Friday, August 22, 2014

Support Local Horror at The Clinton Street this Saturday, visit Sleepaway Camp in Kelso, Kong returns to Portland, and see if there's Life After Beth. The Shadow Over Portland delivers the news horror fans crave!

Friday, August 22

Summer camps are a right of passage for most kids, but those at Sleepaway Camp will be lucky to survive.  The Cowlitz Retro Film Series presents a screening of this 80s slasher flick (with the most incredible WTF ending EVER) on August 22 and 23 at 9pm.  Admission is free with a canned/ non-perishable food item for the city’s local Food Drive.  And, if you have not seen this movie and plan on going, DO NOT go online for more information about the film.  You’ll spoil the surprise.  Instead, check out the Facebook event page for (well, pretty much) spoiler free information about the screening.

The Living Room Theater in Portland will screen the zombie love story Life After Beth this week.  Check the link for showtimes, including matinees over the weekend.

Saturday, August 23

Okay, Portland horror fans, this is your chance to support locally made independent horror!

The Clinton Street Theater presents the Portland premiere of Drifter, Corvallis director Joe Sherlock horror ride full of “blood, guts and hot chicks.”  Well, that’s hard to resist, especially as Sherlock and members of his cast and crew will be present for a Q & A after the show, and DVDs of the movie, and other films by Sherlock, will be for sale at the theater.  The film starts at 4 pm.  You can find more information at the link.

And be sure to check out my interview with Joe Sherlock about Drifter, his inspirations and a few hints on how to make your own movie here.

The Whitsell Auditorium in Portland will screen the 1933 classic, King Kong, at 7 pm.  Seeing this on the big screen is a terrific opportunity and, if you missed it at The Hollywood Theatre earlier this year, don't miss out.  Visit the link for more information and to purchase tickets.

If you're in Seattle, head for Lake Union Park for a screening of the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, followed by Chocolat.  Yeah, scare the little ones, than stay for the romance.  The films are presented are part of Chocolate: The Exhibition at Seattle's Museum of History and Industry.  The films are free, and you can find more information at the link.

 Thursday, August 28

Ghostbusters aren't afraid of no Seattle ghosts, as the film plays at Magnsuson Park on August 28.  The pre-show events start at 7 pm, with a $5 admission fee.  The screening of the film, starting at dusk, is free.  Check out the link for more information.

Friday, September 12

The Broadway version of Mel Brook’s classic horror spoof, Young Frankenstein, makes a stop under The Shadow Over Portland.  The Lakewood Center for the Arts (located at 368 S. State Street in Lake Oswego, OR) will feature the production through October 19.  I’ll post more information as it becomes available, or you can check out the LCFTA website for more information.

Saturday, September 20

The Rose City Comic Con comes to the Oregon Convention Center in Portland through September 21.  Scheduled guests include Buffy’s Big Bad, The Glorificus herself, Clare Kramer.  Also. Wes Studi, the badass villain Hanover from Deep Rising, will be there as well as other guests.  Check out the link for more information on guests, events, panels and more. 

Mark Your Calendars!

Oh wow.  I knew about the 35mm presentations of The Bride of Frankenstein and Dracula's Daughter coming to The Hollywood Theatre on October 3.  But they just added a 35mm presentation of Lon Chaney's The Wolf Man.  Forward all my call that weekend to The Hollywood, I'll be sleeping there.  For more information, visit The Shadow Over Portland Horror Calendar.  Oh, and don't forget The Best of the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival 

Hey, any Northwest fans of The Gillman out there?  The Hollywood Theatre in Portland is asking for your vote to pick the October This is Your Theater event, and The Creature from The Black Lagoon in 3-fricking-D is one of the selections.  Check out my (very bias) report, and a link on how to vote, at this post!.

But if you're in the Seattle area, head up to Mad Monster: Shadow over Seattle (hey, that sounds rather familiar....) horror convention at The Hyatt Regency Belleve.  The guest list includes The Tall Man, Angus Scrimm, cast members from The Rocky Horror Picture Show and the original Fright Night, P. J. Soles, Rowdy Roddy Piper and more!  Visit the link for all the details.


Remember, if you have a horror event you'd like to promote, email me at and I'll include it in both the Horror Calendar and my Weekly Horror Update.  

And don't forget, if you attend any of these events, tell the organizers know you read about it at The Shadow Over Portland!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Hollywood Theatre wants YOU to vote for their October This is Your Theater feature! And the choices include the Gillman!!!

Okay, Gillman fans, we have a shot at this, so let's not blow it!

The Hollywood Theatre is asking for your vote for the October This Is Your Theatre feature.  Films in the running include:

The Shining
Wait Until Dark

Creature from the Black Lagoon in 3D!!!!

Okay, a bit of personal bias there, but still, it's the Gillman in FREAKING 3D!

