saying this movie is "so bad it's good", because anyone who knows me knows I don't have the bone that thinks that about horror movies in my body. Leviathan is popcorn sci-fi/horror, and it's basically the movie Alien would have been if everyone on set was cracking back beers and laughing and having a good time while just doing their thing. That's not a crack on Alien either, because that thing is a masterpiece of tension in cinema, it's just a commendation regarding what Leviathan has to offer.
So why is Leviathan so appealing to me? For starters, it has what I consider to be an all-star cast. No, these aren't the names that headline box office blockbusters, but the cast seems to be packed by folks who have consistently made great genre flicks better. Peter "Robocop" Weller takes the lead as the captain of this undersea mining crew (reuniting with director George P. Cosmatos, who directed him in the fantastic Of Unknown Origin), and he's joined by stars of many of the 1980s' most memorable films. There's Richard Crenna of the Rambo films (the second of which was also directed by Cosmatos), Ernie Hudson (a bonafide Ghostbuster!), Amanda Pays of TV's The Flash, Daniel Stern (obligatory C.H.U.D. comment), Beverly Hills Cop's Lisa Eilbacher, and Hector Elizondo - who's been in stuff, but for some reason I just know him as Hector Elizondo. Am I forgetting anyone? Why yes, I am - because we also have that evil wench Meg Foster - from Masters of the Universe and They Live(!) - as the humanized equivalent of Alien's "mother."
It's a relatively small part of the film, but I can't even begin to explain how much the interactions between Weller's worker bee and Foster's queen bee(-otch) make me smile. Foster is one of those performers who is forever on my "I want bad things to happen to them" list after her performance in They Live. I'm not saying she was a bad actress in that film, I'm saying the character she played was so hateable that I inherently hate any other character she plays. And this character does a good job of earning that hate, while Weller benefits greatly from simply being on the other side of their interactions. And man...well, wait...I have to come back to this later.
As you may have guessed from my comparisons to films like Alien and The Thing, this isn't just a movie about a deep sea mining crew and the ice queen back on land. (By the way, it is IMPOSSIBLE for me to talk about Meg Foster and not use the term "ice queen" at least once. It's the eyes, they earn it.) The simple version of the plot should look pretty familiar to genre fans - the crew finds a destroyed foreign ship which holds a bit of mystery and an unnatural force that soon is unleashed upon them and forces them to fight for survival. Like I said, it's not original. But the film does manage to have some unique moments of surprise and some fantastically gooey monster sequences (thanks to creature work by the legendary Stan Winston), even if it does seem like a series of "chestbuster" moments.
Most movies would lose a lot of steam by being so derivative, but Leviathan works because the cast is clearly having fun - one particular exchange between Foster and Hudson still makes me howl with laughter - and because Cosmatos keeps the film moving at a brisk pace that blocks our brain from noticing how ridiculous things are in the moment. It all builds to a truly manic finale, a sequence which adds new terrors, kills off a seemingly safe character for no reason, reintroduces an old terror, and promptly ends with one of the most unique moments in genre history. I'm not going to say that it's right, I'm just going to say that the first in person interaction between Foster and Weller's characters makes up for anything else wrong with the movie and gets me pumping my cheese-lovin' fists. More serious movies wouldn't add the final touch that this film does, and many modern movies wouldn't get away with trying it. Alas, Leviathan exists on its own terms, and the result is a film that is always entertaining in its own ways.