You will have to set up an account for Crowded Theater!  But if you've voted for This is Your Theater features before, you'll already be active on the site.

So get online and vote, especially if you're a Gillman fan!  Just click on the link, scroll down to Tell Us What You Want to See (with a picture of Carol Ann in front of the TV) and vote!!!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Joe Sherlock interview

Joe Sherlock, Northwest filmmaker, will have the Portland premiere of his latest film, Drifter, at The Clinton Street Theater this Saturday, August 23, at 4 pm.  Tickets are $5 dollars (cash only) and he, as well as several cast members, will be present for a Q and A after the film.  Additionally, you can pick up a DVD copy of Drifter, as well as some of his other films, at the screening.

Sherlock was able to spend some time talking with The Shadow Over Portland about the film, his inspirations and some tips on how to make your own low budget horror film.

The Shadow Over Portland:  I’m talking with Ray Sherlock, Northwest filmmaker, whose latest film, Drifter, will have its Portland premiere on Saturday, August 23 at The Clinton Street Theater.  How are you tonight?

Joe Sherlock: I’m pretty good.

TSOP: All right.  Before we get talk about Drifter, can we get a bit of background from you about your filmmaking?  It looks like you have a pretty extensive list of credits on IMDB.

JS: Most of the stuff isn’t on there.  Maybe that’s not the right way to say it, but there’s a lot of stuff that never got on there.  And I’ve done a lot of bits and pieces for things that, for one reason or another, never got listed. 

I’ve had this filmmaking addiction for many years.  I have a similar story to a lot of people.  I watched a lot of sci fi and horror stuff on TV when I was a kid, I drew my own comics, and all sorts of geeky stuff.  I use to make movies with my dad’s Super-8 camera when I was youngr.  When I got out of high school, a friend of mine had a VHS camera and we started making skits, little movies and things like that. 

All through college, I made shorts and things like that.  In 1995, I decided to try and make something serious, and that was Dimension of Blood.  That was the first thing I took seriously, not just goofing around in the backyard.  From then on, it was it was making horror stuff, horror comedies, sci fi comedies.

TSOP:  You’re in Corvalis.  How hard is it to find a crew, actors and all the things needed to make a movie?

JS: It all happened very organically.  I started just working with friends.  And I co-owned a comic book and game store for 1989 to 1996.  Through the store, I met people involved with Live Action Role Playing Games, comic book artists and various people.  When I was doing the movies, as I was getting out of the shop, I had my friends, and I had a larger circle of customers.  And that was pretty good.  There were people into belly dancing, people into Live Action Role Playing, people into costuming, great people who wanting to be involved in something like that. 

As time when on, I would get friends of friends.  They would tell people, “Oh, I made a zombie movie this week,” and their friends would think that was cool and want to be involved.  So, the circle widened and that continues to this day.  Most of the people involved in the projects I do today are friends, friends of friends, or people who find out that someone was in a movie project and decide they want to do that.
I’ve also actually gotten several people involved from screenings.  I shown several things at a theater in Salem and a lot of people attend, than come up to me and say they want to get involved.  So, I get the contact information, we try things out later and see how it goes.

Now, the crew part, most of the stuff I do myself, so it’s not like I have to find a lot of technically adept people, as I usually write, direct, shoot and edit my movies.  So if I can get someone able hold the boom poles, I’m pretty good as far as the crew goes.

TSOP:  I did notice you have an extensive background in cinematography, directing, producing and writing.  Is there any role you prefer when making a movie?

JS:  It’s a cliché answer, but I like all of them at different times for different reasons.  I like the writing when I’m writing, the directing is fun and the cinematography, in terms of lining up shots and being as visually creative as I can be is fun. 

As for the editing… Well, they say you often make three movies.  You write a movie, than when you direct it, it becomes a different movie.  Than, when you edit it, it becomes, perhaps, another movie.  And I think that has some truth to it. 

And, I think at any given time during that process, there’s a magic that happens during any one of those phases.  So, I guess I don’t really have a favorite. 

TSOP:  It just depends on the time?

JS: Yeah, it really does.

TSOP:  Where did you learn how to make films?

JS:  I just learned by doing.  I’m self-taught, I didn’t go to film school, I didn’t take any classes.  I’ve been told by several people that I make movies because no one told me I couldn’t, which is kind of true (chuckles). 

As I mentioned, I drew my own comics and made my own ‘zines, so I was always into that do it yourself mode anyway.  When I started doing the video movies, there were magazines like Draculina and Alternative Cinema that were talking about people in the country, and around the world, making these shot on video movies.  There was the start of this community and, of course, once the Internet was being used more, that was the perfect place to connect with all these like-minded, back yard filmmakers.  People would put up articles, you could go on bulletin boards, and I’d correspond with them.  We’d trade movies, and that would give you ideas from watching them. 

And on DVDs, one of the things I watch, if they’re well done, is the behind the scene features, because they will talk about how the filmmaker did things.  So, I just pick that up as I go along.

TSOP:  As far as directors and writers, who would you say is your greatest influence?

JS: For the longest time, I’ve said John Carpenter.  I wouldn’t necessarily say if you watch my movies, you think, “Oh, that’s just like a John Carpenter movie.”  But I really like the feel of a lot of his movies.  He has a mood to them.  And it’s a combination of the story, the cinematography and the music, and the way it’s all put together that add up to a vibe his films have.  And a lot of the time, he would be writing, directing and scoring the film.  He didn’t necessarily shoot it, but he was doing a lot of the pieces like that. 

I also have to say, director Fred Olen Ray, and Jim Wynorski to a certain extent, that I admire because they make movies happen often out of sheer will.  They made all these B movies, they made a lot of horror movies, as well as TV stuff and family fare; their work runs the gamut.  But I think their love is horror, a lot of times B movie horror.  And to see they work through the heartache you always experience trying to pull together a low budget production and get things done.  They are both prolific and open to talking to fans.  Fred, for a long time, ran a bulletin board I was on, and I got all kinds of great ideas and information from that. 

TSOP: Is there any movie that inspired you to get into filmmaking?

JS: Well, I have a couple answers for that question.   I grew up in New Jersey, until I was eleven.  Then, my family moved across the country to Oregon.  It was a little traumatic, it was a long distance and I was away from my friends. 

There was a movie made by Don Dohler, called The Alien Factor, made in Baltimore.  Are you familiar with that one?

TSOP:  Oh, yeah.

JS: I love that movie.  For all its faults, I love that movie.  But part of the reason I loved it was because I’d moved out here to Oregon and it played on KPTV Channel 12.  And here was this movie, that was obviously low budget, amateur, you might say, and all the houses, all the weather, looked like where I use to live.  Baltimore isn’t too far from New Jersey.  And all the actors had thick accents.  Not like Jersey accents, but a thick accent compared to out here.  It was nostalgic.  Even when I watch it now, the architecture, the cars, reminds me of the first eleven years of my life.

On top of that, it had all these crazy monsters in it.  That was very inspirational.  In fact, I started writing my own story inspired by that, with the intention of filming it on Super-8, and similar things on video once I got to work with a VHS camera. 

And it was inspirational because when I watched it, I thought, “Wow, I could do that.”  I was thinking, these guys went out in the back yard of their houses and on these country roads somewhere near where I lived, got their friends together and made a movie.  And I was like I could do this.  They made a movie, and it’s on TV and I’m watching it.  So that was very inspirational.

The other movie that is inspirational to me is Phantasm.  That would be my favorite horror movie, and part of the reason I love Phantasm is it has so much character to it.  It’s unlike a lot of traditional horror movies and has an oddball vibe that appeals to me. 

TSOP: Sounds like you were a big fan of KPTV back when the station was showing horror movies. 

JS: I was.

TSOP:  Same here.

JS: And sci fi as well.  I remember watching Dark Star and Silent Running.  It seems like that ran that one all the time.

TSOP: Oh yeah.

JS: And The Green Slime.  (We both chuckle)

TSOP:  Let’s talk about Drifter.  It sounds like a slasher flick, though the preview hints at it being a bit more than that.  Can you tell us what the film is about?

JS: I don’t know if you want me to talk about the genesis of it or anything like that…

TSOP:  Please do.

JS:  I have a friend I went to high school with.  He owned a house and a restaurant outside of Silverton.  I’ve shot two other movies there, Underbelly and Blood Creek Woodsman.  Well, he called me at the end of 2012.  I knew he’d sold the house and moved, but he called me and said, “You know, I sold the old house, but the buyers aren’t moving in for several months.  So if you want to come and shoot some kind of blood murder scene in there, you can have free run of the house, just clean it up when you’re done.  It’s empty for the next several months.”

He just thought I would make up would just make up some random scene that he could work into a future project.  But, of course, I figured I could shoot a whole movie.  And knowing I had the full run of the house, as no one lived there and I wouldn’t have to work around anyone’s schedule, was appealing.  And it was my friend’s wife that suggested the idea of someone hiding there, and killing people as they came to the house.  So that was the genesis of it.  It was an opportunity.  Here’s this location, here’s the time frame.  What can I do with it? 

The initial thoughts were a slasher movie.  Someone is hiding within the house and killing people that would come by, like a plumber, a painter, some kids that might break in to party.  I mulled that in my head for a while, but I couldn’t figure out why.  Who is this guy, why is he doing this?  I had ideas, like maybe he was an escaped mental patient.  I actually had an idea for a while that flying saucer crashed in some farmer’s field, an alien crawled out and its possessing some guy.  Just some wacky stuff. 

It was on a long drive to Washington (State) that I came up with the twist.  It was, “Okay, here’s what it could be.  Here’s why the guy is doing these things.”  From there, I wrote it really fast and worked it all out. 

So, it has its origins that that slasher/body count/kill, kill, kill, kill kill.  But I hope a little more depth comes to it from the twist.  You’re still strung along with the mystery of who is this guy and why is he doing these things, but there is a payoff and hopefully it’s an interesting twist.

The other thing I tried to do as the director, and this is akin to Phantasm, was to put some interesting, quirky characters into the film.  Some people who have seen the film say it’s got a fair amount of humor in it.  But it wasn’t so much that I tried to make it funny, but I think the humor comes naturally from some of these characters and the dialog between them. 

Like the lead character and his wife.  I really tried to write their scenes so you got the sense that this couple had been married for a long time.  So they have their own language they speak to each other, they can be short with each other but it’s okay, because they’ve been married for a long time and it’s a tit for tat kind of thing.  And, by putting some of that into the script, it gives the film a little more depth than the traditional here’s a character and they get killed routine. 

TSOP:  The film had its world premiere at Crypticon in Seattle.  How did the audience respond?

JS:  It was pretty good.  We had a good showing, considering it was a midnight show.  It was kind of cool to have a Friday night midnight screening, because it works as a midnight show.  It is a B movie, it has all the elements in it.  But, you never know.  I was competing with one other screening and the big dance party, where all the drinking occurs.  And however many room parties were happening.  So you never quite know how the attendance will be for something that late.  But I had about 45 people in there, so it was pretty good.  And they were scared at the right parts, and laughed at the right parts, so it was all good.

TSOP:  The film is showing at 4 pm on a Saturday afternoon here in Portland.  Do you think that will change the dynamics of the crowd?

JS:  That’s a good question.  I don’t know.  To be honest, I looked at what it would take to rent this place, and I decided to do late in the afternoon because I don’t know who’s going to show up.  And we’re bookended by another movie and, later that night, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  I’m hoping a bunch of people come out. 

At least it’s a Saturday.  I know it’s a little early, but we’ll see.

TSOP:  I understand you will be there for the screening, as well as members of the cast and crew. 

JS: Yes.  Michael Hegg is going to be there.  He plays Angus.  Sabrina Larivee, Dale Wilson, Emily Howard, Bryn Kristi, Richard Johnson, who plays Don, the main character, Roxxy Mountains, and I believe Rob Merickel is going to be there, who plays the coroner. 

TSOP:  Sounds like it will be an interesting Q and A.

JS:  Boy, I hope so.  The plan is, there’s a trailer, then we’re going to watch the movie, then we’ll screen a ten minute making of feature, which is attached to the DVD, then open it up for question. 
I’ll have copies of Drifter, as well as my other movies, available for anyone who wants to pick them up. 

TSOP:  I hope it goes well.  I know I’ll be there.

JS:  Excellent.  

TSOP:  What’s your next movie?

JS:  I mentioned Blood Creek Woodsman, which we showed at Crypticon last year.  That went well, and there was a bunch of color correction and sound work that had to be done, some minor stuff.  The goal is to try and wrap that up and, once that’s done, I’ll look at getting DVDs made and set up some local screenings for that. 

The other thing I’m wrapping up is a movie called Odd Noggins.  The trailer will show before Drifter at The Clinton Street Theater.  And again, I’ll get some copies and start looking for local screenings. 

TSOP:  One final question.  It sounds like you’ve learned filmmaking by doing, and some of the answers to my questions have talked about what to do when you make a low budget movie.  Any other suggestions for filmmakers, or wanna be filmmakers thinking they can make a film?

JS:  First of all, you can.  Just do the best you can with what you have.  I’ve been told that over the years, and it’s true.  I shoot Dimension of Blood on a VHS camera, moved up to High-8, then Mini DV, now I’m shooting on HD.

But if all you have is your phone, make a movie on your phone.  Just do it.  It’s learn by doing, it really is.  You might make something great, or you might make something crappy.  But if you make something crappy, you’ll still learn something from the process.
The other thing is… Well, a lot of people will say, “Write what you know.”  There is some truth to that, but in terms of a low budget movie, write to what you know you can do.  Write stuff that happens in your house, or in your neighborhood.  I had a friend who had a restaurant and how often is that?  So I shot a bunch of stuff there.  I had a circle of friends, related to my comic shop, who were all belly dancers, so in Monster in My Garage, there’s a whole sequence of these alien belly dancers. 
There are resources available, you just have to think about them.  Do I know anybody has a cool car, or a particular skill, or a cool costume or the nurse who has a nurse’s uniform.  You know, there’s a lot of stuff, you just have to figure out the story to tell about it.  Or, if you have a story in mind, see what’s around that you can adapt to that story. 

Even if you don’t know people who have these locations or own this stuff, it’s amazing if you have the balls to ask people stuff.  Often, they are very accommodating because, to the people who aren’t involved on making movies on any level, being involved in a film sounds really cool.  As long as you treat everyone well, it is very cool.  So, it could be you talk to the owner of a restaurant or bar, a warehouse, a farm or whatever the case may be and say, “Hey, I want to make this movie and wonder if I can use your place.”  Maybe they want to be in it, and you have them in the background or make a small part for them, or whatever.  Most of the time, people are quite excited at being involved in making a movie and sometimes you can get access to cool cars or locations.  You never know until you ask and the worse thing they can say is no.  Then you just move on to the next person, or do it a different way. 

TSOP: How can people keep up with your future movies and such?

JS:  The best place for that is  That’s a hub for all the stuff I have going on.

TSOP:  Thank you for your time.  I don’t want to take up any more of your evening.  And I look forward to meeting you in person at the Portland premiere of Drifter.

JS:  Thanks a lot.  See you in a couple of weeks.

Again, my thanks to Joe Sherlock for taking the time out of his evening for this interview.  And, if you're a fan of local, independent horror films, head to The Clinton Street Theater this Saturday, August 23, at 4 pm for the Portland premiere of Drifter, the preview of Odd Noggins, the making of feature and the Q and A with writer/director Joe Sherlock and the cast of the film.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sharknado Two: The Second One (2014)

It’s impossible to criticize Sharknado Two: The Second One, a film designed to be cheesy and stupid.  The Asylum has taken manufactured camp to a new level, making this series as outrageous as possible, with an utter disregard for crafting anything resembling a good film.  It’s the basic idea of a film so bad it’s good, except the film is intended to be bad, unlike a filmmaker intending to make a good movie while falling short of the mark due to budget constraints or, perhaps, talent.

Yes, I’m saying The Asylum could produce (or at least attempt to produce) decent genre films.  But the studio has found a niche with cheesy giant monster films and, like great B-movie makers of the past, are happy to deliver what the audience wants to see.  

Which, is basically, sharks attacking us on land,
and the cool ways we can kill them.

Okay, let’s get into the meager plot out of the way.  Our heroes from the first film, Fin (Ian Zering) and his ex-wife Apri (Tara Reed), are flying into New York for a reunion with Fin’s sister Ellen (Kari Wuher) and her husband Martin Brody (Mark McGrath).

Oh yes, we have more Jaws references coming, but the film isn’t above lifting elements from other sources.  As their flight descends into the Big Apple, Fin starts having a Twilight Zone moment, as he sees sharks on the wing of the plane.  Of course, no one else sees them, including an air marshal on the flight, but soon the plane is invaded by flying sharks that decapitate a number of passengers.  Yes, let’s be honest, these sharks are propelled by the sharknado into the plane, and just keep coasting through the plane until they reach the rear exit.  Or just pile up in the coach seats, it's never made clear in the film.  Nor does it need to be.

And this wins my vote of cameo role of the night.
Guess he picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.

As the sharks take care of the pilots, Fin has to land the plane during the storm.  Meanwhile, April is hanging out the blown out door of the plane and has her hand bitten off by a one eyed shark that she later claims had vengeance on its mind (Jaws: The Revenge, anyone?).  Yeah, the sequences is preposterous, but this is a movie involving sharks surviving out of the water while in a freak weather pattern, so just let it go.

Yes, as explained by Today Show hosts Al Rocker and Matt Lauder, New York City is about to be hit by a massive cold and hot weather front, resulting in TWO sharknados about to merge into an apocalyptic shark storm.  And, as the only expert on dealing with sharknados, Fin has to save the city and rekindle his relationship with April.

Add in Fin’s high school sweetheart (Vivica A. Fox), a helpful cabbie (Judd Hirsch), an oversized chainsaw (of course), flaming sharks (yep, you read that right) and April turning up in the final act with a circular saw attached to her stump, and you have the recipe for a really cheesy fun time. 

Good luck finding a bigger chainsaw for the sequel,
scheduled for next year.

A lot of people criticizing films from The Asylum as being manufactured camp, which can’t be denied.  But it also doesn’t matter.  The filmmakers do not waste any time, diving headfirst into the insane action.  We get the requisite character moments during breaks in the action, but the film keeps throwing sharks at our heroes at a frantic pace, but not in an attempt to mask the film’s stupidity.  Instead, the filmmakers keep piling on the outrageous moments without concern for any sense of realism.  It all culminates with the moment where our heroes are cornered in a stairway, with shark infested flood waters below, and flaming sharks flopping at them from above.  Yep, flaming sharks.  This film goes there.

Oh, wait, the insanity doesn’t culminate with that scene.  We still have the Live and Let Die shark jump moment, and the final descent into full blown craziness, as Fin managing to bronco ride a giant shark onto an areal antenna to keep from falling to his doom. 

No, I'm not kidding.
The filmmakers went there.

If you haven’t notice by now, Sharknado Two is gloriously ridiculous and has no qualms embracing its stupidity.  In fact, the film dares the audience to level any criticism against it, because the instant you try, the film delivers another scene that just makes any rational discussion about the film moot.

The premiere was a ratings boon for Syfy, as they beat most broadcast stations in the ratings, and Sharknado Two was the major event on most social media.  And, to be honest, the ratings might be a bit low, as Neilson only shows how many households were tuned it.  It doesn’t reflect how many people were watching in that household, or how many were watching in other venues.

Like this group.  Man, what a great time!
Thanks everyone. for showing up!!

I’m sure some are wonder why this series is so popular, and I have a couple of ideas that might explain the reasons so many people are tuning into such films. 

First, the current state of the country, and the world, is pretty depressing.  War, economic uncertainty, the threat of terrorist attack (real or overhyped) hangs over our heads on a daily basis, broadcasted by 24 hour news stations more concerned with ratings than an actual analysis of current events.  As horror films proliferated, and reflected, the anxieties of the times, the success of the Sharknado series is a release from the stresses of modern life.  

No, it’s not a reflection of societal fears as, say, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers was a reflection of Communism/McCarthyism during the 50s.  The modern world is much too complicated for one movie to be a statement of what scares us.  But it is a release valve of sorts, something in which people can gather with a group of friends, laugh, jeer and become engrossed in something so outrageous they can forget real world problems for a while.

It's hard to worry about world problems when you're watching a movie where it's raining sharks.
And, for two hours, that's not a bad thing.

And Sharknado Two is an example of people watching to see how crazy it will get.  I remember my father watching Army of Darkness for the first time.  I was at home from college for the summer, watching my VHS copy of the film when he came home from work late one night and sat down with me to see what I was watching.  When Ash got back to the castle with the Necronomican, he announced he wasn’t going to watch anymore of this stupid movie and was going to bed.   Yet, not more than five minutes later, he was back, admitting he had to see how the movie ended.
Now, I am NOT equating Sharknado Two with Army of Darkness.  But, let’s be honest, both movies were made to be campy and silly.  And, as we all know, the best stuff is often saved for last act in movies.  At some point, you have to keep watching just to see how far the filmmakers on the crazy/awesome scale.  My father was laughing at the end of AoD, and I suspect most viewers were doing the same as Fin rode a shark across the sky.  I know I was, even as the rational part of my brain tried to chime in about how idiotic the moment was.

The only flaw with this moment is she didn't say, "Groovy." 

But my inner five year old won out, fueled by the inner five year olds of those around me.  And that’s the best way to watch Sharknado Two, with a group of like-minded friends and an ample supply of your favorite beverage.  Much like a hang over, you might regret what you did in the morning.  But you will have a fine time that the evening.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Deep Blue Sea (1999)

One of the more blistering criticisms of Deep Blue Sea is it’s a lame Jaws knock off.  But critics leveling this complaint are off the mark.  This film has more in common with Alien (Ridley Scott’s version of It! The Terror from Beyond Space and Planet of the Vampires) than Spielberg’s classic tale.

Okay, before you come to the defense of Alien, I suggest you watch the two films I mentioned.  Scott’s film is great, with astounding visuals from H. R. Giger, a great cast and some solid scary moments.  But the plot and several shots are heavily “borrowed” from these earlier films, particularly Bava’s Planet of the Vampires.  Not just the giant skeleton, but early shots of some of the space ships as well.  It’s a great movie, but not the original masterwork some claim it to be. 

I bring up this point not to call Renny Harlin’s monster shark film a rip off of Alien, but point out it's similar heritage.  Replace outer space inner space, insert a crew of working class stiffs battling the monsters released upon them by an authority figure over which they have no control and you've got another great variation on the haunted house tale.  Only this tale takes place in the deep blue sea, not the black vacuum of space.

So, with that settled (I hope), let’s get on to the review.

The film opens as a giant shark attacks a group of kids boating on the open sea.  Lucky for them, this fish is a test subject at the Aquatica research lab, an ocean scientific facility housing giant Mako sharks, one of which escaped from its pen.  Fortunate for the kids, shark wrangler Carter Blake (Thomas Jane) keeps them from becoming a late night snack.

Of course, the corporation backing Aquatica is concerned about the bad press from the shark’s escape, so they call in team leader Dr. Susan McAlester (Saffron Burrows) ashore to announce they are cutting funding for the project.  But Dr. McAlester’s claim that her research will cure Alzheimer’s disease sends corporate executive Russell Franklin (Samuel L. Jackson) to Aquatica to witness this medical breakthrough.

As one might expect, in order to harvest enough protein, the test sharks’ brain mass has been increased through nefarious means.  And, thanks to a series of unforeseen events, the sharks are in a position to sink Aquatica and return to the deep, blue sea.

And, as expect, some actress strips to her bra and panties along the way.
But at least this moment makes a bit of sense, more than can be said
for films like Star Trek Into Darkness.

That’s enough plot, as the movie doesn’t have much of one.  Let’s get to the meat of the matter, as to whether this film is worth your time or not.  Again, get Jaws out of your mind.  This movie is a mash-up of Alien, Frankenstein and a submerged haunted house fun ride, not a surface bound action film.

Along with the Jaws analogy, another criticism leveled at this film is why the holding pen for these sharks are on the open ocean, rather than in the middle of the desert.  Well, a landlocked tank drains the movie of any suspense.  The film would be over pretty quick if all the group had to do was exit into some isolate site in Arizona.  

But, if you’ve ever tried to maintain a saltwater aquarium, imagine trying to keep one large enough for three giant sharks to roam.  The site would have to be located somewhere near the ocean, in order to keep the fish alive.  And, as most large sharks (such as the great white, which is a relative to the mako) are harder to keep alive in an aquarium, maybe an open water pen might be a better location.  Sure, that’s not spelled out in the film, but it doesn’t need to be, as the film would not make for a great thrill ride any other way. 

Okay, the next paragraph contains mild spoilers.  You are warned.

The film also runs into the stumbling block of increase intellectual capacity means increased intelligence.  Somehow, as the shark’s brain mass increases, so does their ability to understand doors and hydrodynamics.  Even Carter admits, during the final act, the sharks have herded them in order to flood Aquatica and lower the fences in their pens, allowing them to escape into the ocean. 

Whether the shark is smart of stupid, I think she's still in trouble.

If you have a problem with this plot point, I hope you are not a fan of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, as that film makes the same mistake.  Sure, Caesar learned a lot from his exposure to the Alzheimer drug, but that was over time.  Just throwing canisters of monkey-smartening gas into the ape pens does not grant the rest of the apes his knowledge and learned experience. 

But this misstep works better in Deep Blue Sea, as the script introduces the idea early in the film.  Several scenes before the sharks are able to swim amok have characters commenting that the fish are not behaving normally.  That, as well as the likeable characters and rapid pace of the movie, keeps the audience in a state of disbelief, than acceptance once Carter figures it out.  Unlike Rise, where the ending relies on the other apes becoming super smart within a few scenes, Deep Blue Sea lets the idea simmer before bringing it to a boil.

The performances are solid, as the script gives the cast (including LL Cool J, Stellan Skarsgard, Jacqueline McKenzie and Michael Rapaport) enough to infuse their stereotypical characters with more life than most horror films.  As expect, Harlin delivers on the action sequences and the sets are amazing, especially when flooded.  And it appears some of the actors did their own stunt work at times, or their stunt doubles looked really good.  Either way, it makes the scenes much more believable.  

As for the sharks, the film mixes CGI and anamatronic creations with great success.  The shark attacks are vicious, bloody and quite believable.  And the film’s reliance on practical effects as much as possible keeps the film more grounded in reality than most CGI dependent blockbusters in the cinema today.

I told you, no smoking in the lab!

It’s not a perfect film, to be sure, but Deep Blue Sea is a fun little monster flick that deserves more credit than it has received by fans and critics.  Sure, it’s no Jaws, but it’s not trying to be.  It’s a submerged haunted house movie, where the ghosts have fins and sharp, pointy teeth.  And if you’re willing to view it that way, it’s a lot of fun.

Oh crap.  It's behind me, isn't it?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Shark Attack 3: Megalodon (2002)

One can only imagine how Steve Alten felt when Shark Attack 3: Megalodon hit video shelves.  In 1996, Disney purchased the film rights for his first novel, Meg, before it was published, sparking a bidding war for the book.  His novel about a Carcharodon megalodon (a prehistoric predecessor of the great white shark that could reach up to 60 feet in length) brought up from a deep-water trench, went on to became a best seller, as did the sequel.

Oh yeah, don't tell me you won't pay to see that on the big screen in 3D.

Yet the film version languished in development hell for years.  Even after the film rights were picked up by New Line Cinema in 2005, with director Jan de Bon (Speed) attached to the project, the film never made it past the planning stages, as the expected budget would have been over $150 million in order to do the novel justice.

To be fair, Alten’s novel isn’t great.  It’s predicable, full of stock characters and not particularly engaging during the non-shark bits.  But the book does have some great cinematic moments, which would have outshined this dull, lifeless rip off had even a few scence made the transition from Alten’s book to the screen.

Shark Attack 3 deals with a submerged telecommunication line attracting a baby megalodon up from the Challenger Deep Trench, threatening the tourists at a Mexican resort.  Resort lifeguard Ben Carpenter (John Barrowman from Doctor Who, Torchwood and Arrow) tries to identify the fish from a tooth he dug out of the telecommunication line.  But, as most Internet sites deal with the identification of living sharks, he can only post a picture online and hope for a reply. 

Ben's photo draws the attention of Cataline “Cat” Stone (Jenny McShane from Grimm), a paleontologist who poses as a marine biologist to gain Ben’s help and capture footage of the big fish.  As expected, shark mayhem ensues until Ben, Cat and her crew kill the small megalodon.  Unfortunately, a full size one has made the trip up from the trench and threatens to turn the coast into its personal feeding ground.

Yep, the first thing it does is swallow a freaking boat!

Throw into the mix a sleazy resort owner, a CEO covering up the fact that his cable is drawing the megalodons to the surface, and an ex-Navy sailor with access to a two-man submersible (and a torpedo!) looking for revenge, and you have the ingredients for a fun slice of cheesy goodness.  But the filmmakers dropped the ball and delivered one of the most boring giant shark movies ever made.

Writers Scott Devine and William Hooke took the basics from Alten’s novel (megalodon rises from the trench and has a final confrontation with a minisub), cribbed scenes from other, better shark movies (everything from Jaws to Deep Blue Sea gets a nod), then populated their script with sleazy people in power, stupid victims and stereotypical “bro” behavior from most of the male cast.  Even worse, people pull out weapons, ranging from a shotgun to grenades (and that freaking torpedo), out off duffle bags and garages just to move the plot along. 

I can’t believe no one thought the last two weapons might seem a bit out of place, but lousy writing is only part of the problem.  Director David Worth seems more concern with getting the film in the can, rather than simple things like continuity.  Ben takes a photo of the small megalodon’s tooth, yet his fingers are absent when the picture is uploaded on his computer.  As Ben and Cat climb a rope ladder to escape the full sized shark, they trade positions with surprising ease.  And let’s not get into the ever-changing size of the adult megalodon, which fluctuates with every morsel it swallows.

Not to mention this incredible moment of green screen insanity.

Even worse, the film is devoid of any suspense or tension.  Sure, we know who’s going to live, and which characters will end up as shark snacks, only because it’s rather obvious in a B-movie.  Yet, when the smaller shark attacks Ben and Cat, even though the audience knows they won’t die, the scene lacks any sense of danger.  It plays out too long, making the shark seem ineffectual, clumsy and ripe for extinction. 

Of course, one can’t discuss Shark Attack 3 without mentioning the most awkward pickup line ever uttered on film.  Yeah, that moment when Ben suggests to Cat that, rather than getting some sleep before taking on the 40 foot shark, they go to her place and he...

Look, I’m not going to write it out, but his suggestion involves a crude offer to provide oral sex.  And though the line works in the movie, it would more likely get you a swift knee to the crotch (and a night in jail) rather than sexy time in the shower in real life.  It's so misplaced, you wonder what the screenwriters were thinking.  

Seriously, don't try this line at home.
Or outside a bar.
Look, just never utter it to a woman.

But you can’t blame them for this clunker.  According to interviews on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross (2006) and Al Murray’s Happy Hour (2007), Barrowman admits to adlibbed the line to make McShane laugh (to no one’s surprise, it didn’t work).  But director Worth thought the line was funny and left it in the final cut.  I only bring this up because nothing else better summarizes how this train wreck of a film came about than the story of a raunchy adlib that was added to the film, rather than a blooper reel (or better yet, dropped in the cutting room trash can).

About the only good thing in the film is the use of real shark footage for the attacks.  It doesn’t always work, as the shark is obviously carrying off a bleeding seal carcass after attacking a human, but it’s better than the CGI shark effects used during the final act.  And when the full sized megalodon appears on screen for the first time, it’s a bit jarring.  Sure, as mentioned above, the shark’s size varies according to the shot, but watching a real shark gulp down a sleazy character is quite satisfying.

 Yeah, keep complaining about how the real shark footage never maintains a
constant scale while you feast your eyes on this CGI abomination.  

But you’ll find most of those moments on YouTube, as well as the previously mentioned pickup line.  And that might be the best way to watch Shark Attack 3, as a disjointed series of shark attacks bypassing the cardboard characters, horrid dialog and silly plot conveniences. 

But, should you decide to brave this one in its entirety, first read Meg.  You’ll find the novel a simple, pulpy read with several of same problems I mentioned in this movie. But just thinking about the first pages of the novel, as a megalondon takes out a T-Rex during a prehistoric prologue, will make you feel the same frustration Alten must feel in knowing this abomination was filmed before his giant shark tale.